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"Word of Mouth" How The Trans+ Community Found Itself

Phil Donahue Show

One episode of The Phil Donahue Show is emblematic of the power of television. On the 29th of January, 1980, Ariadne Kane was invited on the program to discuss crossdressing and the Human Outreach and Achievement Institute. This had the potential to reach a brand new audience—one that had never come into contact with Trans+ related topics before.

Clips from the Phil Donahue Show Featuring Ariadne Kane

The show was filmed in January of 1980 and aired the following month. Take note of the way the contact information was included at the end. As per Kane's request, this made it possible for viewers to get in touch with the Human Outreach and Achievement Institute directly, rather than having to go through the show’s producers.

A lot of planning went on behind the scenes leading up to Ariadne Kane’s appearance on the show. Kane knew that the show would result in increased awareness and publicity for Trans+ people; it was going to bring in a multitude of letters. This diagram shows how Kane was planning to respond to the requests for information. Kane's notes provide a glimpse into how important this episode was to both the show’s guests as well as to the community as a whole.

Letter showing planning for Phil Donahue Show (December 28, 1979)

Anticipating a large response to the show, Kane created this form letter, and sent it out to those who wrote to the address given on the show. A brochure discussing the Institute was enclosed with the letter to provide more information.

Letter From Ariadne Kane Post Donahue
Human Outreach and Achievement Institute
Dallas Denny Discussing Seeing a Television Show and Being Connected with Virginia Prince

The response from Trans+ viewers was overwhelmingly positive. Kane noted in the Outreach Institute newsletter that they fielded over 400 letters in the show’s wake. In her oral history, Dallas Denny remembers seeing the show and making new connections as a result.

Outreach Newsletter Mentioning Donahue Show (1980)

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