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Happy LGBT+ History Month!

As you may well know, February is LGBT+ history month, and this year is a particularly special one, in that it marks 50 years since the first UK Pride March. 

We at UpRising have been marking the occasion by sharing our favourite articles, books and LGBTQIA+ inspirations. All of these recommendations, as well as this year’s theme - ‘Politics in Art: the Arc is Long’ - got me thinking about some of the problems with fictional representations of LGBTQ+ characters. For instance, why are gay characters always presented as overtly sexual, as if they are attracted to literally EVERYONE of the same sex? 

Other problematic tropes include ‘queerbaiting’, making trans people the butt of the joke, or having LGBTQIA characters suffering unnecessarily. Yes, representing the community’s trauma is important and has been done really well on occasion, but don’t we also watch tv for a bit of escapism? 

These common sexuality tropes are nothing more than thinly veiled homophobia. Sick of seeing ourselves stereotyped, members of the UpRising team have put together a list of our favourite TV shows that are giving us the LBGTQIA representation we really want!

#5. Sex Education

There is so much that this show does well. Gillian Anderson is an absolute force to be reckoned with; she acts as an advocate for comprehensive sex education for teens, as well as showing us that (shock, horror…) sex doesn’t stop becoming enjoyable as an older woman, a mother, or a divorcee. 

I could write pages about Sex Education, but let’s look at representation. One important point to make is that the show doesn’t just shoehorn one queer relationship in, but explores several over the course of (so far) three seasons. I also love the nuance within the characters’ storylines and the fact that, while some have always known they weren’t straight, others are only just finding this out about themselves. After all, these are meant to be high school kids - they’re not supposed to have everything figured out! 

Lastly, Otis and Eric’s friendship is such a beacon of hope for young men everywhere. While Otis is confused about many things, his love and support for Eric is unwavering and he always encourages him to be his true self. Also, Eric never has romantic feelings towards Otis (I’m not saying no one EVER falls in love with their best friend, but I think we can agree, it’s a pretty overdone storyline for queer characters). 

Overall, this series is super refreshing in the way that it manages to include a diverse set of characters without just making them seem tokenistic. 

#4. This is Going to Hurt

Okay, so it’s based on a true story, but we want to give this series the credit it deserves. Adam, the story’s protagonist and writer of the book on which the tv series is based, is a multi-dimensional gay character; while his sexuality is an important part of his identity, it’s not the defining feature of it. Unlike many fictional gay characters, Adam isn’t a caricature  - he’s human first and foremost, and Ben Whishaw does a great job of portraying that!

As we see throughout the series, Adam struggles with the pressure of keeping his sexuality private. This serves as a stark reminder of the widespread homophobia in Britain only just over a decade ago (not that things are perfect now, but I think we can agree we’ve made some progress!). You can read about Ben Whishaw’s experience of growing up as a gay man of his generation here.

#3. Feel Good

The wonderful thing about this series is that it shows the depth of gender and sexuality as concepts. They are not binary, they are not stagnant, and they are not always simple to grasp. The show follows comedian Mae (Mae Martin), who meets George (Charlotte Ritchie) at a stand up show, documenting the ups and downs of their developing relationship with one another.

Mae’s life is by no means plain-sailing. Struggling with addiction, strained family relationships, gender identity and loving someone who isn’t yet sure of their own sexuality, Mae lashes out and, sometimes, makes bad decisions. However, among the trials and tribulations they face, they are also able to find love, friendship and joy. And queer joy is something that we can never have too much of! 

#2. Pose

There isn’t really anything out there that’s comparable to Pose. Through the show, viewers are able to learn about and experience ballroom subculture through the lens of LGBTQIA people of colour, who often have their stories either erased, or told by white people. Not only does this happen on-screen - where trans characters are actually played by trans actors - but behind the scenes too, where a host of queer Black and Latinx writers and directors have worked to bring the series to fruition.

Of course, because it’s set in 1980’s America - deep into the AIDS epidemic - Pose does involve violence against LGBTQIA folk, illness, death and many more kinds of trauma that continue to disproportionately affect these communities. However, this is expertly balanced out with glitz and glamour, larger-than-life characters, queer joy, romance and love for chosen family - all accompanied by an absolute killer soundtrack! Truly, a revolutionary tv show and not one to be missed.

#1. Schitt’s Creek

When I asked for recommendations of cool LGBTQIA tv characters, there was a clear frontrunner: David Rose. There are just so many things to love about this character - and this series as a whole - and that’s probably because the actor (Dan Levy) co-created it. 

Firstly, David is so comfortable in his sexuality.  Yes, we get the realism of the childhood trauma and bullying, but we also have the pleasure of watching David grow and really come into himself throughout the series. And, whilst it’s firmly acknowledged, his sexuality is never made a big deal out of. In one of my favourite scenes, David’s friend Stevie asks if he prefers red or white wine, to which he simply replies: "I like the wine and not the label." And, just like that, we all get it. Even though some of the other characters might not understand it as easily as Stevie, it’s so refreshing to watch a character be able to exist without having his sexuality constantly questioned and taken issue with. 

Secondly, In what other sitcom is a same sex relationship as much of a focal point as in Schitt’s Creek? The way in which the viewer is taken on a journey with David and his partner - the way we laugh, cry, celebrate and commiserate along with them - is pretty much unprecedented in this arena. That’s just one of the many things that make this show so amazing!

More recommendations? Share them with us!

Inevitably, there are lots of shows out there that we’ve missed, so feel free to drop your recommendations in reply to this article!  What’s great about the five that I’ve included here is that they have provided viewers with LGBTQIA characters and storylines that have very evidently taken into account the real-life experiences of the communities they represent. Queer people are not a plot device (and some writers and directors clearly need this reminder).

From all of us at UpRising, we wish you a happy and safe LGBT+ history month!

If you’re struggling with your mental health or have been cut off from your support network, you can reach out to MindOut, Switchboard or The Albert Kennedy Trust, all charities that specifically serve LBGTQIA people. 

Kayleigh Kennedy