Last January, Netflix released a remake of the 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time, which, this time around, centers around a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles. The main characters include Penelope, a recently-separated army nurse veteran who is raising her two teenage kids, Elena and Alex, with the help of her mother, Lydia (and their comedic landlord, Schneider).

Already, One Day at a Time has been celebrated for its incredibly timely commentary on everything from sexism in the workplace to the horrors of deportation, while remaining a feel-good sitcom for the whole family.

My Kid Is Gay co-founder, Kristin Russo, sat down with Michelle Badillo, one of the writers of the show, to talk about Elena’s coming out storyline, and how it’s different from how many other coming out stories are portrayed in TV and movies.

If you haven’t read Part One yet, check it out here, and stay tuned for Part Three coming soon!

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Kristin Russo: Ok, I would love to talk about Lydia, and her thoughts on religion after Elena comes out. First of all, she’s played by Rita Moreno, who is a legend.
Michelle Badillo: We had so many different ideas for how Lydia would receive Elena’s coming out. We kind of didn’t know where she fell, so it was kind of up to us to decide. We really wanted the dad to be the one to have the issue, but it did seem like she would probably have some issues as well. But, at the same time, we were also like, “She was a dancer in Cuba, she probably knows gay people.” Initially, we had it written so that Lydia doesn’t have a problem at all, which would throw Penelope off. Then at the first table read, Rita was like, “I just don’t see this going down this way. This is an older religious woman from Cuba. There is no way she would be comfortable with it right away. There’s this big God thing.” So, we wanted her to be okay with it, and we wanted to get her there as quickly as possible in a way that makes sense for her. And then she freaking kills it with her monologue on the couch.
Kristin: I felt like my head was spinning around on my neck after that moment. She got there all by herself. Did writers in the room have experience with navigating religion and coming out, or did it come more from Rita’s input?
Michelle: It was really Rita’s input that got us to that specific place. We had thought about the God-thing, and the religion thing, because she’s super Catholic, obviously—800 Popes, everywhere. My grandma is super Catholic, lives in Puerto Rico, goes to church every day. But when my dad told her I was gay, even though I wasn’t planning on having that conversation with her, she didn’t care at all. That’s why I was like, “My grandma is super Catholic, the same deal as Lydia, so it’s feasible to me that she wouldn’t care at all.” But I think that’s more of a rare experience I had.
Kristin: Yeah. Some of that experience is still worked into Lydia’s process, though. In my experience with my Catholic family and my mom, it was a decade of us working through it. If you are watching the show and you are religious, there are a lot of things you can identify with about Lydia, and Penelope’s relationship with Lydia in which she’s like, “Ugh, Mom” with the Pope on the fridge. I was really happy to see this arc with Lydia included because I think religion is one of the biggest struggles that people face with coming out.
Michelle: That’s why we wanted to address it, because it is such a huge thing. And we had already set up that at least Lydia is a very religious woman, and this family has had a lot of Catholic influence. It did seem important to address, especially for the people who are watching this show. Especially Latino families, a lot of them are hugely Catholics.
Kristin: We talk so much about the visibility of a character like Elena, but the visibility of a character like Lydia is also really powerful for that older generation of people who don’t have the ability to see that version of themselves reflected. They only see, “Well if I believe in God and I am religious and I am traditional in the sense that I have always identified with, I can’t always accept this gay person, because it goes against that.” So the fact that Lydia can embody this character who does still have a relationship with her faith that doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere, and can also still accept her granddaughter, it’s so important.
Michelle: I am so happy that we got to do that. And in the hands of Rita Moreno.

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