The first female same-sex kiss to be broadcast before the 9pm watershed appeared on the Channel 4 soap opera, Brookside.
The kiss was between Beth Jordache (played by Anna Friel) and Margaret Clemence (played by Nicola Stephenson). Beth had been sexually abused by her father from a young age so, when the storyline of a romance between the two young women was suggested, Anna Friel was adamant that Beth’s sexual attraction mustn’t be framed as being a reaction to her past abuse.
Talking to the Radio Times she said: 'I am proud we took on such controversial storylines and it was new and innovative. I am proud that we got it in the contract that Beth would always stay gay; it wasn’t because of her sexual abuse.'
The kiss was later screened to a TV audience of billions when a clip of it was included in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. As it was screened without censorship in 76 countries where same-sex relationships were still illegal, it became the first same-sex kiss ever to be shown on television in these countries.
Brookside’s famous kiss was pre-dated by the one shared between two women on BBC drama Girl, 20 years before. The story of an affair between two female army officers and starring Alison Steadman and Myra Frances, the programme was shown on BBC2 in 1974 – but after the 9pm watershed.
The first TV screen kiss between two men appeared on BBC1 drama Coming Out in 1979.
Lesbian and gay characters have appeared on our TV screens fairly regularly since. The arrival of two gay characters in EastEnders in 1987 (one played by Stonewall founder Michael Cashman) prompted the headline EastBenders in The Sun. The paper also thought it was irresponsible of the programme to promote underage sex as one of the characters was under 21, then the legal age of consent.
Trans characters also appeared. Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, the first permanent trans character in serialised drama, made her first appearance in 1998, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh. But a trans character played by a trans actor wouldn’t appear until 2015, when Annie Wallace arrived in Hollyoaks as headteacher Sally St Claire.
In 2018, Anna Friel featured in another groundbreaking programme, playing the mother of a trans child in ITV drama Butterfly. She hoped the programme would change perceptions about trans children just as her kiss had done for same-sex couples. She told The Independent: “Think back to 25 years ago, to another girl – ‘Ahhhh’. And now all that time on, now it’s the blink of an eye, so hopefully we’ll make that same progress.”
Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual (2018) has been a significant addition to the severely shallow representation of bi characters. It put a bi character front and centre while avoiding the usual stereotypes about bi people.
While representation is improving, the full diversity of the LGBT community isn’t often explored and there remains a lot of work to do until all LGBT people see themselves reflected in the media.