Pride Month 2024: Queer representation on TV

Pride Month 2024: Queer representation on TV

For Pride Month 2024 members of Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Pride Network write on this year’s topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion in television.

This month, we are given an opportunity to educate ourselves and others; an opportunity to support and uplift a community; an opportunity to observe and participate in discussions about representation, visibility and prejudice; and an opportunity to do all this from the comfort of our couches. A variety of recent television series featuring LGBTQ+ representation, both in front of and behind the camera, allow viewers to explore key issues through the lens of storytelling.

I Kissed a Girl (Sarah Cosslett)

I Kissed a Girl comes in perhaps the most comforting format of all. In the age of Love Island, a show that ironically attributes its lack of queer representation to “logistical difficulties”, I Kissed a Girl is an overdue addition to the UK’s catalogue of reality dating shows.

Labelled a gamechanger and “the reality dating show we deserve”, the programme features 10 lesbian and bisexual contestants, introduced by a kiss, spending time in a remote Italian villa.

A spin-off of last year’s I Kissed a Boy, the show answers cries for representation of positive LGBTQ+ characters with varying narratives, ethnicities, abilities and social classes. Fundamentally, seeing yourself on screen in this way formulates identity. Without this, an individual’s imagination of what they can achieve, who they can be and where they can belong is limited. Indeed, the mainstream visibility of the show has given many queer viewers the confidence to come out.

The fly-on-the-wall nature of the show allows viewers to observe informal conversations about crucial aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience from the comfort of their own home. For example, we see contestants consider the history of the term ‘lesbian’ and the taboo surrounding the word, and discuss their coming out stories in real-time, insights that are rarely broadcasted to the wider population.

I Kissed a Girl differs from other reality dating shows in that storylines are absent of heterosexual misogyny and toxicity, instead centred on friendship and loyalty. The viewing experience is free from the confines of the “male gaze” and objectification typical to the format.

Reality dating shows inherently perpetuate the status quo of “heterosexual until proven otherwise”. Queer feminist writer Adrienne Rich explores this concept and speaks to how heteronormativity maintains patriarchy. This makes I Kissed a Girl, and the discourse it prompts of the queer experience and specifically the female queer experience, a welcome addition to the limited examples of LGBTQ+ representation on-screen. It explores bi-erasure, intersecting identities and the lived queer experience and represents true progress coupled-up with insurmountable cultural significance. To add it to your watchlist this Pride Month is to take your opportunity.

Lost Boys and Fairies (Zachary Stewart)

Lost Boys and Fairies is a new BBC mini-series created by Daf James starring Fra Fee and Sion Young as Andy and Gabriel, a young gay couple eager to start a family. By poignantly weaving together elements of fantasy and reality, the show explores the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ prospective parents and their experiences navigating the complexities of adoption in the UK.

At the heart of the story, Andy and Gabriel embark on a journey to adoption that is fraught with societal and bureaucratic hurdles. Despite their readiness to provide a loving and supportive home, they encounter prejudice and discrimination that leads them to question their suitability as parents due to their sexual orientation and Gabriel’s career as a drag performer. The series also portrays the couple’s emotional struggle with authenticity. According to the latest UK government statistics, same-sex couples accounted for nearly 1 in 5 adoptions in 2023. In Scotland, 14 per cent of adoptions in the same year were by same-sex couples, reflecting the significant presence of LGBTQ+ families in the adoption landscape and underscoring the need for ongoing support and inclusivity.

Complementing these real-world challenges, Lost Boys and Fairies introduces a magical parallel universe where Andy and Gabriel experience acceptance and solace. In this realm, populated by their fantasies and mystical fairies, they are free to explore their identities without fear of judgment – and there’s also the occasional song. In contrast to this, a particularly moving scene features a care worker who, after Andy and Gabriel apologise for showing affection for each other in front of a child, tells them, “Don’t ever apologise for showing a child what real love looks like.” This line encapsulates the show’s message about the power and importance of unconditional love and acceptance. By blending these two narratives, the series emphasises the importance of empathy and understanding in bringing about systemic change.

The adoption system in the UK today remains complex, especially for LGBTQ+ individuals. Despite legal advancements and growing acceptance, many LGBTQ+ prospective parents still face subtle biases and structural obstacles. Agencies sometimes hold outdated views on what constitutes a ‘suitable’ family environment, creating added emotional and procedural barriers. Moreover, the adoption process can be prolonged and stressful, with LGBTQ+ applicants often feeling they must prove their suitability more rigorously than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Against this backdrop, Lost Boys and Fairies encourages viewers to imagine a more inclusive society and supports the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights and equity in all aspects of life, including the right to build a family.

Doctor Who (Matt Andrews)

While LGBTQ+ characters and storylines haven’t always found a home in the world outside the Doctor’s TARDIS, there’s no doubt that the series has always been unapologetically queer.

In the 14 seasons since its regeneration in 2005, Queer as Folk and It’s a Sin creator Russell T Davies and his successors have placed queer characters at the programme’s core. Most recently, we’ve seen Ncuti Gatwa and Jonathan Groff share the first same-sex kiss in the franchise’s history, Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney starring as trans character Rose Noble and Jinkx Monsoon, RuPaul’s Drag Race legend, playing villain “Maestro”, the campy personification of music.

Travelling back in time to the series’ first episode in 1963, it’s clear how far it has evolved. In its original form, Doctor Who was aimed at children. The show’s first director, Waris Hussein, highlighted in a 2017 documentary that it simply “could not cover queer topics”. Indeed, the show began before homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967 and in Scotland in 1980.

As we hurtle back towards the future, the proliferation of openly queer characters and themes has allowed Doctor Who to truly, and unashamedly, represent the diversity of life. Jodie Whitaker, playing the first canonical female Doctor, served as a reminder that, like timelords, human existence is far from binary. That fluidity also extends to the Doctor’s friends and foes, such as Bill Potts, the first lesbian companion, and River Song, whose spouses included both men and women.

A beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ fans, Doctor Who doesn’t shy away from definitively queer storytelling – as Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor would say, a more representative universe is “Fantastic!”

Sarah Cosslett is a trainee solicitor and Zachary Stewart and Matt Andrews are solicitors at Shepherd and Wedderburn

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