June is Pride Month, so I thought I’d take a look at some ground-breaking moments on television. In October 1991 we saw the first gay commitment ceremony on a show called Roc, starring Charles S. Dutton. Roc’s uncle Russell, played by Richard Roundtree (the famous Shaft), comes out as gay to his family, and introduces his partner, Chris – revealing that theirs is also an interracial relationship. Roc says that he’s not yet comfortable with his uncle being gay, but he’s learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Golden Girls had aired a commitment ceremony earlier in 1991, but the word ‘marriage’ wasn’t said until on Roc. Earlier in February 1991, we also saw the first lesbian kiss, shown on L.A. Law between C.J. and Abby.
We then saw the first real-life same-sex commitment ceremony between Pedro Zamora and Sean Sasser in 1994, on MTV’s The Real World. Sadly, Pedro died of AIDS-related illness in November that same year, aged just twenty-two. In 1994 we also saw the first same-sex kiss on a British soap opera, and before the watershed, on Brookside. Beth and Margaret (Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson) made news with the storyline. A clip of their kiss was included in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. As this was screened without censorship in 76 countries where same-sex relationships were still illegal, it became the first same-sex kiss eve to be shown on television in those countries.
In December 1995, Roseanne showed a gay wedding between Scott and Leon. Then just five weeks later in January 1996, we saw Carol and Susan get married in Friends. ‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’ was their most watched episode in television history, with 31 million viewers. It featur
ed a minister played by Candace Gingrich, an American LGBT+ Rights Activist, who is the half-sibling of the famous Republican, Newt Gingrich. Friends was expecting many complaints about the wedding, but received just eleven calls.
In 2000 we saw Jack and Ethan kiss on Dawson’s Creek, and that same year, Buffy gave us Willow and Tara, who were the first couple to show affectionate same-sex scenes (Will & Grace did not). Buffy received international recognition for that relationship portrayal. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) also went on to feature in the first lesbian sex scene with Kennedy.
This led to more same-sex couples on our small screens: David and Keith in Six Feet Under (2001), Omar and Brandon in The Wire (2002), Calllie and Arizona in Grey’s Anatomy (2008), Mitchell and Cameron in Modern Family (2009), Sara and Nyssa in Arrow (2014), Connor and Oliver in How to Get Away With Murder (2015), Jamal and Kai in Empire (2018), Pray and Ricky in Pose (2019) and of course this year’s brilliant show It’s A Sin, set in the 1980s and featuring gay actors playing gay characters, created by Russell T. Davies.
Television is evolving, representing more and more relationships and individuals, and long may it continue to do so. Happy Pride month!
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