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Brian Finnegan: Why I believe gay TV show is a backward step

I read last week that a new magazine-style show called Gay Nation is coming soon to the City Channel. Lined up to appear on the first episode, we were informed, is "busty author Amanda Brunker", while Gay Nation presenter Joseph Kearney was said to hope the show will help get rid of any remaining stigma for gay people.

Kearney is right about the power of television to change views on homosexuality.

Take the current housemates in Big Brother for instance. Over the past few weeks we have watched them engage in debates about gay marriage with the straight majority coming down against the religious minority of one, who declares homosexuality "wrong".

"If God loves everybody, why doesn't he want two people who love each other to get married?" asked one of the housemates, and she had a point.

But the real point to be taken from her opinion is that she is one of a generation that has grown up with normalised representations of gay and lesbian people across the television formats.

When Channel 4 began in 1982, it introduced the gay magazine-style show to the viewing public as part of its remit for culturally diverse programming.

Out On Tuesday was revolutionary at the time because it was the first dedicated piece of programming for a gay audience. Although light-hearted in tone, it was a serious piece of social programming that sought to present gay people as just like everyone else, yet pay heed to the inequalities and discrimination suffered by gay people at the same time.

That was 23 years ago. In the intervening time, as gay rights have progressed, gay and lesbian people have slowly crawled from the margins of off-peak, speciality programming to become a staple part of every soap opera, every drama, every sitcom, every reality show, and just about every other kind of telly on the box.

Sexuality

There are gay characters in youth dramas, gay people in children's shows, gay chatshow hosts, newsreaders and pundits. When I was a child the only gay on TV was man called Larry Grayson who presented a show called The Generation Game.

His catchphrase was, "Oooh, what a gay day!" and he delivered it with a limp wrist and a hand on the hip.

No wonder I tuned into Channel 4's Out on Tuesday like a hungry little puppy when it first came on. I had seen not one positive representation of my sexuality on my TV screen before.

Nowadays, however, I don't watch TV in a gay ghetto. In fact, there are so many gays on my television, I don't really care anymore. The idea of watching a show just because there are gay characters or presenters in it doesn't even cross my mind. And that's the way it should be.

So, will Gay Nation get rid of any remaining stigma for gay people in this part of the world?

I sincerely doubt it. It may be entertaining for gay viewers (and I hope it is), but in terms of representations it's a backward step into a ghetto that no longer even exists, complete with some self-promotion from Amanda Brunker. Finding a TV format to battle remaining stigma is going to take a lot more creative thinking than that.


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