It is neither here nor there why the great rainbow decided to take Betty White. Asking why someone as influential and yet still in possession of their essential humanity has been stripped from us—in this economy?—is an ineffable enigma. Hers is a death felt by several different communities, as one of such influence and humanity usually does, but unknown to most is the effect her loss has on the Queer community.
Betty White was not a completely unknown Queer ally. She had a long history of speaking up for the Queer community and for speaking out against bigotry and anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments.
What was rather unusual about White was just how old she was, and how long she had those feelings. Being nearly 100 years old meant she was raised during a time period where rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia was the dominant culture.
Folks I know that are within that age range typically abide by the standards they grew up with — fear of BIPOC, women, and Queers. It was beaten into their brains, and while that’s no excuse to continue uplifting that agenda, it is a reason why they do. To stand against the norm was social—and possibly physical—death.
Regardless, White stood against that standard of culture from the beginning, in a time when it was dangerous to be pro-LGBTQIA+, pro-BIPOC, and pro-women. She saw no excuse for unequal, cruel behaviors towards certain groups of people for any reason and frequently spoke against the behavior in interviews and within her public life as early as 1950.
That makes her an unlikely Queer ally. She was submerged in a culture of bigotry, and instead of lowering her standard of intelligence, she rose to meet her own new standard, blazing a trail behind her that led the way for those with less courage but well-meaning intentions.
She was a “golden” standard for LGTBQIA+ allyship. She never pontificated, condescended. or was inactive. She was one of us. Not a Queer, but some kind of Queer Hero.
In honor of White’s allyship, I would like to make note of several other unconventional “Queeros.” In the wake of such a great passing, I think Betty White would wish us to feel empowered, instead of emptied.
A short list of unlikely Queeros:
Her Majesty’s Security Service, or MI5
For most Americans, the only knowledge we possess on British intelligence agencies is through one cinematic legend: the cigar smoking, train leaping, women hating “Bond, James Bond.”
Although Bond, himself, is a misogynistic nightmare seemingly cooked-up in some incel’s brain, the institution he worked for does actually exist. In canon, Bond is a certified MI6, or Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, agent — which is the international sibling to the domestic Her Majesty’s Security Service, or MI5.
MI5 and MI6 have been around since 1909 and 1912, respectively, and were created in equal efforts to eliminate both domestic and foreign security threats. As of 2019, MI5 employs 4,400 agents — all of whom were subjugated to rigorous testing, both physical and mental, as well as an exhaustive interview process to ensure they are the ideal agent.
They are an institution of serious tradition, which makes one think that they would cling equally onto the homophobic agenda that was as rife then as it is now. For facts sake, it was banned to hire homosexuals at MI5 until as recently as 1991.
Au contraire, in the early 2010s, serious efforts to become a socially conscious and completely diversified agency were put into effect. These efforts were so successful that, in 2016, MI5 beat over 400 other surveyed companies on Stonewall’s list of the most Queer inclusive companies. In 2018, MI5 won the British LGBT Awards’ “Inclusive Employer” award. Although an exact number is top secret, they have released statistics of their general percentages.
In 2020, the head of MI5, Sir Andrew Parker, released an extensive apology for the agency’s longtime behavior, stating about the reformation, “my only regret was that this liberation was so long delayed.” He expressed the agencies “great shame” in its behavior towards Queer hires, even going so far as to call their actions against known Queers in the past as “abominable.”
“That would never happen today,” he concluded. “And I rejoice in that.”
Marguerite Perrin, God Warrior
Please tell me that you all remember Marguerite Perrin, better known by her moniker “God Warrior.” Honestly, how could we ever forget? She became an internet sensation after an episode of “Trading Spouses” was released — and where Perrins’ manifesto-of-sorts was first heard . Upon returning from the house she had been traded to, Perrin went on an epic gospel on the godlessness of her swapped-spouse’s house, and shouted these notable gems, among many others, in a rather demonic screech:
Marguerite Perrin (MP): “I give it up to God, I’m a God warrior!”
Kids: “Mom come sit with us”
MP: “Did you talk about astrology?”
MP: “Did you get hypnotized by her?”
MP: “I don’t want to see a book of witches
I don’t wanna anything, any stars
I don’t want to see any of this—dark sided
psychics—the whole thing—tarot card readings
I rebuke it in the name of the Lord!”
MP: “Gargoyles, psychics, everything’s ungodly! Dark sided!”
MP’s Husband: “I’m glad you’re home.”
MP (to the camera crew): “Get the hell out of my house, in Jesus’ name I pray!”
MP: “You couldn’t even walk out the front door without the Buddha flag—he thinks he’s been reincarnated! He wasn’t a God! I felt dark!”
Hearing her screams, one would think it would be impossible for this woman to crawl her way out of her religious armor and find equality for the “witches,” “tarot-readers,” and, apparently, even the Buddhists.
Once again, au contraire, Perrin was spotted in 2019 supporting Queer activists at World Pride in New York City. Pictures of her arm-in-arm with Queer protesters were flying out of the Twittersphere, followed by messages of both surprise and praise. Apparently, she was not there to smote the “dark-sided” community of Queers but, instead, was there marching with them!
Her authentic support was met with community delight. One protester said about Perrin, “For everyone asking, she was extremely nice and told us to ‘never stop being true to yourself, and never stop screaming.’”
Any reasonable person would wonder just what happened to Perrin to make her change her mind so dramatically.
Unfortunately, her change was a forced one. In 2007, Perrin lost her daughter in a tragic car accident. When her friends and church did little to comfort her during her mourning, the Queer community stepped in. Perrin received flowers, cards, and messages of love over her loss, and even when she continued to hide, the Queers continued to find her, urge her to feel her feelings, and give love where it was so desperately needed. Perrin told Esquire on the matter, “[The Queer community] weren’t scared to talk about me losing Ashley and saying ‘I’m sorry to hear about that.’”
She never forgot the kindness given to her by the Queer community. Through that love, an unforgettable Queer ally was born. Her evangelical ideals have also loosened up in the opening of her mind also telling Esquire, “who am I to say who’s going to go to hell and who’s going to go to heaven. Really? I mean, seriously.”
A problem that the Queer community often faces is one rooted in the all-to-human attribute of trying to categorize everything. We are a spectrum of sexuality, gender identity, and personality and there are infinite combinations of these qualities. Attempting to categorize each and every one of them is as impossible as it is limiting.
However, since society is so hellbent on the Socratic notion of categorization, it is important for Queer communities to have legitimate labels and classifications to bolster their presence.
There is no better place to find a legitimate term than the dictionary, and in that regard, Merriam-Webster is the authority. If a word doesn’t make it into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is an illegitimate term in the eyes of many.
To find Queer words represented in the dictionary is precisely the kind of legitimacy our “hard to take seriously” terms so desperately need. Recently, Merriam-Webster has proved themselves in understanding and respecting our terminology. In 2016, Merriam-Webster added a whole host of Queer-oriented terms into its pages including both “sapiosexual” and “genderqueer.”
To be able to say, “I am genderqueer, look it up” and knowing, indeed, that the term exists in the most respected dictionary of our language is as incredibly validating as it is powerful. Since then, Merriam-Webster has continued to surge forward in its inclusivity, adding “LGBTQIA,” “gender-neutral pronouns,” “intersex,” and more.
When questioned about their adage of “genderqueer” in 2016, Merriam-Webster coyly defended their reasons, and followed up with a tweet asking if they should add even more queer terms to the growing list. One backlash response jabbed that they “better get ready to add the 12,000 other sexualities to the list too then” Of which MW replied, “We were born ready.”
These are the allies we need in our campaign. Businesses, loud individuals, and members of the epistemic community. To turn away from what is comfortable and normal to us and to change our stance, be it a complete change, or even just a little jab, is how we learn and grow. What’s more, their change is influential, giving those still afraid an example to base their own change off of. If folks who held up either a complacent, or once aggressive, anti-queer stance can change their feelings on humanity, then so can the others still fighting to take our rights away. Therefore, it is from these unusual sources, these “Queeros,” that we can draw the most hope for our plight and optimism of our future.