Earlier this week, I sat for an interview that will be included in a new book on LGBT history. The interviewer asked some questions that hit a nerve and actually allowed me to see my actions in a new light. That is the sign of a good journalist. She actually had me in tears at one point. So here’s the scoop.
She was asking me about the Gay Raiders and our campaign against the networks, which took place in 1972-73. That campaign resulted in the first agreement with TV networks on the way LGBT characters would be portrayed, a new organization for the networks to work with to help the inclusion of LGBT characters and the development of new guidelines for LGBT news. This was long before — and led the way for — programs like “Ellen” and “Will & Grace” and the LGBT-inclusive news coverage we now have. And it all came from disruptions of TV shows ... many of them. You most likely only know of a few actions, the ones that focused on figures like Barbara Walters or Walter Cronkite and his “CBS Evening News.” But we did many of them and spent some time in jail and court.
But there are two issues that she touched on that now, 40 years later, I have a new perspective on, and it was a revelation for me. For years, it has always made me shrug when people referred to me as brave for taking the risk to do those zaps (that’s what we called the disruptions). Her questions had me feeling and recalling those moments before I stepped before the camera. And then it caught me. Doing something that you knew could cause you harm in the name of something you believed in is indeed brave. You might say that we should have understood that, but I did not at the time. Before I stepped before that camera, I was always frightened — to me being scared meant I was not brave. It took that interview 40 years later to make me understand. What I didn’t tell the interviewer was about some of the ways we were jailed. In Burbank, it was with a guy in the next cell who was bragging about having just killed a fag.
Then she asked me to tell her something that I’ve never told about the Cronkite zap. Did you ever have one of those moments when a lifetime of pictures on one subject rush before your mind in just a second? Well, that is what happened to me, and all I could say was that Walter was the best mentor I had in my life. I’ve never said that before or thought about it like that, but I’m sure he’d be smiling at that. And you know what? That’s the way it is.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.