ABC’s One Life to Live, which debuted in 1968 had many a storylines tackling women’s issues and race, so it seemed the obvious next choice was to run a new storyline exploring homophobia and the difficulties of being a gay teen.
That was only 30 years ago.
Billy Douglas (played by Ryan Phillippe), a newcomer to the town of Lianview was reluctant to tell anyone about his homosexuality, especially his parents. He did, however, confide in the town’s compassionate pastor, Rev. Andrew Carpenter. But a scheming woman named Marty who Carpenter rejected began circulating rumors around town that the pastor had been molesting Billy. In a dramatic scene, the entire town, led by Billy’s parents, confronted Carpenter and demanded that he resign, the pastor delivered a riveting sermon against the evils of prejudice and homophobia. This led Billy to take a public stand in support of Carpenter — and to come out to his parents.
But this was not the first gay character that was introduced on an ABC soap.
Almost 10 years earlier in 1983, All My Children became the first soap opera to tackle homosexuality. Tricia Pursley portrayed the divorced Devon McFadden. After a failed, unhappy marriage, a series of destructive decisions and an affair which led to alcoholism, Devon returned to the show in 1983, after getting help for her drinking problem, as a single mother struggling to make ends meet.
She took a job at Pine Valley Hospital where she met and started dating a fellow single parent, Dr. Cliff Warner. Their happiness did not last long when Cliff found out his ex-wife, Nina Cortlandt, was single again. Cliff tried to let Devon down gently, but she took the break up hard. She was about to take a drink when she met psychologist Lynn Carson.
Lynn (played by Donna Pescow) became Devon’s pillar. When Devon found out that Lynn was gay, Devon was sure the affection she was feeling for her was love. Devon was especially jealous of Lynn’s ex-girlfriend. Devon confessed her feelings to Lynn, but Lynn did not reciprocate. In the end, the storyline concluded with Devon still in love with Cliff, having just displaced those feelings on Lynn.
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And there was more to the story, on OLTL! The whole uproar caused Rev Carpenter and his father to fight and eventually come to terms over Andrew’s brother, who was gay and had died of AIDS complications (off screen, never seen character). Andrew’s father had completely rejected the brother. And the rift in the town over Andrew’s stoic refusal to answer any questions about his own sexuality was healed when he arranged for the AIDS quilt to be displayed in Llanview. It was riveting, heart-rending television. Every character on the show had an opinion on the situation, some kind and thoughtful, some not.