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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
Lambda Line

Dimension 5

WOI-TV, Marcus Welby Gay Rape Episode Response
October 8, 1974

Early in October, 1974, the ABC TeeVee network decided to air an episode named "The Outrage" on Marcus Welby, America's most trusted non-doctor, in which a junior high school boy was taken on school camping trip and raped by his science teacher.

To be more accurate we didn't get to see the rape, but just the ramifications of this act upon the child.

The episode made the presumption that the rapist was a gay man. The episode showed the child's shame at having been assaulted. The episode was an evil bit of propaganda constructed along the same old lines we had come to expect in these earlier days when the media really didn't relish showing positive gay characters anywhere and this was about all anybody could ever expect to see in the media.

The show neglected to mention that about 98% of rapes of children were performed by heterosexual men and the fact that it is indeed heterosexual men who rape both boys and girls was way beyond the scope of their myopic understanding of how things generally work in the world.

Gay organizations across the country organized a boycott of the show. ABC affiliates in Philadelphia and Boston pulled the episode.

In Ames we approached WOI with our demand that they pull the episode too. We had visions of network television reporting that "this week's episode of Marcus Welby is not being shown in Philadelphia, Boston, and Ames."

WOI wasn't game. They were the only network station in the country at that time that was additionally a college television station (since changed), so we did have a more receptive station management than we might have if we'd been approaching a station in other regions of the state.

Instead they offered us a solution that was a bit unexpected. Betty Lou Varnum, a pioneer of Central Iowa television, had a weekly evening talk show called Dimension 5 on which local issues were discussed. Ratings were low for this show as it normally tended to be dry and full of as much controversy as might be generated in deciding who was responsible for cleaning up the three week old potholes by the old Cyclone Stadium before Parents' Weekend.

Dimension 5 was on the same evening (Tuesday) that Marcus Welby was on. We were invited to be on the program to present our views. We went to WOI several days in advance of the show and saw the episode of Marcus Welby well before most of America.

We accepted WOI's gracious invitation.

None of our earlier educational activities with confrontational or non-confrontational politics, except perhaps for several radio shows in the past, ever approached the audience we could potentially reach by being on one television show. WOI was glad to tell Central Iowa that queers would be featured on the week's show, which they did in the Des Moines Register. Evidently more people read those ads than normally watched the show.

The panel we took to WOI included 4 women from Lesbian Alliance and 4 men from Gay People's Alliance, but after we arrived WOI informed us they could only sit 6 people on the stage at any one time, so we switched two people during a commercial midway in the program.

Most people in Central Iowa had never seen a local openly gay person, and evidently ratings went through the roof compared to a normal Tuesday night with Betty Lou.

It was strange getting used to the environment when the show started. Big black boxes (the cameras of the day) were pushed back and forth, the lights were so damned bright, it was nerve wracking at first. I think it took a few minutes before any of us felt comfortable and adjusted enough to act about as normally as could be expected under the circumstances of being in this unnatural studio situation.

In addition to Betty Lou's own list of questions, the television audience was asked to phone in their questions for the people on the show. They weren't always as considerate as she was. I heard that within an hour the show had more questions for us than they had ever had with any other discussion topic on Dimension Five.

Hey, we knew we were hot.

The questions were not much different than they would have been going to a class, except one of the women had mentioned she'd been involved in a male/female marriage earlier in her life and had children, and for a time in the program a lot of questions revolved around that.

By the second half of the program there were so many Christians that had tuned in that we were having bible quotes thrown at us without a question attached to them. Some of us, well, at least I, tired of these assaults by people I had no desire to influence, and I got rather snide towards them. Several people on the panel were better at handling those particular questions.

After midnight we finally quit answering questions (they extended the show, if I remember correctly) and went home. Ironically this had been the first day of a new job for me and it wasn't the best timing for staying out so late since I had a lot to learn the next morning and began work at 7 AM.

Little grains of paranoia still returned about how being on the show would affect the job; but I don't think anybody at the job happened to watch it.

Regardless, life continued the next morning even though I was tired.

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