Legendary actress, television star, and indisputable gay icon Bea Arthur died in 2009 at the age of 86, but one of the biggest gifts she left behind has just been revealed, and the card attached said: the Ali Forney Center.
While that was a slightly labored opening sentence, just to work in a reference to the Golden Girls theme song, what’s pretty damn graceful is the fact that Arthur left a cool $300,000 to the organization, which helps and houses at-risk and homeless LGBT youth (who are disproportionately more likely to be on the streets). The Ali Forney Center announced that Arthur’s generous donation is funding a new, 18-bed homeless shelter, named for the star, which will open in 2017.
Arthur was a longtime contributor to the Ali Forney Center, often speaking of it (and of the challenges its beneficiaries faced in general) in interviews. Center director Carl Sicilano spoke of her thus: “That such an icon would stand up for us, would use the power of her celebrity to call attention to the needs of homeless LGBT youth, was invaluable.”
Invaluable, but it’s no surprise. If we accept the idea that The Golden Girls was Arthur’s most influential and iconic work—and look, I will happily talk about Maude with you all day long, but let’s just set that aside for a moment—and perhaps the show that Arthur considered her greatest legacy, then her patronage of the Ali Forney Center makes a profound and beautiful kind of sense beyond simple kindness. After all, The Golden Girls is first and foremost a show about a non-traditional family. Its characters have weathered and been tossed aside by the various storms of life—age, divorce, illness, death—and found a new kind of a home, an even better, truer kind of home, with each other. That sense of finding your place, and thriving inside of it and among people who understand you, even if they are not your biological family, is part of why The Golden Girls has always had such appeal to LGBT audiences (and those who love them). That and the kimonos.
Thanks to Bea Arthur, 18 more kids will get to have that feeling: the gift of being a friend—and family—to each other. That’s what the biggest gift at the party is all about. Thanks, Bea.
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Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.