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SIAN GARDINER looks at the lack of gay representation on modern television

Claire Hogarth & Sian Gardiner After airing five hours of Jubilee coverage, the BBC has been criticised for its broadcast of the Queen's big day, branded variously as "mind-numbingly tedious" by Stephen Fry and "celebrity-driven drivel" by MP Rob Wilson. The Queen however looked pleased, being seen to smile on various occasions. Following her break from Albert Square, a Kat fight looks like it could be brewing as Kat Moon returns to make sure Roxie doesn't get her claws into Alfie after her recent declaration of love. Who will win the fight for the Queen Vic landlord? Neither of these ladies seem the type to back down. Mel B of the Spice Girls is set to take a place on The X-Factor judging panel when they come to Manchester for this year's auditions. Hailing from the North herself, Mel has commented that she's sure there will be "lots of talent in the north of England", and, fresh from her stint on The X-Factor Australia, she is determined to find a winner. Looks like the "No carbs before marbs" mantra has paid off as TOWIE's Italian Stallion Mario has reportedly proposed to on/off girlfriend Lucy on a recent trip to Marbella. TOWIE bosses were apparently keen to keep the proposal under wraps to boost ratings, but holiday goers spotted the loved up couple before the ring was whisked away.

In 1987, Eastenders became the first ever UK soap to screen a gay kiss a fairly inconspicuous peck on the forehead - but its pre-watershed, prime-time slot ensured maximum controversy. Viewers branded the scene "filth" and cruelly dubbed the show "Eastbenders", with questions even raised in parliament over the portrayal of a homosexual relationship on a popular family show. Clearly, in the time that has elapsed since the late 80s, television has progressed leaps and bounds in its representation of gay characters, in line with changing attitudes. In recent years, the BBC has commissioned research into its portrayal of gay, lesbian and bisexual people - a move many see as far overdue. Usually referred to as the comforting ‘Beeb’ or as the even cutesier ‘Aunty’, the BBC came under fire from queer human rights group Outrage! in the 1990s after Radio 1 was allowed to play music advocating the murder of gay people, prompting them to rename the British institution the ‘British Bigotry Corporation’. Yet in spite of the subsequent demand for wider and more appropriate gay representation, homosexuality is still vastly underrepresented on TV, and when there are references, more often than not these come in the form of jokes playing on stereotypes of effeminate gay men. American TV bosses seem to have recognised the need for gay characters on the small screen, seeing their numbers soaring in recent years. One of the first American sitcoms to normalise the appearance of gay characters was Will and Grace, which first aired in 1998. The portrayal of Will’s straight-laced lawyer character alongside the more flamboyant Jack ensured the likeability factor, as well as the ability to identify with the cast- no matter if the viewer was gay or straight. There is evidence to suggest that these types of programmes aren’t simply entertaining us, but also changing

attitudes towards homosexuality. Even Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, is said to be a fan of Modern Family, currently one of the most popular shows on American TV and one which features a gay couple with adopted children. More and more gay couples are appearing on our screens, often proving popular with audiences rather than attracting complaints. Long running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy features a married lesbian couple, and recently won a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) prize for helping to raise LGBT awareness, whilst Glee has been applauded for tackling many issues affecting teenagers today. Television has certainly proved itself to be a powerful tool in terms of changing attitudes towards homosexuality. With gay couples featured on TV, those who experience little exposure to homosexuality are able to recognise from the comfort of their own armchairs that being gay is not such an alien concept, and may find gay characters relatable in spite of their sexuality. One of the most important tasks is broadening the mindset of those who assign gay people to a certain category. Characters in recent years seen to have helped bust stereotypes include Kevin of Brothers and Sisters, and Ted of Queer as Folk - helping the public see that a gay man is not necessarily an overtly feminine man eater. American network Showtime has been particularly progressive in this regard, producing the first show in television history to chart the lives of a

lesbian community. Before The L Word, lesbian characters barely existed on television. Viewers don't have to do any second guessing over sexuality, since The L Word features the complex and exciting lives of a tight knit group of lesbians, making their lives seem wholly relatable and not sweeping the idea of sex under the carpet. The show paved the way for Britain’s answer to the popular series: the BBC’s Lip Service, which, though praised for its normalisation of gay and bisexual women, was still deemed too risqué for the mainstream, and relegated to the ‘edgier’ BBC3. Even today, these are two of the only shows to present the gay community, and lesbian characters still remain few and far between on our screens, even in comparison to the number of gay men. While Ellen Degeneres is undoubtedly one of America’s most beloved chat show hosts, she is also the most famous lesbian to grace our screens, since there are very few who make it to the mainstream. While viewers embrace the flamboyant personalities of the likes of TV presenters Alan Carr and Graham Norton, there are still many who would prefer not to see past this camp persona and keep it ‘behind closed doors’. Despite the progress made in recent years, television producers are still hesitant in their portrayal of gay characters, and fearful of being too up front about homosexuality; while Modern Family may well be a popular show, the main gay couple are rarely seen to demonstrate any physical affection. Gay characters are still vastly in the minority, and a tendency towards the 'token gay' approach remains, as well as the virtual nonexistence of gay characters of ethnic minorities, or the concept of bisexuality. TV bosses owe it not only to the gay community, but the viewing public in general, to make sure that gay characters feature prominently, and are afforded the same drama and happiness as their heterosexual counterparts.

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Scene Issue 226  
Scene Issue 226  

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