Nowadays it is hard to imagine that there was ever a time where LGBT people were a rarity on mainstream television. Sure, there were always one or two, but they seemed to be cut from the same stereotypical cloth of effeminate men and masculine women. However, one day in 1999, a new show arrived in the form of Queer as Folk; a critically acclaimed series on Channel 4 which shone a light into the realities of a gay man’s lifestyle.
Created by Russel T Davies – of Doctor Who fame – The series was short but sweet, running for only eight episodes in its first season and a two-part second series in 2000. However, in that short time, UK audiences were given their first insight into an unseen world of gay men and women in Manchester’s gay centre, Canal Street. Following the fortunes of three men, their families and friends, we were introduced to real organic people and shown the way they lived their lives both individually and together. From Aiden Gillen’s fantastically brazen portrayal of Stuart, to a young Charlie Hunnam’s take on the naive yet equally brave Nathan, Queer as Folk was the first show to broach the subject of gay relationships and gay sex in a realistic setting. In fact, the character of Sean Tully on ITV’s flagship soap, Coronation Street, was based on Queer as Folk’s own Alexander – both played by well-known gay actor Antony Cotton.
The ripple effect from the show caused a shift in public attitudes regarding homosexuality, and helped to take the taboo away from the theme which lead to LGBT characters popping up in more mainstream programming. Indeed, this show was part of the more recent revolution in attitudes which has helped make our community what it is today. The veil was lifted on our lifestyle and helped to show the rest of the country that we are in fact normal people with many of the same interests and attitudes.
It is true that some were worried that the shows use of sexual conquest, underage relationships and drug use would demonise the gay community. There was also some concern that the same hackneyed stereotypes were still present and would subject us to the same jeers that many deal with on a daily basis. That being said, Queer as Folk helped to put our issues and our people on the small screen, and helped pave the way for a new generation of strong and capable young people to grow up in a slightly better world.
This is a series that should be required viewing, if only to remind ourselves just how far we have come, and more importantly, how much farther we can go.