As we mark LGBTQ+ History it is important to remember the significance of representation and visibility. Media has the ability to smash stereotypes. TV shows such as ‘Queer as Folk’ and ‘The L Word’ took queer narratives into the mainstream while soap operas such as ‘Coronation Street’, ‘EastEnders’ and ‘Brookside’ broke new ground with the representation of LGBTQ+ folk – often facing hostility from the press. More recently Channel 4’s record-breaking ‘It’s a Sin’ became the first British TV drama centred around the AIDS epidemic – nearly 40 years after the first recorded cases in the UK.
There are so many stories still to tell and barriers to break.
&Proud, dentsu’s LGBTQ+ network asked people from across the business to recall the seminal moments from queer culture and the lasting effect it had on them. The list includes tweets, soap operas and performances on Top of the Pops.
Hamish Nicklin, Executive Director Media Line of Business
My seminal moment happened in 1983 when I was an eight-year-old boy watching Culture Club perform Karma Chameleon on Top of the Pops at my mate’s house - if you don’t know what that is, then I feel properly old. We loved that song. We loved the make-up and clothes that Boy George was wearing. Everything about it seemed so energetic and daring! My mate and I were dancing around like lunatic 8-year-old boys do.
The key moment was when one of his unreconstructed family members made some comment about having ‘gay people so visible on TV for impressionable youngsters’. He tried to get us to turn the TV off so we wouldn’t be ‘infected’ by it. I didn’t understand everything he was saying, but I understood that this bloke I looked up to had a problem with Boy George and what he stood for – and I really couldn’t understand why; he was cool! It was the first time that I’d encountered such blatant prejudice and set my 8-year-old mind on course to have some fascinating conversations about the world with my much more liberal parents!
Libby Darley, &Proud Co-chair
I have to look to shows that I binged through university, like Skins (especially series 3 and their portrayal of a lesbian coming out story) and Grey's Anatomy. These were lesbian characters that were cool, fun and most importantly not defined by their sexuality. The characters that stuck with me prior to this always seemed, for lack of a better word, bitchy and were often thrown into storylines to cause drama. But Grey's had a leading couple who were feminine and smart and most importantly not defined by their sexuality. It forced me to make realisations about myself; and has paved the way for shows like Orange is The New Black to showcase the incredibly diverse range of people who identify as LGBTQ+. Similarly, I was 6 when Brookside's lesbian kiss aired but it has had an everlasting impact on how gay women can be portrayed, not just as the stereotypical butch. For it to be featured in the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony shows just how pivotal it has been for LGBTQ+ representation.
Les Marshall, Head of Talent and Leadership
My seminal moment was watching Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" back in 1993. As a closeted 17-year-old, it was such an eye opener to see this incredible community where gay people could be out and proud. What really blew my mind though was that it was set in San Francisco in the 1970s. How come we hadn't caught on to this in Liverpool by 1993? And how could I get myself to San Fran?
I remember counting the days till each new episode aired. Whilst I couldn't tell any of my mates about my favourite show, that made me feel quite privileged that I had a unique insight into this exciting new world. It gave me real hope for the future.
Lee Mabey, &Proud Co-chair
Soap operas have played a pivotal role in representing LGBTQ+ identities, breaking down stereotypes and positively affecting the opinions of viewers.
My childhood saw the introduction of Tony and Simon and Della and Binnie in EastEnders, Coronation Street's much-loved trans character Hayley Cropper and the famous Brookside kiss between Beth and Margaret. Their portrayals were everything for a confused teenager accustomed to reading negative stories about - and the scapegoating of - gay men in newspapers. This was the first time I had seen people I could identify with on TV living their lives. This gave me hope that I was not weird, there were people out there like me and - most importantly - they were confident and happy.
Pete Metcalfe, Managing Director, Carat Manchester
My seminal moment was something that had an impact on me and my family, but actually an experience that was second hand in terms of being there, in the moment. The moment was my aunt coming out to her daughter. When I asked her about this recently, she said that it had more of a profound impact on her life story than she remembers looking back. She was divorced having met her husband when training to be a police officer. They got married, had a daughter, my cousin, and then quickly realised it wasn't meant to be.
We spent a lot of time together growing up as my cousin is a similar age. After a number of years as a single parent, she decided that whilst sitting down to watch Emmerdale together in 1996 (she was a big fan living just the other side of the Pennines), she would use the scene, during the commitment ceremony of Zoe Tate and Emma Nightingale, to come out to her then 11-year-old daughter. She said looking back it was a spontaneous act, but it started the process of her coming out to the whole family and going on to live the life she has now led for the last 25 or so years - happy and proud of who she is.
Andrew Rayner-Andrews, &Proud Steering Committee
My seminal moment in LGBT+ media would have to be the film Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins. The trailer alone sent shivers down my spine and set the tone for a powerful but sensitive exploration of masculinity and sexuality. It’s hard not to draw some parallels with the characters in how homosexuality is something that is awakened, scrutinised, and expressed in different ways. Yet stereotypes are challenged, and you’re not left with the conclusion you want but nonetheless one that forces you to look inwards and reflect on what could be - even should be - for the men at the centre of the story. I’ve since looked back at some films and television but have yet to be sent on the same emotional journey.
Beth Freedman, CEO dentsu X and &Proud Executive Sponsor
For me, it was the 2014 NFL draft – Michael Sam, the first openly gay American football player was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. This alone was a pretty big moment, but ESPN was at his home in anticipation of him ‘getting the call’ and they aired his celebration, which included him kissing his boyfriend in joy.
The reaction to it by fans and other NFL players was, for the most part, vile, but it created a moment in time where the inbred homophobia of America’s bastion of masculinity was bared to the world, and it forced a much needed conversation to happen, both in the NFL, the world of sports-broadcasting and sport in general. My favourite quote was a tweet from one of the best ESPN reporters of all time, Stuart Scott:
"NFL guys get drafted. Kiss girlfriends. @MikeSamFootball kissed his boyfriend. Don't like?... that's a "you" problem. Congrats Mike!"
Charles Reid, &Proud Co-chair
I am old enough to remember Barry and Colin's first kiss on EastEnders. It was a tender moment, and actually the kiss was on a forehead not even the lips. Moral outrage followed, The Sun screaming ‘IT’S EASTBENDERS ... a homosexual love scene between yuppie poofs...when millions of children were watching.’
The moment was seminal for so many reasons. It was broadcast on my 20th birthday (17 November 1988), whilst the gay community was in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Two years prior EastEnders would be preceded by a frightening AIDS awareness campaign featuring tombstones falling. Earlier in 1988 the Government passed Section 28, forbidding teachers from telling scared teenagers that being gay was ok. It was a brave decision by the BBC and the EastEnders production team to feature a gay kiss at a moment when LGBTQ+ people were so under attack.
Tim Pearce, Managing Partner, Amplifi
Gareth Thomas, one of the greatest welsh rugby players came out as gay in 2009. He was married to a woman until then and had contemplated suicide. His courage to take that plunge was inspiring, it paved the way for countless people to do the same, but it also gave a whole nation and a sport an opportunity to stand up and show their acceptance of gay people, something which had previously not really been talked about in rugby.
We actually named our house Gareth Thomas House in his honour!
These moments have all played a part in shaping LGBTQ+ culture. Media has an important role in driving representation and aiding understanding of issues affecting underrepresented audiences. ‘It’s a Sin’ has demonstrated audiences want to see diverse stories. Now it is time to hear more stories and drive queer visibility.
&Proud works throughout the year to contribute to a more inclusive workplace for all. The network partners with publishers and our clients on a network of events and initiatives to improve the visibility of LGBTQ+ people across media.