Carlease Burke: No Shame for Star
BY Jeffrey Hartinger
August 16 2011 12:30 PM ET
Anyone whose watched TV or gone to the movies in the past decade will likely recognize comedian and actress Carlease Burke. The entertainer has appeared in dozens of roles in blockbuster films such as Get Shorty and In Her Shoes and television hits including Heroes and Grey’s Anatomy. Now the lesbian performer may finally have landed her big break on the popular Showtime series Shameless.
Burke, who portrays Roberta, a foulmouthed and eccentric lesbian, says her role on the series is one of the highlights of her career.
The gay-friendly drama, which follows a dysfunctional family on the south side of Chicago, recently ended its first season and was swiftly picked up for another. The second season will begin January 8.
Burke says the award-winning cast — which includes William H. Macy, Joan Cusack, and Emmy Rossum — makes her experience all the richer: “Working with William is a dream come true. The amazing cast makes me feel like family.”
The actress portrays the lover of Monica Gallagher, the ex-wife of Macy’s character, Frank Gallagher.
Offscreen, Burke — who typically eschews labels but has been involved with a variety of LGBT causes — is as outspoken as her character, especially when it comes to talking equality within her own ethnic group, African-Americans.
“One would think that of all people, the black community as a whole would be more understanding and supportive of civil rights and the equality of all people,” says Burke. “The only way we are going to make huge strides is when we have the support of straight black people and our churches. Our straight friends and family members need to stick up for us and be proud of their LGBT relatives, who include doctors, teachers, coworkers, police officers.”
Burke offers keen insight on the role African-Americans have in advancing acceptance and equality, saying religious institutions must play a major role. “Black churches have some obligation to advocate for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, especially since it preaches that God is love and created us all in his image,” she says.
A fixture on Olivia cruises, Burke is involved with a variety of LGBT
organizations, including the Los Angeles–based Women on a Roll and
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