Gay History – March 10th, 1958: WABD-NY Hosts First Televised Discussion With Gay Panelist
While not the first television station to feature a televised panel discussion on “homosexuality” (that honor would go to WRCA which did one a year and a half earlier but that program did not include any real-live gay people.) WABD in New York decided to host a discussion on “homosexuals” during it’s lunchtime public affairs talk show program Showcase.
While looking for guests the producer contacted Tony Segura, the New York chapter president of the Mattachine Society, about coming onto the program. Segura agreed to appear but only on the condition that his name wasn’t mentioned and he could wear a hood while on the air because homosexuality was still at that time a felony in the state of New York with a punishment of up to twenty years in prison.
The program that day dealt mainly with dispelling some of the stereotypes about gay people.
No one is really sure what happened next. Perhaps it was blow-back from the public or pressure from the then all powerful Archdiocese of New York. But the higher-ups at WABD cancelled the follow-up show the next day which was scheduled to host another discussion, this time about lesbians, with a member of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. Fifteen minutes before airtime, the topic was cancelled and the guests were to talk about something else — anything else. Because one of the guests, Helen King, had written a book about handwriting analysis, that was chosen to be the riviting topic of the day, but not before the host for the day, Fannie Hurst, announced that “after the high plateau reached yesterday, the station feels we are a little premature.” The guests quickly exhausted the topic, and the program ended early as Hurst apologized once more for the fact that the program had “undergone severe censorship,” and expressed the hope that “fear of living” would in time be replaced with enlightenment and human understanding. Hurst closed the show saying “hail but not farewell.”
Unfortunately no footage from either of the episodes has survived.