Buster Gets Busted

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(HOST) Recently a PBS television cartoon character named Buster has made headlines with a visit to Vermont. Some PBS stations will not be showing Buster’s Vermont visit, but commentator John Scagliotti is pleased to see that Vermont Public Television is taking a different approach.

(SCAGLIOTTI) Buster is a cartoon bunny that is the star of a well-loved PBS children’s program called “Postcards from Buster”. He travels with his airplane pilot dad and visits lots of places around the country and then shares his experiences with children who watch his TV show. But his visit to Vermont and a farm where two women do their sugaring got Buster busted by the PBS censors.

Now most of us in Vermont would not bat an eye if we saw two women farming with their children on TV. However, our new U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings thinks children will be, “Adversely affected by the sight of women running a farm together.” Yes, Madam Secretary, the women might be lesbians.

I guess we in Vermont – after years of discussions around civil unions, gay and lesbian foster adoptions and other big time gender issues – have come to realize that lesbians are part of the landscape that makes up our beautiful state. They might be our neighbors or our friends and perhaps even part of our families. So what’s the big deal if we see them on TV?

Twenty years ago things were a lot different. At that time, I was the first person to receive taxpayers money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to produce a gay and lesbian documentary for PBS. It was called “Before Stonewall”. It was rather brave of PBS to broadcast it in primetime and, yes, lots of program directors were scared, but it all happened and life did not end. After all, the mission for PBS was to present diverse voices that weren’t being heard and, at that time, few voices from lesbians or gay men were being heard anywhere – especially on PBS. So it all made some sense.

So what happened in those 20 odd years? Now there is PBS spokesperson Lea Sloan saying they had to be, “sensitive in today’s political climate.” So sensitivity to politics is now the reason for sending Buster to his room. Sounds more like old-fashioned censorship to me. I am afraid that years of very conservative politicians moving into our nation’s capital have begun to take their toll on PBS’s programming decisions, and I don’t think I’m being oversensitive when I say that.

Thank goodness that, when PBS was designed, local programmers had the choice to broadcast PBS shows or not. In 1986 some program directors decided not to broadcast my film. I was unhappy about that then. But Vermont’s Public TV Station did. And in that tradition, Vermont Public Television continues today to present all kinds of diverse voices including Buster and his Vermont women farmers. When they say check your local listings, they really mean it. In this case it will be March 23rd.

I’m John Scagliotti from Guilford.

John Scagliotti is the creator of the public television series “In the Life” and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the documentary “Before Stonewall”. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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