June Specials for Gay/Lesbian Pride Month

by Derek Elmer

The slogan "IF PBS DOESN'T DO IT WHO WILL" while a wee bit self-congratulatory, also seems to ring true this June as the network aims to bring pride month out of the closet on the heels of the recently canceled ABC-TV show ELLEN. Thanks to a number of programming sources, PBS affiliates nationwide will offer up a variety of shows targeted toward it's gay and gay-friendly audience during.

First up is Arthur Dong's LICENSED TO KILL; a documentary which examines intolerant attitudes that have motivated men to kill others, both gay and straight alike. Dong, himself a victim of violence, set out to "meet men whose contempt for homosexuals led them to kill." What follows is an evenhanded, yet compelling, look into the minds of men who kill others in the name of hate.

LICENSED TO KILL profiles seven men all convicted of first or second degree murder, six of which killed gay men simply because they were gay. The seventh of Dong's interviews is Kenneth Jr. French. Currently, French is serving four consecutive life terms for opening fire in a restaurant; killing four and injuring many others. The reported motivation behind French's shooting spree was the attempted lift of the military ban on homosexuals by the U.S. government.

With LICENSE TO KILL, Dong says his intent "is to show how prejudice and bigotry are a part of our everyday life without our realizing it." He accomplishes this by avoiding talking heads that are religious zealots or political fanatics, instead focusing on those who appear as `normal;' or in Dong's words: "every day men who could be your next-door neighbor."

Intercut among all seven interviews is graphic, and at times disturbing, crime-scene police footage. However, it is these images which empower the film to make society take a look at what a collective attitude of intolerance breeds. On a more personal level, the images also convey the destruction seven different men caused within the lives of the families and friends their victims left behind. Perhaps this is why the film is more than another `hate-crime' documentary. It's also an educational lesson for us all.

After making it's rounds on the indie film scene and winning top awards at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, a shortened version of LICENSED TO KILL makes it's national debut on PBS' independent film series: "P.O.V." Tuesday, June 23 at 10pm (check local listings).

Away from Dong's look at the harsh realities of life that many minority groups face is a documentary about where many of us choose to spend our lives. Originally produced as an episode in an ongoing series depicting San Francisco's unique neighborhoods is KQED-TV's THE CASTRO. The film focuses on the neighborhood of the same name, San Francisco's calling card to the gay and lesbian community.

Produced, written and directed by Peter L. Stein, THE CASTRO profiles the transformation of the quiet Eureka Valley neighborhood originally inhabited by working class European immigrants, to it's current stature known around the world as a `gay Mecca.' Stein combines archival footage of the birth and rise of The Castro with contemporary interviews and images of the modern day neighborhood to portray the evolution of `America's first gay hometown.' What unfolds in this process is a story of political unrest, social upheaval, and the emergence of San Francisco's visible gay culture.

Ultimately, THE CASTRO is a film which profiles the collective conscious of a group and it's evolution over time; from the gay liberation movement in the 70's to the rise and subsequent battle against AIDS in the 80's and 90's. Stein's film also depicts life in The Castro today as he interviews a new generation of residents, our generation, who speak out on behalf their community, and sometimes against it. In the end, the documentary's voice illustrates how the neighborhood in the Eureka Valley now commonly referred to as `The Castro' created and retained it's unique place in San Francisco.

A recent winner of a George Foster Peabody award, THE CASTRO will air on most PBS stations Friday, June 12th at 9pm. (Check local listings).

What Gay and Lesbian Pride month would be complete without a bit of community introspection? Well, fear no more. Produced by Paris Poirier and Karen Kiss and presented through PBS by the Independent Television Service, PRIDE DIVIDE does just this. PRIDE DIVIDE examines the different paths to equality taken by gay men and lesbians, the consequences of their choices, and what lay ahead for the gay and lesbian community in future years.

A variety of activists, artists, politicians and cultural theorists from Camille Paglia to comedienne Kate Clinton assemble to form a blueprint of life's differing motivations for gay men versus lesbian women and how this has effected the community-wide struggle for equality.

The gender gap which exists in the gay and lesbian community has effected everything from AIDS and breast cancer research to homophobia and hate crime prevention. As the gay-rights movement became politically viable in the 1970's the gender gap within the gay and lesbian community became obvious as political organizations within the community prioritized their battles. Many gay-related organizations such as "The Gay Liberation Front" took up battle primarily for gay-men's causes, and pushed issues important to the lesbian community to the back burner. And as a result, an eventual backlash resulted from this one-sided form of representation within the gay and lesbian community; a backlash that has only become magnified, as many in PRIDE DIVIDE argue.

With our society's domination by patriarchal forces for centuries, it's not surprising that a gender gap within the community exists. However, with gender roles constantly being challenged in the 1990's it is somewhat surprising to hear about these double-standards thriving within the gay and lesbian community; standards imposed upon us, by us. Perhaps, this is one reason PRIDE DIVIDE is a show worth watching. For anyone our age who is interested in knowing where we, as gay men and lesbian women have been as a collective entity, and where we are headed, PRIDE DIVIDE provides good insight into these questions. For anyone interested in educating themselves about true equality within the gay and lesbian community and in our society as a whole, PRIDE DIVIDE will appeal to you.

Activist Christine Jarosz believes the only issue that gay men and lesbians have in common is that both groups on the same side of a political issue (for equality), which is a sentiment that seems to summarize PRIDE DIVIDE in a variety of ways. PRIDE DIVIDE airs throughout the month of June at varying times on the following stations:

KPBS/San Diego: June 14 at 1am KQED/San Francisco: June 27 at 11pm WGBX/Boston: June 28 at 10pm KIXE/Redding, CA: on July 15 at 10pm.

Check local listings for further additions to this schedule.

Also this month is the fifth installment of producer and host, Katherine Linton's, series IN THE LIFE. In the second annual AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE episode, the show examines gay and lesbian participation among our society's conservative social institutions.

Highlighted in this episode is Virginia Apuzzo, a visible activist in the gay rights movement. Apuzzo now serves as Assistant to the President for Management and Administration and is currently the highest ranking openly gay official in the federal government. Also profiled by this installment of IN THE LIFE are Iowa residents Gair Bridges and Ron Travis. The couple have received Eldora, Iowa's 1996 Foster Parents of the Year award for their commitment as foster parents to the children they've cared for over the years.

Regarded by some as the gay `Dateline NBC,' IN THE LIFE nears the end of it's seventh season on PBS this month. Since it is widely distributed throughout the PBS network, airdates and times vary, so check local listings on the PBS stations in your area.

So, despite what NBC would have you believe, the magical land of television didn't end with the Seinfeld finale. These shows won't be hyped up as much as Seinfeld's show was, of course neither was the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the gay and lesbian-related programming on television this month also deserves a hefty audience too, so happy viewing.

Derek Elmer can be contacted at dereke@wkar.msu.edu

©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.