As the world of Washington continues its march into the modern dark ages, there are refreshing pinholes of light on the media horizon. Even as we are seeming more like a nation fashioned in the image of [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia, three gay networks were born recently. That fact alone creates some basis for the hope that our nation eventually returns to a more balanced and honest vision of our own diversity.
It is well-settled that we are in the middle of a “gaybee boom.” The 2000 Census tells us that gay and lesbian couples are living in 99.7% of the counties in the United States. One of five gay men is a dad, and three out of five lesbians are moms. The right of gay men and lesbians to marry is clearly the social issue of our times. All of this is anathema to official Washington.
But media conglomerates and entrepreneurial upstarts are going boldly where no one has gone before.
Here TV, where I have a new show, is a gay channel put together by a group of entertainment executives who concluded that the relative lack of enthusiasm by local cable providers to provide a gay network had more to do with bandwidth than with bias. Here TV opted to fly over the system as a hybrid premium/video-on-demand service and now has a deal with every major cable provider. It’s available in 42 million homes. Q Television launched more conventionally, as a premium channel.
Meanwhile, backed by the formidable muscle of Viacom, Logo TV has taken a more traditional route, steadily gaining access as a linear channel. Logo launched with 17 million homes. With Viacom and MTV Networks behind it, that number will likely grow rapidly.
There’s an old joke about the Chicago doyenne who tells the manager of Marshall Field’s, “I love your store, and I adore shopping here, but must you employ so many homosexuals?” He answers, “Ma’am, without homosexuals, there wouldn’t be a Marshall Field’s!”
The same can be said for television. In the past decade, television has been changed dramatically and comedically by mainstream shows with both an implicit and explicit gay sensibility. But that’s not enough for a generation that grew up on Will & Grace and The L Word.
Having our own networks requires a different set of responsibilities. It’s not enough to sneak a joke past the network watchdogs anymore.
On Birch & Co., I hope public figures such as Pat Buchanan, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Gore and the great civil-rights leader John Lewis will address issues that have so profoundly affected gay life in America. It’s great to hear from our friends like Rosie and Al, but it’s equally important to hear how people not aligned with our struggle, like Buchanan, view these issues.
While we continue to get beaten up politically, we must take heart from our significant cultural achievements. Those of us who have been in this battle many years know that the pendulum will swing back our way and we will begin to replace vitriol and intolerance with real wisdom and lasting change.
Birch is the former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization.