gay rights

Queerer than folk

Eighteen years ago tonight, Channel Four played the first episode of a new 8-part drama series, written by “children’s television writer” (as he was often called in the press) Russell T Davies: Queer as Folk.

The show was a warts-and-all deconstruction of gay life in the late 1990s. It didn’t hold back on the many alien elements of how gay life could be: drugs, an unequal age of consent meaning that the age of consent concept itself was ignored, blackmail, forced coming out, casual sex, loneliness, even bad gay parenting. The world presented in each episode was not a perfect one by any means, and wasn’t the one you’d choose to portray homosexuality in a good light.

But something about the brutal honesty of the show and how the characters remained likeable whilst being flawed struck a chord with an audience that I suspect even Channel Four didn’t think they’d reach: ordinary straight people.

The day after the first episode aired, I went into work buzzing from the programme but knowing I had nobody to talk to about it: I wasn’t out at work and the people I worked with were definitely not the type to be watching such filth.

Everybody watched it. It was the talk of the office for days. Everybody loved it. The straights speculated on the bits they didn’t understand, and before I knew it I was out and being asked to fill in the details (what did he mean “they didn’t tell you about that one”? and suddenly you’re explaining rimming to a 60 year old lady in a cozy cardigan).

Queer as Folk seemed to be a turning point. Casual homophobia at work dried up immediately, as even the most beery men switched from making gay jokes to saying “yeah, just like Stuart in Queer as Folk!” instead. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, gay life was normal real life. It was fine.

After 8 weeks of QaF, society itself seemed to shift. Before long, the unequal age of consent was equalised, the Tory Section 28 that banned discussion of homosexuality was abolished, gays on TV became normal, and we were on our way to Civil Partnerships and eventually equal marriage.

And I put all of this progress down to the after effects of Queer as Folk, and credit Russell T Davies with sparking much of this heady progress. Thanks, Russell. And happy birthday, Stuart, Vince and Nathan.

Both seasons of Queer as Folk are available on Channel Four’s All4 on-demand service, together with Russell T Davies’s later gay dramas for the network, Cucumber and Banana.

Thank you, Westboro Baptist Church!

I’d like to thank the Westboro Baptist Church for all their work on making equality for all a normal thing.

No, honestly.

Whenever these weirdos, and their UK equivalents who haunt Gay Pride parades proving that we still need Gay Pride parades, turn up, they force the general population, the 2.4 children, semi-detached house, never-knowingly-met-a-gay except-my-hairdresser-probably, Volvo driving, Sunday Times reading, Kindle owning “normal” people to decide where they stand.

Where do you stand? Do you stand with people all being equal and having equal access to goods and services and government and tax and the like, or do you stand with the WBC, holding signs explaining that their god hates people in direct contravention of all that bible stuff about hate being Not Good?

The Westboro (etc) mobs have turned the debate into a simple black and white answer where previously people had a ratio of equality-to-prejudice that they applied without ever thinking about it in any depth.

Thanks to the Phelps oddities and their UK copycats, many people whose immediate thought of “the other” is to say “ugh, no” now look at the people with whom they are standing in sympathy. And then they reject them. Let people be equal, they say, because the alternative is the Westboro Baptist Church (etc) and what they stand for.

However you come to agree with equal rights for all, welcome. The rest of us will leave you alone and not picket your funeral.