But on Saturday night, gay TV will take a giant step backward, and it has nothing to do with the recent cancellation of HBO's Looking.
Personal finance guru Suze Orman is signing off.
Suze, who once told the New York Times she was a “55-year-old virgin” because she’s never slept with a man, has long been one of the most visible and successful lesbians in American culture. She won her first daytime Emmy in 2004, the same year as Ellen DeGeneres. Her show pulls in several times more viewers than buzzier gay favorites like Looking or The Comeback—about a million per week last I checked, enough to make it CNBC’s top-rated program for years. She’s written nine New York Times bestsellers.
And through it all, she has been unapologetic about her sexuality, name-dropping her wife on air and using her pulpit to deliver impassioned arguments for same-sex marriage.
Part of what makes Orman such a gay trailblazer is her audience: she’s been preaching financial literacy on CNBC, which skews toward affluent male executives, since 2002. Not exactly an obvious constituency. Still, in various “moneylogues” over the years, Orman perfectly articulated to money-minded viewers the same tax-policy argument for gay marriage that ultimately let Edie Windsor take down the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. And before she was on TV, she was schooling the bros of corporate finance. In a 2013 interview for the HBO documentary The Out List, Orman talked about being an out lesbian stockbroker at an all-male brokerage in the 1980s, strutting around the office in white cowboy boots and red Sassoon pants. “By not judging them, they didn’t judge me,” she said.
That refusal to compromise or censor herself, Orman has said, was actually the greatest advantage in her unlikely rise. A couple years ago, someone asked her what sets her apart from other financial advisors. “Let me just say it like it is: They’re straight,” Orman replied. “They might be knowledgeable and they may be great, but they’re unrelatable…I am of the people. I'm for the people.”
Suze on her straight competitors.
She has a point: her unconventional, irreverent presence has earned her a modest cult of personality. Men dress up as her for Halloween. She’s been a punchline on The Mindy Project and in Kathy Griffin’s stand-up act (the joke is that she becomes president and flips the White House for a profit). She holds contests to give away her trademark fabulous jackets. Wherever she goes, people beg to hear her campy catchphrase: “You are so denied, girlfriend.”
She’s been mocked on Saturday Night Live. “Once you’re at that point,” Suze herself once said, “you have made it into the culture of America. You are an icon.”
(If that’s what makes someone an icon, this is what makes someone a gay icon: Suze says that the first time she met Kristen Wiig, the actress who impersonated her on SNL, she marched over and flashed her—just tore open the front of her dress. This happened at a party for Time’s 100 Most Influential list. Suze has made the list twice.)
So when Suze Orman signs off on Saturday night, she’ll be leaving a TV landscape very different from the one she entered 13 years ago—one where gay characters drive the plots of top-rated shows such as Empire and How to Get Away With Murder. But the lack of a real-life, relatable gay woman speaking directly to viewers, with passion and authority on a topic of monumental importance, will be felt.
Adam Auriemma edits the Justice section at Fusion.