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2002 - March

Queer as Folk creators face down critics
March 5, 2002

At a Saturday night panel discussion with the creators and stars of Showtime's Queer as Folk in Los Angeles, one of half a dozen protesters made it inside the auditorium to address the panelists directly. Talking about developments in the February 24 episode of the series, protester Michael Buchanan told the show's creative team, "We are very upset that you have perpetuated fear [of HIV-positive people] by having Debbie [Sharon Gless], a PFLAG mom and sister to someone who is HIV-positive, tell her son she wished he wasn't gay [because it put him at risk for HIV infection]."

"I'm thrilled that you're here," responded executive producer Daniel Lipman, according to an account on "Aren't you happy that there's a show bringing up these issues?" Buchanan, who founded a group called Queers Against Queer as Folk, is upset over the current story line in which lead character Michael (Hal Sparks) dates a man named Ben who's HIV-positive. Debbie, Michael's mother, and two of his best friends try to convince him to drop the guy for fear of Michael's becoming infected; in one scene, Michael himself elects to cut short his lovemaking with Ben, upset by seeing all the pills in his medicine cabinet. Buchanan argues that the story line will contribute to prejudice against and rejection of people with HIV or AIDS.

The QAF panel, held at the Directors Guild of America, was part of the annual William S. Paley Television Festival, presented by the Los Angeles Museum of Radio and Television. (The gay-inclusive HBO series Six Feet Under will be the subject of a similar program on Saturday, March 9, at the DGA.) The evening's program began with a screening of QAF's most recent episode, which Buchanan told didn't make him any happier. "I ended [my questioning of the panel] with, 'How do you feel knowing there are queers outside who don't like how you've treated HIV?' " Buchanan said. "Of course no one addressed that question."

"Queer as Folk does not put a pink ribbon on life," said Sharon Gless, who plays Michael's mother, Debbie, in response to Buchanan, according to "It's real life."

Added executive producer Ron Cowan, "We're trying to challenge politically correct thinking. We all enjoy going to that place where we're a little scared. I think what we're trying to do is get people to feel the way you felt." Buchanan responded, "You're not challenging me; I'm here to challenge you."

Apart from the exchanges with Buchanan, however, the evening's program was largely a mutually supportive interaction between the show's creators--executive producers Cowan and Lipman and much of the principal cast--and the enthusiastic, sell-out audience. Indeed, most of those in the packed auditorium clearly did not share Buchanan's concerns. The program ended immediately after the protester's give-and-take with the panel, and those attending gave the participants a long and loud standing ovation.

Buchanan, however, is undaunted, promising another protest at the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles on April 14. His rallying cry: "Take back Queer as Folk!"

Protestors Show Up for 'Queer As Folk'
Mon, Mar 4, 2002 12:42 PM PDT
by Vanessa Sibbald, TV News

LOS ANGELES ( - Showtime's controversial series "Queer as Folk" lived up to its reputation Saturday night (Mar. 2) as protestors showed up during The William S. Paley Television Festival's presentation of the gay-themed series.

"I'm thrilled that you're here," said the show's executive producer, Daniel Lipman. "Aren't you happy that there's a show bringing up these issues?"

Yet the protestors didn't seem too thrilled, though not for the reasons one might immediately suspect. Holding signs reading "Queers Against 'Queer as Folk,'" one of the protestors later made the cause of their anger known during the panel's question and answer period, saying they were upset over a recent story line from the show's sixth episode (which aired Feb. 10) in which Michael (Hal Sparks) turns away from his lover Ben (Robert Gant) because Ben is HIV positive.

The protestors argued that the episode contributed towards intolerance of HIV positive people and that they have had to do damage control since the episode aired.

"'Queer as Folk' does not put a pink ribbon on life," says Sharon Gless, who plays Michael's mother, Debbie, on the series. "It's real life."

Executive producer Ron Cowan agrees, saying that characters in the drama don't always make the easiest decisions.

"We're trying to challenge politically correct thinking," he says. "We all enjoy going to that place where we're a little scared."

"I think what we're trying to do is get people to feel the way you felt."

To which the protestor countered, "You're not challenging me, I'm challenging you."

Gant urged the man to continue watching, saying the story isn't over yet.

The audience, impatient with the debate, started shouting "Next," as in "next question," but time was up.

At which time the cast and executive producers stood up to leave only to have the packed crowd say goodbye by giving them a standing ovation, complete with thunderous applause.