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Gay Cable Network Archive – Illuminating In-Equality

Today’s entry is written by Brent Phillips, Fales Media Archivist, and Timothy Woitas, an Archives Assistant at the Fales Library & Special Collections.

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After the recent repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Fales Library preserves rare LGBT video documenting its genesis.
Back in 1996, when a court case in Hawaii appeared to be paving the way for legal same-sex marriage in that state, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law, in what some critics considered a cynical election-year move to appeal to conservative voters. The law not only prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages but allowed any state to deny recognition of such marriages performed in other states.
On June 26th of this year, the US Supreme Court made history by striking down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriages, while also striking down the Proposition 8 law that barred same-sex couples from marrying in California.
On that day, while SCOTUS was delivering their historic decisions, Fales undergraduate student assistant Timothy Woitas was busily indexing recently preserved ¾” Umatic videotapes from the Gay Cable Network Archive. Acquired by Fales in 2009, this archive comprises over 6000 videotapes — of both broadcast episodes and source material — for numerous LGBT programs that aired on public access television from 1982-2000. Last year, Fales preserved two of these shows, Pride and Progress and The Right Stuff, which are now available for viewing at Fales. The current finding aid can be found here:

We are now readying Gay USA, a landmark LGBT news program. I asked Timothy to share some of his findings as he wades through hundreds of hours of footage that hasn’t been seen in decades:
“In the early years, episodes of Gay USA primarily featured footage of current events, such as political rallies and activist protests, and relatively little commentary from co-hosts Andy Humm and Lee Sharmat. In 1995, the show was reformatted to feature three main segments—Lesbian and Gay News, AIDS News, and Entertainment News—interspersed with some interviews and footage of current events. However, in 1996, two full broadcasts were dedicated to coverage of the Republican National Convention in San Diego.
GCN correspondents Ann Northrop and Ed Anderson roamed the floor, finding such ‘gems’ as Pennsylvania Representative Rick Santorum and Colonel Oliver North, who proudly explained their support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Publishing Executive Steve Forbes, who appeared eerily similar to the clown in all my childhood nightmares, responds to Northrop’s questions regarding discrimination laws and same-sex marriage with a cheeky grin and vague comments on what “the American people” want.

GCN Screen Shot_RNC1996But perhaps the most egregious elephant in the room was Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum. With the belief that “society” is behind her, Schlafly contended that same-sex marriage interferes with her rights. When Anderson asked how, Schlafly declared, “It’s not the loving relationship. It’s the official validation by a marriage license.”
“But how does that interfere with your rights?”
“Well it does!” she cried. “I just don’t care to give my approval to that. Why are you asking me to give my approval to that?” Schlafly, who has a gay son, later went on to clarify: “Marriage is not about loving relationships. Marriage is about a man and a woman making a contract for a lifetime commitment.”
Luckily, there were a few points of light at that RNC. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond quietly declared his support for needle exchanges and stronger AIDS funding, and Betsy McCaughey, Lieutenant Governor of New York, held a politically positive yet light-hearted conversation with Northrop, with whom she attended college.”
Other individuals interviewed at the RNC include: Dick Armey, George Pataki, Candace Gingrich, Ralph Reed, Rev. Lou Sheldon, Dan Quayle, and Mark Foley. These preserved episodes of Gay USA will be available for researchers to view at Fales in fall 2013. Digitization is now underway on all unedited GCN videotapes that document floor coverage from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000.
Fales is working in collaboration with Melitte Buchman of Bobst Library’s Digital Library Technical Services Department, and utilizing the semi-automated multi-standard migration system (aka SAMMA Solo, a single-stream migration system that is able to output multiple digital formats) for the preservation of these ¾ inch Umatic videotapes. Digital derivatives created include a YUV – 10-bit master, a DVCpro50 file, and a .mov viewing proxy made available in the Fales Reading Room by appointment.
As history continues to be made, Fales is making it a priority to preserve this rich heritage by supplying researchers, students, scholars, and teachers with unique LGBT moving image material.

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