Each time Trump’s proposed budget cuts come into a conversation, the need to save PBS enters into focus. Images of childhood programming favorites like “Sesame Street” come to mind, but is there more to the huge budget they enjoy? PBS and some of its related programming cross over from simply being educational and become an unfair use of taxpayer funds. One such documentary made exclusively with federal funds in called “Real Boy.”
“Real Boy” follows one transgender teen through the process of transitioning from female to male. The series is not produced from an educational, medical, or even objective view. The film is very pro-gender reassignment and deals with this type of activity happening during the teen years.
PBS is seen as being a place for educational programming, so it is shocking to find something like “Real Boy” not only being broadcast but also being produced with taxpayer funding. The film was produced by The Independent Television Service (ITVS), which is a federally funded film-making company. The ITVS exists due to a federal mandate and received $86 million from taxpayers over five years. The funds came from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) who also gave over $235 million to PBS.
The documentary is scheduled to air on PBS on June 19th. According to a press release from ITVS, “Real Boy” is:
“…a moving and intimate story of a family in transition, Real Boy follows the journey of trans teen Bennett as he navigates adolescence, sobriety, and the physical and emotional ramifications of his changing gender identity.”
The press release goes on to explain the turbulent series:
“When Bennett began to share his true identity as a male, he felt happier inside but faced resistance from his family.
Through the process, his mother Suzy makes her own transformation—travelling a difficult road toward accepting that the daughter she raised as Rachael is now her son Bennett.”
Beyond the heavy promotion of the documentary by ITVS, trailers and other materials are also being featured on the PBS website. An excerpt from their materials includes the following:
“In this excerpt from the Independent Lens film Real Boy, Bennett enters the hospital for his gender surgery and is both touched and surprised that his mom Suzy came to be with him for support, despite her reservations. She then gets supportive advice from another mom whose son made the same transition, and who reassures Suzy that Bennett will find the right person for him.
At one point in the documentary, the PBS logo flashes on the screen as part of a graphic that reads: “Dating when you are trans: More at pbs.org/independentlens.”
Not only is PBS involved is selling a piece that seems to promote the idea that teens can make themselves feel better by having this type of procedure, but they are even offering dating advice to trans teenagers. This seems like an odd choice for money coming directly from taxpayers.
When we look at where the federal funds are coming from, the laws tied to the CPD are pretty clear. According to a recent report about the law:
“The Public Telecommunications Act of 1988 included language mandating that CPB “provide adequate funds for an independent production service” that would back “the production of public television programs by independent producers and independent production entities.” The act said CPB “shall ensure that the funds provided to such independent production service shall be used exclusively in pursuit of the Corporation’s obligation to expand the diversity and innovativeness of programming available to public broadcasting.”
It seems that the vision of “Real Boy” may have started out as an exercise in diversity that has crossed the line. In a press kit for the film put together by GLAAD, the following tips are shared as being “some basic tips for writing fair and accurate stories about transgender people”:
“One’s biology, does not ‘trump’ one’s gender identity, and oversimplifications like ‘born a man’ seem to invalidate the current, authentic gender of the person you’re speaking about.
When being transgender is just one of the many facts that make someone unique, we will move closer to acceptance.”
The press kit seems to point towards the purpose of the film not being to just show one diverse view but instead to push for overall social acceptance. This is not something that was covered or mandated by the federals laws that made the film possible.
Even those who are fighting for PBS funding and maintaining the 1988 act in its entirety do not support the documentary. According to Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over funding for CPB:
“The Public Telecommunications Act of 1988 requires a limited amount of CPB funding go to an ‘independent production service,’ which is ITVS. The purpose of this requirement is to foster local, small, independent filmmakers who would not be able to get stories on national television through national networks.
CPB does not have editorial control over the independent film topics, as that would be infringing on the exercise of free speech. While I certainly do not agree with every opinion expressed or topic explored in the documentaries that have been funded through ITVS, I do believe we have to follow the law.
While I personally do not agree with the decision to air ‘Real Boy,’ I also believe that local public television station managers should continue to exercise their own discretion in determining the most appropriate content for their particular viewing audiences.”