The queer history channel


The GLAAD TV report was published this week and one of its findings interested me. Their network responsibility index shows the History channel failing with 0% of its programming featuring LGBT people, issues, images, impressions or stories.

Initially, I thought, fair enough. LGBT history is often hidden history, so it’s not surprising that programme makers might struggle to find enough material to make a series. Then, I reconsidered.

We have just had an excellent series in the UK by historian Simon Schama called The Story of the Jews. Schama’s passion for his subject and the genuine emotion he displayed at the gross injustices done to the Jewish people was profound and moving. It struck me that, in the hands of someone such as Simon Schama, a series could easily be made about the history of LGBT people (or even four series!). After all, the story of LGBT people is peppered with as much intolerance, hatred and triumphant human spirit as that of the Jews.

I recall that about 5 years ago, the BBC conducted a survey about their LGBT programming in which they asked respondents to comment on areas where they would like to see improvements. I suggested than that there were not enough LGBT role models in factual programming and that they should commission a major documentary series on the history of homosexuality. I wonder what happened to that idea?

I’m still waiting for that big budget documentary series and I am puzzled as to why. There have been so many reality TV shows featuring LGBT participants, all the serious drama series have an LGBT character/issue in them, films such as Kinsey and the new TV series Masters of Sex are dramatising parts of LGBT history, so why is our history not being shown in a detailed documentary?

I wonder whether the reason is, in part, the same reason that those persecuting the Jews for thousands of years understood. If you allow a group of people to own a history, you give them roots and that gives them permanence. Then, you have to take them seriously. It is convenient for many people, particularly those playing politics, to think that LGBT people are a relatively new invention; they didn’t exist before 1960 and, even then, not in the numbers that they do today. The truth, as we know, is that LGBT people have existed for as long as man has been on the planet. (As an aside: the history of British black and Asian communities is also lacking a major documentary series. Any connection?)

Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for a lack of historical programming. Those of us who have read around the subject of LGBT history know that there is a rich seam of true stories available. Taking just the political history of LGBT rights, or the biographies of LGBT activists (intentional and unintentional), or the scientific advances in understanding and “treating” LGBT patients, would provide a documentary maker with hours of programming. As the infographic below shows, it’s all out there for the taking.

gay_historySo, I am rescinding my earlier comments about the History channel’s lack of LGBT programming and instead saying, ‘Shame on you, History channel. A bit of research and you could have produced some totally original documentaries with stories from the past that were completely new to most viewers.’

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