Emmerdale's LGBT+ Representation: What have Emmerdale done well?
Updated: Aug 21, 2018
Here at Talking Emmerdale, we are interested in what the fans think of the show. We think it is especially important that those from marginalised or minority groups are heard within fandom spaces and that their voices are listened to. Emmerdale is a show that cares about the LGBT+ community, and recently we were thrilled to see members of the cast at Leeds Pride! That support is greatly appreciated, and we are proud to watch a soap that openly celebrates love of all kinds.
We asked LGBT+ members of the fandom to get in touch with us, and tell us how they think Emmerdale is doing in terms of representation. We received so many responses that we have decided to split this feature into five different parts. The first, and today's offering, is all about what LGBT+ fans think Emmerdale have done well over the years. (We know that collecting and writing out the responses to this one made us very proud to be Emmerdale fans!)
Some fans preferred not to post their social media handles, but we would like to state here that in this post and the posts to come, all responses included are respectful, and we ask that any readers respect the fans who have come forward with opinions about the show. The LGBT+ community are rich and varied, (as you will see from the range of different responses and issues raised), and we are thankful to everyone who has taken the time to get involved.
So, without further ado, our question for today is:
What do you like about Emmerdale's representation past or present?
LGBT+ Emmerdale fans, it's over to you...
"The first LGBT person I saw on television was Zoe Tate and I adored her. I still remember when she and Charity kissed. Zoe was groundbreaking for me. She was such a brilliant character and so important to the show. She's still a real icon now." - Debbie, lesbian
"When I first became aware of the fact that I may be interested in girls, Zoe Tate had just slept with Archie and then told him that she thought he would be the one and he wasn't. Emmerdale was the first mainstream soap that touched on the subject and opened a few doors for me." - Gap, LGBT
"I liked the storyline of Zoe and Jason back in the day where they first highlighted LGBT, it gave way for future characters that were part of the community to be in the soap." - Bethany, bisexual
"Emmerdale has been at the forefront of same sex relationships, going back to Zoe Tate. Zoe’s relationships back then were easily accessible and great representation to me when I was a child and unsure of my sexuality. Vanessa and Charity are great and really enjoyable to watch. Emma and Michelle have outstanding chemistry which makes storytelling so much more powerful." - Jo, LGBT
"Vanity! I love Vanity! I love that two middle aged women are shown on screen as in love and devoted to each other. Vanessa has changed Charity's life, and Charity has helped Vanessa be herself. So far, Emmerdale seem to be handling their story well and with respect." - Ann-Marie, lesbian
"I love the fact that they’ve had LGBT+ representation of one kind or another since the early ‘90’s. That is incredible and impressive." - @artloveharmony
"I like how they’re having a large variety, such as asexuality (which is a new thing) but it’s growing and Emmerdale are growing with it." - Jamie, 16, asexual
"What I like so much about LGBT+ representation in Emmerdale is the diversity of different LGBTA+ identities on screen. For now they have 1 gay man and 1 bi man ( an identity which is a rarity on screen itself) in a m/m couple, 2 bi women in a f/f couple, 1 ace and presumably also aro (asexual, aromantic) character (also the first ace and/or aro character in British soaps) and also 1 trans (man) character. All of them are complex and interesting characters with rich personalities and relationships. This has also been a characteristic of Emmerdale in the past (at least when it comes to cis LG and partially B people, too): Ali and Ruby was to my knowledge the first same-sex couple with children in British soap, Zoe Tate was and is legendary character and Emmerdale also previously has had characters, who can be read as bisexual (Ivan, Grayson, Ali, others)...
Introduction of LGBT+ characters has definitely been the strong aspect I wanted to mention: at least in the last years there has been seldom such cases, where characters’ sexuality is the only thing worth mentioning about them, all of the new characters has had complex personalities and relationships with other residents of the village. Some examples: Liv was introduced first as part of family, her sexuality was brought up (more precisely – hinted at) only a year after her introduction – after she was well established as character. Or the way Matty was (re)introduced guaranteed, that the conflict he had with his mother/other family members/Emmerdale residents were much more than their perception of his gender identity, because they knew him previously." - Kristine, aro ace
"I like that Emmerdale portrays LGBT people in a realistic manner. Its storylines, whilst maintaining the drama element, deal with reactions and LGBT characters in way that mirrors real life." - Natalie, lesbian
"I like that Vanessa and Charity are middle aged and have a happy, mature relationship that’s still shown as sexually active and exciting, and I like how honest and real Matty’s story is and that he is played by a trans actor." - Billie, 20, nonbinary lesbian
"I am really impressed that Emmerdale are doing a trans storyline and that they have chosen a trans actor to play Matty Barton. Ash is amazing and is probably educating so many people about how trans people are just ordinary people who were given the wrong gender. They face so many struggles but it is up to us to be people like Moira and Victoria and support them. There are so many bigots in the world, so to see Matty on tv shows that we won't accept transphobia and that trans characters are welcome on television. Hopefully people will learn how to be better friends and parents to the trans community." - Esther, lesbian
"I think it's unique and wonderful that there's a transgender character played by a transgender actor and a lesbian character played by a lesbian actress. It's rare to see LGBT people playing LGBT roles, so that's incredibly inspiring to both general viewers and those who aspire to a career in the performance industry in the future, but are worried about sexuality/gender identity based discrimination." - Emily, 22, lesbian (@emkirsten)
"I am loving Emmerdale rep lately. They have gone to not just bring queer characters but hire queer and trans actors. They aren’t checking quotas , they are telling authentic stories and using their platform to bring awareness to certain issues like trans rights, coming out , queer acceptance, bi erasure etc..." - Shanika (@Neeko_F)
"What I love about present LGBT representation in Emmerdale is how inclusive it is and that it covers most parts of the LGBT community. For example Vanity is a great example of a gay relationship where you have two women in their 40s with children, balancing lives but at the same time supporting each other. You also have Matty who is amazing for trans representation. Robert, Aaron and Liv are all complex characters with parental issues, and rely on each other for support and guidance." - Priscilla, asexual
"I like that they have had consistent representation of all different kinds (women, men, bisexual and gay and now a trans person as well). I also like that everyone has had a different experience, and that accepting themselves has been different for them all." - Zander, 31, trans
"I love how they have a gay, lesbian, bisexual and asexual characters so it shows that anyone can love who they want, also I love how everyone accepts Robert, Aaron, Liv (even though not many people know), Charity and Vanessa. Furthermore, it is good to show that not all parents accept them, for example Aaron and his father even though it is wrong people need to realise what young people go through when they come out, and I think it’s sad that people have to go through hell just to be who they are and it is good that soap writers include storylines like this so that people know how they can get help." - Chloe, 16
"I like that for some characters they have allowed for self identification (Robert Sugden actually saying on screen that he’s bi; Matty Barton bringing so much awareness to the general audience of what being trans means, etc.)" - Amanda, 31, bisexual
"Having Robert Sugden use the word bisexual on screen was huge. I was thrilled to hear him say it, after a long period of other characters calling him gay despite his relationships with Katie Sugden when he was young, and then Chrissie White. The later representation of Robert's bisexuality might not have been so good in my view, but it still meant a lot that the word was used and that his identity is now acknowledged by other characters." - Claudia, bisexual
"Their representation of Aaron's coming out was very good and I like that his character didn't change much afterwords. For example he didn't suddenly have an overriding desire to become a hairdresser!" - Rich, 52, gay
"On the whole the show has got Aaron Dingle right, in so far as that he represents a man who is gay and is open and unashamed about it, but it's not the only thing about him. Some shows rely on stereotypes but Aaron has always been a complex and interesting character. He's the sort of gay character you don't often see on tv, but who many gay and bisexual men would relate to." - LGBT fan
"Everyone loves Aaron regardless of if they are straight, gay, or something else. He's been great representation for us all because he seems real and is played so well. He proves that you can't judge someone based on their sexuality." - Kieran, bisexual
"I like the overall realism. Other soaps seem to want to automatically hook-up their gay characters. Emmerdale portrays them more realistically, in that 'the gays don't automatically jump into bed with each other'." - Dominic, 50, gay
"I should start off by saying that I have watched Emmerdale all my life! In the past, I feel they have portrayed most LGBTQ+ characters well. Some of the girls kissing girls storylines were questionable (Debbie and Jasmine for example) but never offensive. One of the best storylines ever in my opinion was the Aaron coming out storyline, which was very important and (rightfully) award winning." - LGBT fan
"Emmerdale has helped people come to terms with their sexuality" - Lola, 21, gay
"I really like the current variety of LGBT characters, Matty is such a valuable addition to the show and the fact that Ash who plays him is also a trans man is amazing! This is the same for Vanessa, a lesbian character played by a lesbian actress, and it really sends out a message that Emmerdale value LGBT people and fans" - Charl, 18, lesbian
"Emmerdale's LGBT representation has its ups and downs. With Aaron and Robert, they have one of the most popular couples on a soap. It is great that LGBT characters are experiencing a bit of a renaissance after Emmerdale's "Bury your gays" streak (Finn, Lawrence). Matty is a great addition and it is nice to see that with Vanity, Emmerdale have remembered characters' established sexualities" - Wolfie, LGBT (@Golden_Gaytime)
"I didn’t watch Emmerdale regularly until 2016 but I remember being aware of Charity & Zoe back in the day! I found the depiction and end of Aaron and Jackson a bit stereotypical and melancholy of gay relationships on TV in the past and at that present time. Robron, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air! Two people who fell in love, regardless of all the circumstances that brought them together." - Kats, 38, lesbian
"Robron broke so many stereotypes for people, especially to begin with. Robert and Aaron were passionately attracted to each other, but didn't change to become that. They remained themselves. They didn't change their personalities, they just fit. With Robert being a legacy character and Aaron being so popular and loved, combined they became something massive, bigger than anyone expected! They are such a power couple and so beloved, and it's fantastic to think that as an m/m couple they are probably THE most popular couple in any soap. Emmerdale are lucky to have them." - LGBT fan
"Emmerdale's biggest and most complicated love story is between two men and I think that's beautiful." - Beth, 24
"The main thing I think that stands out for me with Emmerdale’s LGBT rep is that it’s just something that happens, like in real life. It’s not made out to be a big deal because it’s between two of the same sex for example. Emmerdale have never introduced an LGBT character expecting or looking for praise. Another thing I like is that relationships do not seem rushed; with Charity and Vanessa, they had build up to their relationship, they weren’t just thrown into it as some shows do just to get some token representation for kudos." - Lauren, 18, lesbian
"Overall I think Emmerdale do a pretty good job at representing LGBT characters. With storylines such as Vanity and Matty and Robron at the minute are strong and in the past having openly gay characters such as Jackson. I think they do a good job in normalising them because some people sometimes think that LGBT people have different relationship dynamics. With Emmerdale you don’t even think about it because they present in a way that shows that homosexual relationships are the exact same as heterosexual relationships." - Aimee, pansexual
"I like that Emmerdale don’t shy away from LGBT relationships, I know there has been representation in other soaps but I feel like Emmerdale do us justice in the way they tell their stories, you can see that the research has gone into each and every storyline so as not to misrepresent us. I also like the fact that they don’t always cast characters with someone who is *actually* the sexuality they are portraying, for example Danny Miller and Ryan Hawley - both straight men in real life but with the chemistry to make their storylines as LGBT characters so believable. I think the most important part of casting is finding someone who can adapt to the role, whether that is their sexuality or not and Emmerdale have always been good at that. I also love that Emmerdale take the stereotypes away in a way that I don’t think many other soaps do, for example the character of Aaron coming out as gay - he wasn’t what a lot of people perceive as a stereotypical ‘gay man’ - he was boyish, and rough around the edges - had his own internalised homophobia that he needed to accept as well as what we later on realised was an abuse storyline which changed his perception of ‘why he was gay’. I like that Emmerdale can tell the stories of LGBT characters without necessarily following what is expected of an LGBT character." - Kelsey, 25, bisexual (@Fungh0ulz)
"From what I've seen Emmerdale have normalised bisexuality. Charity defended herself and bisexuality to Paddy telling him that the sex is just the same as what he has." - (@chxritydingle), lesbian
"What I like about the representation is that Emmerdale does have a relatively broad spectrum in comparison to other soaps and shows. It’s so important that the characters themselves refer to their sexuality, and for three of them (Aaron, Robert, Matty), that has happened." - Lucy, 18, bisexual
"For me, the best bit of representation recently has been Liv Flaherty. I know she hasn't had her full story yet, but she is a loved character and I have never seen a soap character have an asexuality storyline before. It will probably help that her brother and his husband Robert are gay and bisexual respectively. I can't wait to see them help her through it. Liv is one of the best characters on the show (in my opinion) so it is exciting that they chose her to represent asexuality to a wide audience. The actress who plays her (Isobel Steele), is so talented that I am sure it will be done justice. I couldn't have hoped for better and I look forward to seeing where they take it as Liv grows up, because there will be new struggles as she gets older." - Alice, 23, asexual
"I love that Emmerdale have every letter of the LGBT acronym in the show! For a soap that is amazing. They even have an asexual character (Liv) which amazed me because so many people don't even realise what that is. It makes me feel like Emmerdale understand that LGBT people are a huge part of society and want to see ourselves on screen." - Loraine, LGBT
"I never thought I'd see someone like me on television. I only started watching Emmerdale because I heard there was an asexual character like me, and now I watch every night. I never miss an episode. Even though it's only a small thing it means a lot to know we have been thought of. Thank you, Emmerdale." - Asexual fan
"I think it is fantastic that Emmerdale currently has such broad represtation of LGBT issues. Soaps are, although light-hearted entertainment at heart, a really, really important platform to reflect society as well as influence opinion in a progressive way." - (@VanityCharity), 32, bisexual
"What I like most about Emmerdale representation is that it's all different. There are more LGBT characters than in most shows and although sometimes it isn't perfect there is usually an LGBT character at the forefront of a story quite regularly. Hopefully it will help normalise LGBT relationships and help our society be more accepting and tolerant of people who are different." - Jenna, bisexual
Part 2 of our series of posts on LGBT representation in Emmerdale is coming soon, and will deal with what LGBT+ Emmerdale fans believe the show could do to improve their LGBT storylines. Subscribe to Talking Emmerdale to receive an email when we post the next part.
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