19 Years of LGBT Video History Preserved

Thousands of hours of video news and features on the LGBT and AIDS movements produced by Lou Maletta for his Gay Cable Network (GCN) over 19 years have been acquired by New York University’s Fales Library for cataloguing and preservation.

Maletta, 72, launched the network in 1982 with “Men in Films,” which explored male erotica, and soon went on to develop news programming that gave virtually the only television attention to the nascent AIDS crisis and the ongoing fight for LGBT rights on shows such as “Pride and Progress” (succeeded by the national “Gay USA” show that I still co-host with Ann Northrop out of Manhattan Neighborhood Network).

Maletta shut down operations in 2001, but has been paying for storage of the 6,100 hours of videotape in the hopes of selling the archive. While NYU is paying him a small fee for the donation, Marvin Taylor, the Fales director, called it “a major preservation challenge,” saying it could cost as much as $4 million to complete the digitization process — a task that will take many years and for which he is seeking funding.

“NYU has one of the most important gender studies programs in the country,” Taylor said, and the GCN material was a natural fit for the library, complementing its Downtown New York collection that documents the arts scenes from the 1970s through the ’90s, “a world decimated by the AIDS epidemic,” the library’s release said.

“This is the age of YouTube,” Taylor said. “These days preserving history through moving images is what we need to be doing. And scholars really want it.”

Maletta is thrilled that his life’s work finally has a home.

“No one else has anything of this nature in the world,” he said.

Maletta went out and covered everything he could in the community with a sense of mission and the conviction that “the way to educate people was with the greatest tool of all time — television.”

Part of what motivated him to use his video equipment to cover the community was watching a 30-year-old friend “turning into someone who looked 90 six months after being diagnosed with GRID [Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, the first acronym for AIDS] in 1982. No one had seen a KS lesion on TV until we put it on cable.”

From 1984 to 2000, the Gay Cable Network provided team coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, with reporters on the floor interviewing political leaders from Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, and George W. Bush to Jesse Jackson and Ann Richards. The network also covered LGBT and AIDS demonstrations outside the conventions, as well as countless local and national protests including the 1987 and 1993 national marches on Washington and the rise of ACT UP in 1987. Regular weekly updates by AIDS experts, including Frank Oldham, were a vital resource for a community in crisis in the 1980s and ’90s.

But Gay Cable Network also covered the social, cultural, and sexual lives of LGBT people with in-depth interview programs such as “Be Our Guest” and a show on bondage — “In the Dungeon” with Slave Dale, an impish and socially conscious leather man.

Some of the notable artists interviewed on the network were Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Harvey Fierstein, Tony Kushner, director Derek Jarman, Quentin Crisp, writer Vito Russo, Sara Jessica Parker, and Barbara Walters, among an eclectic mix of countless others.

Maletta said that much of the footage he and his crew shot did not make it into the final shows, but will be preserved in the collection.

“The cablecast footage along with all the material that has never been shown is a tremendous resource for documentarians and historians,” he said

“I am thrilled that NYU is preserving this invaluable resource,” said Northrop, who worked on the network’s convention coverage in 1996 and has co-hosted “Gay USA” for the last 13 years. “Lou Maletta’s collection is an incomparable record of LGBT history.”

Maletta and Taylor were introduced by Allen Zwickler, who heads the Phil Zwickler Foundation, named for his late filmmaker brother who made the documentary “Rights and Reactions,” about the passage of the New York gay rights bill in 1986, and was a correspondent for GCN. Phil died of AIDS in 1991.

“It’s more than 6,000 hours of film about civil rights and human rights,” Allen, an NYU alumnus involved in funding AIDS charities, said. “It is so incredible that it had to be preserved.”

Zwickler approached Taylor, who received the approval of Carol A. Mandel, the dean of Libraries at NYU.

Philip Brian Harper, chair of NYU’s Department of English, said in a release, “I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this acquisition is to me and those of my students who work in contemporary US sexuality studies. The increasingly ephemeral character of the public discourse in this arena makes it very difficult for scholars in the field to construct manageable working archives on which to focus their analyses and the GCN materials go a very long way toward addressing this problem.”

For information on how you can help support the preservation of the Gay Cable Network archive at NYU, contact Marvin Taylor at 212-998-2596 or at fales.library@nyu.edu.