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Emmerdale's LGBT+ Representation: Why Representation Matters

In our last two posts in this series, we've explored the good and bad of Emmerdale's LGBT+ representation, from the perspective of LGBT+ fans. In today's post, we're going to be asking why and if representation in soap and television is important to those fans.

The question we asked was:

"Do you think LGBT representation in soap is important? If so, why do you think that?"

So, as always, LGBT+ fans, it's over to you! 

"Audiences watch soaps daily. The characters become part of their daily lives. Audiences feel closer to these characters than those of shows aired once a week. They become part of the family. It is proven that when someone knows an LGBT+ person in their real life, any misconceptions or prejudices tend to disappear, or at the very least are questionable. It promotes more communication, education, and ultimate understanding and acceptance. The more LGBT+ and other diverse characters we see on tv, the more understanding, education, and acceptance we’ll see in our society." - (@artloveharmony) LGBT fan. 

"I absolutely think it is important - soaps are such a big part of life in Britain, and they have a responsibility to give all minorities visibility, and to portray them responsibly." - Kay, LGBT fan. 

ITV's Pride logo

"Representation is important especially in a soap like Emmerdale because of the when it airs and how many people watch it." - Rich, 52, gay.

"I think it’s very important for the LGBT community to be represented in soap, though the LGBT community is more accepted in society these days there is still a lot of prejudice and ignorance when it comes to sexuality. We still encounter a lot of ‘phobic’ people and even people who don’t necessarily consider themselves to be haters but they are ignorant because they are poorly educated on LGBT matters, it’s not always their fault and so LGBT representation in soap is a great way of educating those who maybe haven’t experienced any other type of exposure to the LGBT community. I know for example my elderly relative had never heard of asexuality until Liv’s storyline began and I helped explain it to her, she’s accepting of course but this sort of representation wasn’t readily available in her day and that’s why it’s great that we can tell all kinds of stories now." - Kelsey, 25, bisexual (@FunGh0ulz)

Viewers hope Liv Flaherty's ongoing asexuality storyline will provide positive representation for asexual people

"When I was growing up as a teenager in the 90s there was very little representation of gays and lesbians on TV. I remember Tony & Simon, Beth & Margaret... but homosexuality was still very much a taboo topic at the time. It certainly wasn’t discussed as freely and confidently as it is today! For me, it was a difficult and lonely time without role models or any positive influences to learn from. Having that positive representation on TV is so important. Being able to relate to characters and storylines can help individuals of all ages to feel included and make day to day issues more easy to cope with." - Kats, 38, lesbian. 

"Representation is important in a soap because it reaches so many people that might otherwise not have any knowledge of the community and this helps normalize being gay, or bi, or trans." - Amanda, 31, bisexual. 

"I think representation in soap is vital because it is something that so many people are exposed to on such a grand scale. People who might not otherwise know someone who is LGBT, or have a reason to interact with someone LGBT might see them on tv." - Zander, 31, trans 

Aaron Dingle has been widely praised as a popular gay character, who is loved by people of all genders and sexualities

"I think it’s important because soaps have a HUGE real audience and should therefore represent what real life is like instead of being full of cisgender, heterosexual individuals." - Billie, 20, non-binary lesbian. 

"I’m from America so representation on our soaps are a dime a dozen. I started watching Emmerdale because of Vanity. Seeing such beautifully written bisexual and queer characters really touched me. Soaps are watched by many people from various age groups. What Emmerdale is doing is connecting generations. They are using their platform to reach a broader audience and change the minds of those who may have negative thoughts about the LGBT community." - Shanika, (@Neeko_F)

"LGBT kids watch shows like Emmerdale with their families so they need to see hope. So many kids don't see a future because of who they are so soaps have the power to let them know they can be happy. That's what I love about Charity and Vanessa finding love quite late in life and being happy and affectionate. It's important people watching from those groups see they have options. For example it's important gay couples know that they can have kids and be parents and that it can come from surrogacy or adoption, not just from cheating or sharing a child. We can live full lives just like straight cis people. There is so much to live for." - Sophie, bisexual

The unexpected pairing of Charity Dingle and Vanessa Woodfield has been a hit with fans

"It is watched by millions of people every day and therefore is one of the most influencial media when it comes to public attitudes toward LGBTA+ people. Also many LGBTA+ people can find the representation of themselves on soap we can’t find in other forms of media." Kristine, aro ace

"Soaps are a major part of the culture of UK TV, watched regularly by millions. They can shape public opinion. Regularly seeing LGBT people represented is important for everyone - for those in the LGBT community that don't live in a bubble, but also for those who "don't know any LGBT people", it helps if they see us on TV regularly." - Wolfie (@Golden_Gaytime), LGBT 

"I think an accurate representation is important, but let the characters be flawed and everyday, not like US stories where they are scared to show minority characters in a bad light. We were attracted to Emmerdale to begin with over them having gay men do bad things and not being propped up as the gay men." - Jashton, LGBT

"Representation of the LGBT community is crucial in soaps in my opinion. Soaps have been widely watched by a variety of different people over the years. People of different ages, genders, races, and cultures. Because of this it is good to have representation because many people who may not be aware of the LGBT community can learn through these characters and educating people is the only way to stop ignorance that may turn hateful. It also helps for it to become a normal thing." -Aimee, pansexual. 

Viewers seem to be loving Vanity's more domestic family scenes

"Representation is important to me because people still see us as stereotypes. They think gay men are all a certain way, and that bi men have certain traits and the same with bi and lesbian women and trans people . These are dangerous beliefs get real LGBT people killed, and media has a lot to do with it. So in that way representation on tv changes our lives because soaps like Emmerdale have the power to do nothing, to help, or even to make things worse. Representing these groups that are at risk is more important to me than drama. Some storylines have been created to cause ripples which I understand, but why would you do that at the expense of the lives of real people? I expect people's lives and deaths have hinged on soap in some ways, because that might be what pushes a person over the edge, or what makes their families either accept and love them, or see them as a stereotype and reject them or make them feel alone. People who are LGBT kill themselves all the time and some of it is because of poor representation as well as other things. If you don't see yourself, or you see a version of yourself which isn't true and causes you pain and people to see you a certain way, it's hopeless. I've thought about that darkness before because of these things. It means a lot to those of us who don't have many people like us on screen." - Jenna, 28, bisexual

"Soap is important in terms of LGBT rep because it's something families watch together. It's on when you're eating tea a lot of the time, and all the generations are together. It's the perfect opportunity to help society move forward by normalising LGBT people and relationships, and fighting stereotypes through characters and their stories. Soap can change so much if it wants to. I think how wonderful it must be for trans kids to see Matty on screen, even if they have transphobic parents. It is so validating and proves trans people are real and important. That they can be happy. It's less wonderful to think how bi kids and teens felt about the Robert storyline, but it's an example of something that can create positive change if done right, and can create negativity and more oppression and bigotry if done wrong or without care." - LGBT fan

Bad representation vs good? Many responses to our questions indicated Matty was providing good representation for the trans community, while Robert was currently providing negative representation for the bi community

"I think representation in soap is hugely important as they reach such a large percentage of the population. People of all ages, religions, ethnic backgrounds and sexualities watch soap and it's a unique opportunity to speak to/educate all of those people at the same time on a whole range of important issues. I think soaps are also something often watched and shared by families, so they can start a conversation between a family that wouldn't happen otherwise and potentially strengthen those family relationships. Looking at LGBT issues in particular, all of the soaps are supposed to be set in real, modern British towns/villages, so it only makes sense that true to life, there are LGBT characters." - Emily, (@emkirsten), 22, lesbian. 

"Contrary to popular belief or most people's willingness to admit they watch soaps or a particular soap, they form a big part of keeping people mentally healthy. Soaps distract from the daily grind, giving the audience a pressure release. Many people identify on some level with a character in their favourite soap, and including GLBT characters makes them commercially more viable by drawing in a previously disadvantaged community into the mainstream and shows the mainstream that the GLBT community bleed red when cut, same as them." - Gap, LGBT fan 

"I think it is absolutely important. Reflection and represtation in soap can push further and reach more people, open eyes and change minds. As a society, every little thing that helps us move forward is a much needed outlet for positive change." - (@VanityCharity), 32, bisexual 

Emmerdale cast and crew celebrate Pride in 2018 (photo from Emmerdale's twitter)

"Representation is definitely important in soap, because it’s something that parents can watch with children of a young age, and to see someone being open and proud within their sexuality, it can help a child who has only ever seen heteronormativity in their short life see the world in a different way and think ‘Oh, that’s normal?’, and if, further down the line, they do start to question their sexuality, they know that it’s completely okay to do that, because they’ve seen that portrayed on screen." - Lucy, 18, bisexual.

"To me I believe that representation is a soap is particularly important because episodes are on nearly every night and they focus on large areas like a village or a town for example. To completely ignore that at least one LGBT person would likely exist in this area would invalidate the feelings of viewers and it is important to represent everyone on tv in order to “normalise” relationships and make people feel comfortable in who they are, so they don’t feel different or abnormal to what they see on tv." - Lauren, (@aliensscually) , 18, lesbian. 

"Representation is so important because for some questioning LGBT people, TV could be their only resource to find out about people like them. For example when I was growing up, I didn’t really know anything about lesbians until watching Sophie and Sian on Coronation Street- they immediately resonated with me and made me feel so much more comfortable in myself" - Charl, 18, lesbian

Sophie Webster and Sian Powers from Coronation Street

"Representation is so important as it makes people not feel as alone about what they feel. When we see ourselves on television then we don’t feel as invisible." - Jo, LGBT fan

"It’s absolutely necessary. A lot of people watch soaps daily so it’s the way to be there, to say we exist, we are people like you with regular lives. There’s nothing sordid here. Normalization is key and we can achieve that with proper representation. That’s why it was so important to show Rob being faithful or why it is so important to show affection between Robron or scenes from everyday life. It’s about education and tv is a great tool. When you have two bisexual characters in the show and they’re both manipulative and promiscuous what are you telling?" - Alex, LGBT fan 

Some viewers believe Robert Sugden and Charity Dingle both fill the manipulative and scheming bisexual stereotype

"If scenes like Robert Sugden coming out as bisexual in Emmerdale had aired when I was growing up, it would have changed my life. And I wouldn't have spent 19 years believing I was straight because of biphobic and heteronormative media. I believe soap is the strongest and most effective tool to educate and enlighten people of all ages. And the people in charge of them need to acknowledge how much power and responsibility they have, and use that power responsibly and respectfully. There is absolutely no excuse for LGBT+ people to not be represented well in media now. When so much information about our identities and experiences is available on and off the internet. We deserve to see ourselves and our individual struggles and triumphs portrayed realistically in media. And soap is the perfect form of media to lead the way and facilitate better understanding and acceptance of us within society." - Hannah, 22, pansexual

"Absolutely! Soaps are a reflection on real life and LGBT+ people exist in real life. Thousands of people tune into them and if there are any people scared, unsure or confused they can find comfort in seeing these characters being who they are on mainstream tv and know it's okay." - (@chxritydingle), lesbian 

"I think any representation is important in television in general, however only if its done properly. Even today there are people closed minded so it's important to show them that the world is not as narrow as one would think. However you hamper any progress when you choose to go the stereotypical route associated with those you are trying to represent. Robert says 'just because I'm bi doesn't mean I'll cheat' and then preceeds to cheat. Having a female character say to Rob 'he can't give you want I can' and then proceed to enforce those words by giving them a biological baby. All they are doing is enforcing the stigma. Regardless of if they meant to or not, that's how it came across. The final product is what matters and they did an awful job." - Jim, 29, LGBT fan

The birth of Sebastian White has been met with accusations of biphobia by many

"its important because everyone watches soap and sometimes it’s the best way to approach a subject." - Jamie, 16, asexual. 

"For me personally I find representation is hugely important as it opens up conversations about LGBT issues and especially has in my family. It also shows that being LGBT is very much the norm now and families aren’t always a typical mum and dad family." - Natalie, lesbian. 

Despite not being a 'traditional' family unit, Roblivion are hugely popular with fans

"LGBT representation is extremely important in soaps as it is mainstream, prime time family television and a platform that reaches a lot of people. It is important to not only normalise the LGBT community but airing characters and storylines in people's living room each night can open up conversations about sexuality and help LGBT people talk about their experiences. I think the lack of wide representation on TV in general puts a lot of pressure on shows that do explore it because when there is so little, what little there is needs to be done right. There tends to be a lot of focus on young people coming to terms with their sexuality, which is an extremely important story to tell, but it has been told and this is where Emmerdale's Vanity storyline is excellent. Vanessa is exploring her sexuality later in life which needs to be normalised and explored more on TV. It helps everyone, not just women in their forties, as it tells anyone struggling with their sexuality that there's no rush to work yourself out, even if it takes you years, that's okay." - Alison, 21, lesbian 

Vanessa Woodfield is a character in her forties, who is still figuring out her sexuality

"Representation is immensely important. Especially for younger people. Gay people exist (they do don't they? Lol!) so by having us prominent parts in the most watched tv programmes shows people that it's perfectly normal and that we are normal people." - Dominic, 50, gay. 

"Because soaps need to have a bit of everything, it helps people come to terms with their sexuality, and people need role models" - Lola, 21, gay

"Representation in soap is important as it helps other people (like myself) come to terms with their sexuality, it also educates those who don’t know much about LGBT issues." - Bethany, bisexual 

Matty's storyline has helped many viewers understand what being trans means

"The fact is that when you're LGBT you will grow up feeling like something is wrong with you. There isn't anything wrong with you, but you hear homophobia, transphobia, biphobia etc from a young age, which you absorb. You know there are no LGBT characters on kids' shows, you hear 'gay' used as an insult or a joke, and you learn to hate yourself before you even understand why. If you are unfortunate enough to have homophobic (etc) family, it can lead to thoughts of suicide. That's the reality for many young LGBT people because they feel alone or like there is something wrong with them. The shame can be overwhelming.

Showing positive LGBT representation on soap could be someone's only chance to see characters like them, and to know they aren't alone. It can offer hope. It could be the thing that stops them taking their life, as many LGBT people sadly do commit suicide due to prejudice and oppression. Families watch soaps together so it could give the message of acceptance, and even make the homophobic families feel shame, and get them to educate themselves and be kinder. Representation on soap is so important. It's a huge responsibility but it is also an honour because you have the chance to help people who have no hope. You also have the chance to make those people feel more hopeless and fuel the bigotry against them though, so soaps have to be careful with their platforms and the stories they tell. It isn't just drama, it plays a part in the lives of ordinary people across the country who watch the show every night. It's a a huge responsibility I wish more shows would take seriously." - Claudia, bisexual  

"Representation on soap is powerful. Aaron for example is gay but he is not a stereotype. He teaches viewers that you cannot judge someone's sexuality and that we are all the same. Matty is a normal young lad, he just happens to be transgender. He teaches us the same message, that being trans just means you started off as the wrong gender. But he's just a normal lad trying to go through life. You feel sorry for him when he gets people always bringing up him being trans because you can see he's just trying to live his life! It makes you think about different sexualities. It also makes you think about their perspective and life more. Emmerdale have represented gay and trans people well, but they could do better with bi people. They need to spread a more positive message. They could make a lot of people change their minds about being biphobic. I hope the new producers will do that, fix the past mistakes, and carry on doing well with Matty and Vanity." -  Jade, LGBT fan.


Thank you to everyone who gave us their thoughts on this topic, and we hope you will share this post if you enjoyed it. The next in our series on Emmerdale's LGBT+ representation has one more instalment, and will be asking which characters LGBT+ fans relate to the most, and which moments in their stories have touched them. If you are LGBT+ and would like to get involved, send us a message on twitter or email us.

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