Live student talk show pulled off the air

Dallas school officials interrupt interview with transvestite guest

TEXAS — Three minutes into a television interview between a student journalist at Lincoln High School and a transvestite guest in December, Dallas school officials yanked “Getting Personal” from the school district’s public-access channel. The decision, made by Robert Hinkle, an assistant to the superintendent, circumvented the authority of the student editors, their faculty adviser and the school’s principal.

“He reacted to a portion of the whole and said the whole thing must be bad, and that was it,” said Louis White, the faculty adviser for the student television station.

The student-produced show featured a gay man wearing a wig and a black dress, and was intended as an educational project to help students understand how people deal with homosexuality. Students and staff, including principal Napoleon Lewis, protested the censorship and are demanding free expression protections for non-print media in the high schools. Lincoln High School has been producing programs for the cable access channel since 1983, but the guidelines have never been made clear.

In the wake of the controversy, stringent new guidelines have been placed on the student broadcasts and all content must now be approved by the superintendent1s office 48 hours prior to the scheduled program time.

“It’s a lot of bureaucratic B.S. is what it is,” White said. “They were talking about obscenity and indecency, but really they don’t want us interviewing gay men. They said it was pulled because we can1t be promoting ‘immoral sex,’ whatever that is. The students weren’t promoting anything. They were looking at how individuals deal with it philosophically when they or someone they know is gay.”

“When I realized they were using the same guidelines for the schools that the FCC had been using in 1967, I knew then that I was dealing with some idiots,” White said. “It’s like a damned Salem witch trial out here when it comes to stuff like gay issues in Dallas. This is one collection of backwards, non-thinking people. They want our students to play television, but not address any real issues. They say they want our shows to be the same quality as goes out under the FCC guidelines, but then they said you wouldn’t see a show like this on regular TV. Obviously they must not watch much TV these days, because this is nothing.”

“It isn’t the Jenny Jones Show,” said Superintendent Yvonne Gonzales, in statements to the press after students complained and tried to secure more free speech rights for the future, as reported by the Associated Press. “It’s a district-operated broadcast channel, so we have to be very cognizant of that. Parents in this community hold me responsible for what happens to their children, and I take that duty very seriously.”

Under the new guidelines, the school district maintains the right to refuse to sponsor or disseminate student speech that “advocates drug or alcohol use, irresponsible sex, or conduct inconsistent with the shared values of a civilized order.” White said that in Texas, that language could prevent his journalism students from doing just about anything.

The students at Lincoln High School say that this type of censorship will set a bad example for other schools trying to produce TV programming.

“There haven’t been any problems since December, because now we are doing shows that fit the new guidelines, shows on how to make French toast, you know, how to make a peanut butter sandwich,” White said. “You can’t produce real shows under these kinds of guidelines. This is going to be something that we are going to challenge, because you just can’t be teaching students this kind of lesson. We’re gearing up for the battle, getting warm for the war. As an African-American, and as a teacher, I’ve got to teach my people and my students not to stand for censorship. We’ve got to be persistent and consistent, and have some stick-to-itiveness to stay angry about something like this long enough to make a difference.”

reports, Spring 1997