Entertainment & Arts

How TV's gay characters shape up

Television programmes have come under fire for failing to give positive portrayals of gay characters.

The gay equality organisation Stonewall concluded that most characters are promiscuous, predatory or figures of fun.

Here, we examine a selection of gay regulars in soap operas - the mainstay of TV drama.

TV critic Gareth McLean, who writes the Radio Times' weekly soap column, gives his assessment of each character and whether they add positive weight to the portrayal of gays on the small screen.

He says it is "pretty shoddy" that soap is the main place where we see gay people, because they tend to be "perpetually suffering or miserable".

Syed Masood

Soap: EastEnders

Played by: Marc Elliott

First appearance: April 2009

Who is he? The eldest son of Muslim couple Zainab and Masood who returned after an unexplained absence. He is the apple of his mother's eye who can apparently do no wrong.

His big storyline: Syed is torn between Amira - who he eventually marries - and Christian, who he embarks on a secret affair with. When the family finds out, there are huge consequences for everyone.

Gareth's verdict: "What has been great about Syed is that it does feel as if he's genuinely torn between how he feels and what he and his family believe. His journey is interesting because it's one that a lot of people take, irrespective of their faith. It's about reconciling who you are with your family's idea of who you are or should be."

Christian Clarke

Soap: EastEnders

Played by: John Partridge

First appearance: January 2008

Who is he? The younger brother of Jane Beale, who is married to Ian. Gym-fit and fun-loving, Christian initially showed an unwillingness to commit to a long-term relationship.

His big storyline: He is irrevocably linked to Syed Masood and is the object of hate when his family uncover their affair. He suffers the anguish of Syed's rejection of him in favour of wife Amira.

Gareth's verdict: "He's quite a sexual gay man - and not just because of his figure-hugging vests. Though a lot of gay people groan at what they see as a stereotype of a naff, muscly queen, he's important as he's another kind of gay man on TV."

Sean Tully

Soap: Coronation Street

Played by: Antony Cotton

First appearance: July 2003

Who is he? The camp, larger than life Sean quickly became a fixture of the street, living with Eileen and working as a machinist at Underworld and behind the bar of the Rovers Return.

His big storylines: He agreed to be a sperm donor for his friend Violet, but she ran off with her boyfriend Jamie Baldwin after the baby's birth. Sean is intent on retracing his biological child.

Gareth's verdict: "I like Sean Tully, mostly. That he's camp fits in with the show itself."

Sophie Webster

Soap: Coronation Street

Played by: Brooke Vincent

First appearance: November 1994

Who is she? The teenage daughter of Corrie mainstays Kevin and Sally Webster.

Her big storyline: Sophie's friendship with best chum Sian Powers developed further when the pair exchanged a kiss earlier this year - the first lesbian clinch in the show's history. Indications are that this is more than a teenage phase.

Gareth's verdict: "What I like about Sophie is that we, the audience, have known her since she was born so that she's a lesbian is great because she's not been foisted on us as a lesbian character. Rather, she's a character we know who happens to be a lesbian. It's a really nice move that we'll look back on as milestone in gay representations on TV, I think."

Aaron Livesy

Soap: Emmerdale

Played by: Danny Miller

First appearance: December 2003

Who is he? Aaron is the son of Gordon Livesy and Chas Dingle - one member of the Yorkshire soap's wild clan.

His big storyline: The mechanic grapples with the dawning realisation that he is gay and assaults his clandestine boyfriend Jackson. Soon after he attempts to take his own life. In court on ABH charges, Aaron comes out publicly.

Gareth's verdict: "It's interesting that he's not a stereotypical telly gay but equally I worry about the fetishisation of him as a bit of rough. As with soap, it really depends on how stories pan out over the longer term as to whether Aaron becomes something of a role model."

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