Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Sharon Gless will lead the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade as grand marshal on Saturday. She’s known for playing strong, determined women on television, stage and screen - her resume includes “Cagney & Lacey,” “Queer as Folk” and “Burn Notice”— but that’s also a role she has played offstage throughout her career.
For decades, Gless, 74, has been an admired advocate for many causes, including women’s reproductive rights and human rights, and she’s a vociferous ally of the LGBT community. She has a strong opinion on just about every important political issue our nation faces.
SFGN spoke with Gless from her Miami home about the meaning of Pride, her career and advice to younger generations who don’t remember the struggles of women and LGBT people:
SFGN: You’ve been an LGBT ally for such a long time. What does “Pride” mean to you?
Gless: The gay movement is a huge cause of mine and I want to show my support in any way I can. I’ll get on the back of a car? It’s my way of giving back. In fact, most of my best friends are gay, even before “Queer as Folk.” My life was changed because of those shows. “Queer as Folk” gave me a reason [to become involved]. I made so many wonderful friends and I was educated by them as we were shooting and now I get to give back.
You’ve been an activist and supporter, but are you political when it comes to the other issues our country is facing? What other causes do you support?
I’m emotionally a very political person. I was asked twice to be on Bill Maher, but I was frightened. The honor [of being asked] is just enough…I didn’t feel like I could “talk the talk,” but I can “feel the feel.” I have a lot of political passion at the moment. In addition to all gay rights, one of my other passions is women’s rights. I started that with “Cagney & Lacey.” Hillary Clinton was a huge passion of mine and I’m still reeling. Even though I play these crazy parts on television, socially I’m very much a shy person. I was even out there and asking people for money [for Clinton’s campaign]. When you love somebody so much and see the alternative, you get a little less shy.
We’ve made many advances in the past couple of years, including marriage equality, but those gains seem to be under attack, most notably the Pulse massacre a year ago. Are you optimistic about the future?
I think we’re going to be OK. It isn’t Trump who bothers me, even though the man is a big, big liar. That’s how he conducts his life. If he gets impeached, we’re then stuck with Pence and he’s evil. If you’re gay, you better duck. He’s spent his entire career trying to put down the gays. It’s his passion. I worry if Trump gets impeached. Then we’ve really got trouble and I’ll be there to fight to my very last day.
When you took the role as Debbie on “Queer as Folk,” could you imagine the series would become so important to the LGBT movement?
I didn’t. Actually, I think a reunion show should be brought back based on what fans tell us. It was such a great show. [The cast] still keeps in touch. The network doesn’t seem interested, even though we put Showtime on the map.
What role have you always dreamed of doing?
I don’t get off on performing parts that have been done by many actresses. I like doing something original that a writer created — because we’re nothing without the words. There’s no part that’s been done that I want to do. I love doing good original material. The characters I played on television were all original. I go to New York a lot to Broadway shows. I love the actors and I have a great time, but I leave it at that. I dream to have a part that’s [just as] good.
What’s next and where might we see you again on TV, stage or screen?
It’s a first for me, but I don’t have anything coming up. I went on an interview at CBS when “Burn Notice” was finishing and they welcomed me home. I was touched. I just told stories about my family to fill time waiting for them to offer me a series. Then the president of CBS at the time told me the network owned Simon & Schuster. She said there’s a book in you. I replied, I beg your pardon? The next day Simon & Schuster called me and now I’m writing a book. It’s a scary thing to do, but it’s something to do.
Looking back at your career, what advice would you give to young people for success?
You have to want it and love it more than anything else in your life…anything, anything else in your life. Wherever you are, whatever town you’re in, you do it. If you want to be an actor, do little theater. Somebody someday is going to be sitting in that audience. If you play an instrument, do it. Sing, do it. Perform, do it. I had such a passion, a love for it, I didn’t admit to anybody I wanted to be an actress until I was 26 years old and within one year I was under contract with Universal Studios. I had an epiphany one day that I wouldn’t fail. You have to have that epiphany, too. It’s something that comes to you in your heart and your head and you will not fail.
Gless’ participation in the parade is made possible by OurNightOUT, a collaboration by three of Florida's leading LGBT cultural organizations: the Gay Men's Chorus of South Florida, Stonewall National Museum & Archives, and Island City Stage. Featuring community-based performances, collaborative programming, joint marketing, community pop-up performances, robust workshops, and more, OurNightOUT builds visibility and engagement with LGBT music, theatre, and visual arts in South Florida. Gless recently starred as the Gay Fun Fairy in a series of videos that can be seen online at OurNightOUT.org and participating venues.