Decades before “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “The ‘L’ Word” or “Pose” hit screens across America, there was “Just for the Record,” a New Orleans public affairs show on Cox Channel 49 with programming and features just for the LGBTQ community.
Behind it all was creator and producer Valda Lewis, a recent transplant to the United States, the daughter of a U.K. public relations professional. Although Lewis had never worked in broadcasting or behind the camera, she helped steer “Just for the Record” to an incredible six-year run, from 1987 to 1993.
“The show was an answer to the Great Plague [the AIDS crisis]. At the time, I was kind of driven. This was what I could do, given the crisis that was around us,” Lewis says from her Cleveland home.
“The show is a document of the time. We did spots on cooking, healthy eating, holistic care and channeling good energy. We were spotlighting long-time survivors, the latest medical breakthroughs and any info that was out there that we could get to keep people informed through the TV. There was no internet.”
Given Lewis’ contributions to chronicling LGBTQ life over the past 32 years, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana honored her in September at its Fifth Annual Oracle Gala. Amistad Research Center shared in the honors as repository of the “Just for the Record” collection. The event was held at New Orleans Jazz Market on Sept. 14.
“There were a couple of things we took into consideration in deciding to honor Valda this year. The overwhelming thing is the breadth of her collection,” Frank Perez, president of the LGBT+ Archives Project, says. “Her collection is by far the largest video collection we’ve ever facilitated the collection and processing of. It’s not just its breadth, but also its importance and the scope of its rarity.”
Last year, the LGBT+ Archives Project funded a grant that Amistad used to digitize the shows. Researchers can now easily comb through 124 hours of the 30- to 60-minute shows permanently housed at Amistad Research Center. The Center hopes to make the content available online in the future.
Early in-studio segments of “Just for the Record” feature a bare bones set. Host Loretta Mims interviewed activists, business owners, professionals, culture bearers and other newsmakers in the local and national LGBT community. Events like New Orleans Gay Pride Fest and an ACT-UP rally, which first ran on Channel 49, are digitally preserved for posterity.
“For 26 years Amistad has had the honor of being the steward of the video collection “Just for the Record,” a wonderful record of the LGBTQ community and its activism in New Orleans,” Amistad’s Executive Director Dr. Kara Tucina Olidge says. “As a cable access show, it was truly groundbreaking because it aired from 1987 to 1993. As you know, there were few, if any, programs representing the LGBTQ community during this time.”
The show’s subtitle, “A Series for Gay People,” is plucky, upfront and revelatory. One week, “Just for the Record” made the cover of the now-defunct newspaper supplement “TV Focus.”
“I thought they’d been destroyed in Katrina. I’m kind of pleased that they still exist,” Lewis, 63, says. “When I looked, I found I still had the originals and more. I continued to tape. I have 700 hours of footage here. Everything from national conferences to church services. I’d like to see what we could do with the rest. I was the only one out there filming this stuff.”