The combative, kitschy and unashamedly queer public access television series of the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties offered a rare glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Hello to all the lovely lesbians out there! My name is Debbie and I'm here to show you a few things you can do to take care of your vaginal health.”

This is how the primary segment “Lesbian Health” begins on “Dyke TV”, a lesbian-feminist television series that aired on New York’s public broadcasters from 1993 to 2006.

The half-hour program focused on lesbian activism, social issues, arts and film, news, health, sports and culture. Created by three artists and activists – Cuban playwright Ana Simo, theater director and producer Linda Chapman and independent filmmaker Mary Patierno – Dyke TV was one among the primary television shows by and for LGBTQ women.

Many people think that LGBTQ+ representation on television only began within the Nineteen Nineties in shows like “Ellen” And “Will and Grace”, LGBTQ+ people had already produced their very own television programs on local channels within the US and Canada for a long time.

Actually My research has shown Hundreds of publicly accessible LGBTQ+ series produced across the country.

In a media environment that has historically been hostile to LGBTQ+ people and issues, LGBTQ+ people created their very own local programs to shine a highlight on their lives, communities and issues.

Experimentation and advocacy

In this special health segment on “Dyke TV,” a lady undergoes a cervical examination on camera using a mirror, a flashlight and a mirror.

Close-ups of this woman's genitals reveal her vulva, vagina and cervix as she narrates the examination in a matter-of-fact tone and explains how viewers can use these instruments themselves to ascertain for vaginal abnormalities. “Dyke TV” recalls the ethos of the Seventies women's health movement and instructs viewers to empower themselves in a world where women's health care is marginalized.

Because there was little regulation of public television in New York, the show's hosts were capable of speak openly about sexual health and broadcast segments that might otherwise have been censored on the printed networks.

How today’s LGBTQ content creatorsMany producers of publicly accessible LGBTQ+ series have experimented with genre, form and content in entertaining and imaginative ways.

LGBTQ+ actors, entertainers, activists and artists – who often experienced discrimination and symbolic politics within the mainstream media – appeared in these series to advertise and discuss their work. The iconic drag queen RuPaul began his public appearances in Atlantawhere “The American Music Show” gave him a platform to advertise his burgeoning drag persona within the mid-Eighties.

RuPaul appears in an episode of “The American Music Show” in 1985.

The producers often viewed their series as a combination of entertainment, art and media activism.

Shows like “The Gay Dating Game” And “Be my guest“ were ironic satires about game shows from the 1950s. News programs like “Gay USA,” which first aired in 1985, covered local and national LGBTQ news and health issues.

Variety shows like “The Emerald City” in the 1970s, “Gay Morning America“ in the 1980s and “Candied CameraIn the 1990s, interviews, musical performances, comedy sketches and news broadcasts were combined. In soap operas such as “Secret passions”, featured gay amateur actors. And street interview programs like “The Glennda and Brenda Show“ used drag and street theater to stimulate discussion about LGBTQ issues.

Other programs contained more revealing content.

In the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, “Men & Movies”, “The Closet Case Show” And ““Men for Men” by Robin Byrd“ contained interviews with porn stars, clips from porn videos and photographs of sex in nightclubs and at parties.

Title screen with red fireworks and the words “Gay Morning America”.
The publicly accessible LGBTQ series experimented with genre, form and content.

Bypassing censorship

The regulation of sex on cable television has long been a political and cultural focus.

But legal loopholes inadvertently allowed sexual content to be made publicly available, allowing hosts and guests on these shows to talk openly about gay sex and safer sex practices – and even exhibit them on camera.

The impetus for public television was much like the ethos of public broadcasting, which aimed to create non-commercial and academic television programs. within the service of the general public interest.

In 1972 The Federal Communications Commission issued an order Cable television systems within the nation's 100 largest markets must offer access channels for public use. The FCC has ordered cable corporations to allocate airtime, equipment and studio space to individuals and community groups to make use of their very own programming on a first-come, first-served basis.

A middle-aged man with a moustache and a middle-aged woman with short hair sit at a news desk.
Andy Humm and Ann Northrop, the long-time hosts of “Gay USA”.
David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The FCC's regulatory authority doesn’t extend to editorial control over publicly available content. For this reason, repeated attempts have been made to ban programs across the Seventies, Eighties And Nineteen Nineties was questioned by cable producers and civil rights organizations.

The The Supreme Court has repeatedly overturned laws who try and censor cable access programs by citing the First Amendment. A cable network operator can refuse to broadcast a program that accommodates “obscenity,” but what constitutes obscenity is a matter of interpretation.

Over the years, producers of LGBTQ-themed shows have vehemently defended their programs against calls for censorship, and the law has at all times been on their side.

The AIDS crisis in focus

As the AIDS crisis began to ravage LGBTQ+ communities within the Eighties, public television became increasingly vital.

Many of the series mentioned above devoted several sections and episodes to discussing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on their personal lives, relationships and communities. Series similar to “Living with AIDS”, “Homovisions” And “Experience it live!” were specifically designed to teach and mobilize viewers about HIV/AIDS activism. With HIV/AIDS recipients minimal coverage within the mainstream media – and a Lack of political motion by local, state and national authorities – these programs were among the many few places where LGBTQ+ people could learn in regards to the latest developments regarding the epidemic and efforts to combat it.

The long-standing program “Gay USA” is one among the few remaining LGBTQ+ public access series; latest episodes air each week locally in New York and nationally on Free Speech TV. While public access channels still exists in most cities within the countryProduction has declined for the reason that advent of cheaper digital media technologies and streaming video services within the mid-2000s.

And yet, on this media age – let’s call it “the heyday of public television” – these combative, experimental, sexual, kitschy and powerful series offered remarkable insights into the culture, history and activism of the LGBTQ+ movement.

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