Celebrating 17 Seasons “In the Life”

Many stations that did air the show received hate mail and had visits from protestors. One station in Atlanta lost local funding for a larger building after airing Tales of the City; In the Life was moved to a 1 a.m. time slot as a result.

“I always say it was very brave of each and every one of them in the early days to pick us up,” said Linton. “After a while, though, it’s not brave anymore; it’s your mandate as a PBS station. … We’re in Wichita, Kansas. If they can do it, you can do it.”

After a while, the tenor changed and the positive mail started to outweigh the negative. With the increased visibility of LGBT people on television, and in society in general, came an increased number of PBS viewers who began signing their names to their letters of support for the show.

In the Life took to the road and documented the sea change that occurred in the ’90s for queer communities. It was there for the 1993 March on Washington, for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1994, and for cultural events like Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out.

Linton fondly remembered activist Urvashi Vaid’s comment about this period: “In the ’90s, the love that dared not speak its name, as it was called in the ’60s, would not shut up.”

Urvashi Vaid (front) with Kate Clinton

As the first show of its kind, In the Life took seriously its responsibility of serving people hungry to see their lives on television. “One of the challenges and the goals is to reflect all of the communities within our community, which is huge and diverse within itself,” said Sassie Freedberg, associate producer of the program since August 2007. “Because of our format, we can talk about a myriad of issues in the course of one show. It points to how exciting things are for the LGBT communities, reflects the diversity of the communities, and shares that with the world.”

This commitment to diversity includes expanding coverage of LGBT issues around the world. Former guest host Staceyann Chin, for instance, is currently working out the logistics with In the Life for a story about Jamaica. “In the Life has always been open about the idea that the discussion of homophobia in Jamaica has always been a little narrow, one-sided and not as comprehensive as it could have been,” Chin said.

“A lot of what’s missing from the international conversation about homophobia in Jamaica is a true Jamaican perspective,” Chin continued. “A tourist boycott is being initiated by the international gay community, but the local gay community is against it because it would create a gulf between the LGBT community in Jamaica and those whose livelihoods would be compromised by tourism being affected.”

Staceyann Chin

The newsmagazine format allows In the Life to give such stories more than the 30-second sound bite allotted by conventional news broadcasts. “I like the time they give to stories,” Clinton said. “They don’t gloss; they really go deeply into a story, with that Bill Moyers–magazine feel that I really appreciate.”

In addition to the education, entertainment and validation this affords LGBT viewers, In the Life has been a valuable tool in creating understanding, building bridges and informing our straight allies. As communications officer Scott Miller said about the show, “We’re a social-change organization that uses television as a tool to get the information out.”

Now well into its second decade, In the Life has faced changes throughout the years, both internal and external. Between 2001 and 2002, several longtime staffers, including Linton, left the show to pursue other projects. But unlike most organizations, where former associates are never seen again, many former In the Lifers return to work — and play — with the show in other capacities.

Linton continues to produce segments for the show, as does former staffer Desireena Almoradie. Clinton, who laughingly said she “lives right up the street,” continues to provide commentary and other assistance. Charles Ignacio, who was involved with In the Life before the first show aired, and his partner, John Catania, recently returned to act as co-executive producers.