Do the complaints received in response to gay scenes on Eastenders & Holby signal a larger problem for the LGBT community?

Last week the BBC received over 100 complaints about a gay kiss on the popular TV show Holby City not long after they were presented with 125 complaints about a scene on Eastenders which showed two gay characters lying in bed together but do these complaints signal a larger problem for the LGBT community?

These numbers may not seem vast but it is worth remembering that the most complaints any broadcast but complaints rarely exceed the low thousands for anything so this figure actually represents the views a substantial  number of people.

One viewer commented on a BBC message board about the episode of Eastenders saying “I’m not a homophobe but really do not want to see gay men in bed naked and kissing, especially whilst my ten-year-old daughter is sitting with me, before the watershed. Might be socially acceptable to some but there is a time and place and definitely not before nine o’clock, confusing my kids. There was no warning”.  Viewers also complained that the content of the Holby City episode saying it could “confuse” children.

What we are forced to ask is whether this represents a change in attitudes towards the gay community amongst the UK

population.  The apparent mood here in the UK stands in stark contrast to that in the US.  Hugely popular programmes like Glee are consistently pushing the boundaries of gay and lesbian representation and the writers of HBO’s True Blood (which we named one of our top 5 LGBT TV programmes of 2010) are rumoured to be introducing yet more gay characters in the show’s upcoming fourth season.

It is no secret that the appearance of gay characters in television shows that are seen by children and parents does a great deal to help young LGBT people “come-out”.  Positive portrayal on television is a great help for children who as little as a decade ago would have been ridiculed and ostracized but can now openly be themselves with minimal fear of being hated.

In political terms the world is still moving towards legal equality for LGBT people, just last week the UN passed a resolution calling for universal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people.

Despite the progress being made internationally there is still worry here in the UK that the government is not doing justice to the LGBT community.  Not long ago David Cameron was reportedly trying to ban same sex kisses on pre-watershed television, he claimed that this kind of “sexually suggestive” scene was inappropriate.  Naturally this provoked substantial backlash from the gay community, particularly given the Conservative party’s history with Section 28 and their recent attempts to garner the pink-vote.

Ongoing debates over gay marriage and gay members of the Clergy are solid reminders that although the UK offers something close to total legal equality for LGBT people there are still a large number of people who, although in a minority, are still opposed to gay rights because of a series of out-dated prejudices and stereotypes.

It is clear that although people are backing equal rights they are still thinking of homosexuality as something “different” from which they should protect their children.  Until this changes the representation of LGBT characters on television will continue to play to ill conceived stereotypes and  complaints will pour in.

What does this mean for the portrayal of LGBT people on TV?

Year on year we see an improvement in the way stereotypes are stripped away from serious characters or mocked by comedians, this is progress.  The fact that there are still people who so badly misunderstand what being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans means is exactly the reason why we continue to need a Gay Pride movement in the UK.  Not until people recognise not just the legal equality of the LGBT community but also their social equality can this country be termed gay-friendly.