Controversial children’s program airs Tuesday on Vermont Public Television

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(Host) A controversial episode of a PBS children’s TV program that’s set in Vermont is airing Wednesday on Vermont Public Television. The “Postcards from Buster” episode created a national debate in January when U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings warned local stations not to air it because it featured children with lesbian mothers.

As VPR’s Lynne McCrea reports, one of the families in the episode is now looking back on the controversy as an educational opportunity.

(Sound from the family’s kitchen) “Time to eat!”

(McCrea) Tracy Harris and Gina D’Ambrosio of Charlotte see their family as typical in many ways. They have three children – their son Taylor is 13, Lilly is nine and Amelia is seven years old.

(D’Ambrosio) “We have the same routines as people. We get up in the morning and take turns feeding them and helping get ready for school and when we get home we help with homework. And you know, Tracy and I have a good relationship in that we make a really good team.”

(McCrea) When the Boston producers of the “Buster” program asked the couple to appear in an episode, Harris says she was sold by one of the goals of the program: to show ‘the diverse faces of young Americans.’

(Harris) “I was really interested in having our kids participate because our kids don’t get the opportunity to see their family structure portrayed in the media.”

(McCrea) And so about a year ago, a Boston TV crew came to Vermont to tape the program, which features an animated bunny named Buster visiting children from different backgrounds and cultures. The Vermont episode focused on springtime, with a visit to a sugar house, among other activities. It also showed the children’s family as having two moms.

After waiting for months to see the results, the family got word early this year about objections to the episode from the U.S. Education Department and PBS.

(Harris) “And the kids’ faces just dropped. Taylor looked angry and Lilly kind of started to cry a little and Amelia just didn’t understand what was happening.”

(McCrea) But Harris and D’Ambrosio focused on some good news for their children: the show would air in Vermont thanks to WGBH in Boston, which – against the objections – decided to make the episode available to stations.

(Harris) “So we talked to the kids about the brave, strong people in Boston. And Lilly thought about that for a minute and said, ‘That’s what Martin Luther King did.’ And we said, you’re right. It takes a lot of strength and bravery to stand up to other people that are more powerful than you and do what you feel in your heart is right.”

(McCrea) The women say they’ve been careful not to let their kids get caught up in the controversy, but rather to celebrate the episode as a fun experience. But for Harris and D’Ambrosio, this has also been an opportunity to have their voices heard.

(D’Ambrosio) “This show is not about whether a certain family structure is right or wrong, or should be promoted or not promoted. I mean, there are many episodes – there are episodes about a Muslim family, about an evangelical Christian family, about a family of kids who live in a trailer, about a family of kids who live with their grandmother. I mean, it’s not – none of this is making any statements or judgments about how a family should or could be. It’s about how families are.”

(McCrea) And the women say ‘who they are’ has been very much supported by their neighbors and community here in Vermont.

Meanwhile, 58 PBS stations across the country have either aired or plan to air the “Sugartime” episode. That coverage represents over half of all U.S. households.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea.

The ‘Sugartime’ episode of “Postcards from Buster” airs Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 on Vermont Public Television.

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