Sara Ramirez talks lesbian visibility, Calzona and “Broadway Takes the Runway”

When Sara Ramirez isn’t repairing broken bones or melting your heart as out doctor Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy, she’s busy looking out for your liver through the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation, a nonprofit organization in which she serves as a board member.

Created and named after the loss of her “gay husband” and best friend, Ramirez is equally passionate about liver health as she is for gay rights. Ahead of Monday’s inaugural Broadway Takes the Runway: An Evening of Fashion and Song fundraiser — in which the Tony winner will take the stage and sing show tunes — caught up with Ramirez to talk about her philanthropy, gay rights and, yes, what’s next for primetime’s leading lesbian couple. What does it feel like to be adored by countless lesbians?
Sara Ramirez: (Laughs.) It feels awesome! Hey, look, it’s love. It doesn’t matter who it’s from. I am proud to play Callie Torres, I am proud of the story line, I really love the GLBT community and it’s a part of my life. I grew up in New York and it’s my friends and family and I love them back.

AE: Where does your support for gay rights come from?
SR: I moved to New York when I was about 17. I started my theater world experience in San Diego — I went to a performing arts school from fourth through 12th grade — and with the artistic folks that I was surrounded by, I had a lot of gay friends. I had a lot of gay folks around me growing up. It wasn’t a secret and it wasn’t anything anyone was particularly ashamed about. When I was around these people, I wasn’t introduced to it in some guilty, weird, shameful way, which I’m really grateful for. I went to Juilliard and I was surrounded by artists.

Then I graduated and quickly moved into the theater world, met Al (Rodriguez), who became my best friend right away. It’s always been a part of my life. It’s the world that I live in, it’s the world that I know and love. It’s what I’ve always been around and known. To me, because I’ve experienced that kind of life, it’s always interesting when you meet people who have had the absolute opposite experience and haven’t been around that or it’s so foreign. What ever other people feel, it’s always really interesting to me.

I hope with this story line and with Callie’s journey and the relationship with Arizona that we can just blow the top off of it and be like, “This is the world we live in.” There are several interesting walks of life that we’re talking about here. Arizona’s a character that’s always known that she’s a lesbian; Callie has only dated and been in love with men and now she’s understanding that she can also love and be with a woman. I think that’s an interesting walk of life, too, which is not necessarily the “I was born a lesbian, I’ve always known I was a lesbian.” It’s just as important to tell that story, too.

AE: What are your thoughts on the current state of lesbian visibility on TV?
SR: I think it’s getting better. I hate to say it, but unfortunately in this day and age in Hollywood when things are fashionable, suddenly you start to see it pop up everywhere. I feel like it’s popping up everywhere more and more. We had The L Word, obviously; we had a lot of shows in Hollywood that were trying, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I remember back in the day when it was The Real World on MTV and there was a gay character.

In terms of specifically lesbian characters, The L Word was really the first show that showcased that and since then Grey’s Anatomy and we’ve seen several primetime TV shows try to incorporate lesbian characters into their shows and even pilots, I feel like it’s become almost mandatory in a way. I’m hopeful and I’m grateful that people are starting to realize how important it is to have a well-represented show and a cast that really represents the world that we live in.