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Bearse, Amanda (b. 1958)  
 
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One of the first primetime television actors to come out publicly as a gay person, Amanda Bearse helped pave the way for a new, more -friendly era in show business during the 1990s. Family-viewing hours, which had once deemed homosexuality taboo, would soon become home to such gay-themed shows as Ellen and Will and Grace, and almost every popular show would begin to find room for the occasional gay or lesbian character.

Bearse, who is also a film and television director, found coming out to be personally freeing as well as politically progressive, and she has become an outspoken advocate for breaking down the silence and secrecy that stifles the lives of so many gay men and lesbians. The proud mother of an adopted daughter and step-mother to her wife's daughter, Bearse has also frequently spoken out on issues of gay parenting.

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Amanda Bearse was born on August 9, 1958 in Winter Park, Florida, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where her family has deep roots. She attended Young Harris College, a small northeast Georgia liberal arts school.

She began to act in high school and college productions and left the South to hone her craft in New York City, where she studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, a midtown Manhattan school of theater arts.

In 1981, she moved to Los Angeles and studied directing at the American Film Institute and the University of Southern California.

Bearse's first big break in the television industry came with a role on the ABC soap opera All My Children, where Bearse played Amanda Cousins from 1982 through 1984. Her casting was part of the show's attempt to increase its young viewers by adding dynamic young actors and youthful storylines.

In the 1980s, Bearse also began landing roles in such films as First Affair (1983) and Fright Night (1985). The latter, a comic-horror classic in which she co-starred with William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, and Roddy McDowall, became a surprise hit and attracted a cult following.

In 1987, Bearse was cast in a new syndicated series called Married . . . with Children. Described by some as a "live-action cartoon," the show was an irreverent look at the dysfunctional life of a working-class American family, the Bundys. Bearse played the family's tightly-strung neighbor, Marcy Rhodes D'Arcy.

The show, which was the FOX network's first regular sitcom, became a cult hit and ran from 1987 to 1997 and has been widely syndicated.

Although Bearse has referred to the show as a "Road Runner cartoon," she has also expressed gratitude to it for giving her a second career that sustained her after the sitcom finally ended. It was while appearing on Married . . . with Children that she began directing.

While developing her acting career, Bearse was also living openly as a lesbian. She became involved in a two-year affair with flamboyant bisexual actress and comic Sandra Bernhard, which alerted the tabloid media to her sexual orientation, and in 1991 The Globe printed a story outing Bearse. Though she paid little heed to the tabloid exposés, they did cause her to begin to think seriously about coming out on her own terms.

In 1993, Bearse and then-partner Amy Shomer adopted an infant daughter, Zoe. Her new role as mother gave her yet another reason for public openness about her personal life.

Although she had never hidden her lesbianism from colleagues and friends, she was aware of the ways that the closet limits gay choices and enables oppression. Purposely choosing the time right before National Coming Out Day in October, Bearse publicly announced her lesbianism in an interview in the September 21, 1993 issue of The Advocate, where she also encouraged other gay celebrities to use their fame and position to increase gay visibility.

In the interview, Bearse expressed relief at having been outed by the tabloids. "The outing really was quite a freeing experience. . . . That one thing, that one big secret is out. For a lot of people, it was just a confirmation of what they thought about me. I mean, I look like the girl next door, but I was always kind of off-center."

Bearse's decision to come out in 1993 (four years before Ellen DeGeneres came out) carried considerable risk. No primetime actress had previously done it. However, Bearse had an advantage that encouraged her to take the risk: she was supported by her colleagues on Married . . . with Children.

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Amanda Bearse at a World AIDS Day breakfast in 2011. Still from a YouTube video.
  
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