There’s been talk again recently about the supposed “gay agenda” of Coronation Street, from the usual suspects in the usual places. It’s something that rears its ugly head every now and then when our right wing press run out of single mothers and immigrants to hound. It seemed to have been prompted by something our dear leader said about same-sex kissing, pre-watershed, but the details escape me for now, and frankly the details bore and offend me.
A lot of the criticism seems to be that it is not representative of real life. “There would never be that many gay/lesbian/transgender/cross-dressers on one street!” they cry. “Our children don’t need it shoved down their throats when real life isn’t even like that!” Let’s first ignore the fact that straight men who wear wigs for kicks (Audrey’s latest fella, aksherley) have little, if anything, to do with the LGBT community, and focus on context and the criticisms themselves.
Coronation Street, although supposedly a small back street, is set in Manchester after all. Manchester is a city proud of its large and diverse communities, the LGBT community being one of the largest in the UK. Manchester Pride is a ten day celebration and there’s also Sparkle, a national transgender festival lasting three days. And a community so big can’t be squeezed into a few loft apartments on Canal Street. We have to spread out! You might well find a gay man living on your street, his partner visiting from London. And it’s not inconceivable that a teenage girl on the same street might also discover she’s gay and have her girlfriend stay in her home. As for a transgender neighbour, well it would be rude to ask anyway, so who knows? Anyway, of course the diversity is exaggerated. Everything in a soap is exaggerated, that’s why so many millions watch them. If you want real life, hold a glass up to your neighbours’ wall. I guarantee it will be a lot less thrilling.
So, aside from the daft idea that there are “too many” gays, what about the “gay agenda”? What is a “gay agenda”? I have never really known or been bothered to find out, so I am going to assume it means “forcing homosexuality down our kids’ throats in order that they grow up to believe homosexuality is a normal and positive thing”. That’s what people usually seem to mean, however they choose to phrase it. So my response to that would be yes, I think Corrie does have a gay agenda and it’s all the better for it.
Coronation Street was created by a gay man and has always had a camp sensibility. Each of its five decades has had its share of gay icons (often in the formidable landladies), and featured strong, troubled female characters, so favoured by the pink community. It has always had an undeniably camp humour running through it (who remembers Norris as Eartha Kitt in the Rovers’ Stars in their Eyes?) which has appealed to not only gay people but a wide cross section of society, in their millions.
It hasn’t always been at the cutting edge of gay storylines though, and was years behind other soaps when introducing gay characters, although they were the first, and until recently only, soap to feature a transgender character. Hayley Cropper has been around now since 1998 and is one of the show’s best loved characters. Her previous biological sex is rarely mentioned and she is a valued member of the community.
But since it did start introducing characters, Corrie has proved itself to be exemplary in handling their storylines and scenes. It’s a fact that a lot of gay people work on the show and you can tell. There is no sensationalism (leave that to the tabloids) and coming-out stories have been sensitive and credible. The established gay and lesbian characters are mostly incidentally gay, it’s just another facet to their lives. They don’t have a stream of “gay issues” and are just living their lives the same as everyone else.
And that can have a powerful effect. I strongly believe that television has done wonders for gay equality in the last fifteen or so years. Gay people have become highly visible and feature on some of the UK’s top shows. Soaps portraying gays as just ordinary people can only help to improve our PR which is already on the up. If that means Corrie having a gay agenda then bring it on!