As far back as the 1970s, Australian series like Number 96 and Prisoner were the first in the world to feature openly gay and lesbian characters.
Today, the local TV landscape includes LGBTQI-centric web projects like inner-city lesbian series Starting From… Now!, teen drama pilot Subject To Change and Her Story, a trans and queer series. While there’s little on traditional TV that comes close to those dedicated series, we’ve come a long way from the days when shows featured only a sidelined, token gay character, if anything.
In fact, many Australian primetime dramas and soaps on commercial television not only featuring LGBTQI characters – mostly gay men – in prominent roles, but also feature storylines that grapple with the unique issues and concerns they face.
Yes, there’s room for improvement and even more diversity, but it’s a promising sign.
Please Like Me
By far, Australian TV’s most in-depth portrayal of LGBTQI characters is in this bittersweet comedy created by gay comedian Josh Thomas and based loosely on his life. The character Josh navigates believable, complicated and sometimes hilarious relationships with other men, while his straight friends do the same – just with members of the opposite sex.
The Family Law
In the US, sitcoms like Everybody Hates Chris and Fresh Off The Boat have depicted the experience of a young boy from a minority background growing up in, respectively, 1980s Brooklyn and 1990s Orlando. In Australia, we have The Family Law, where Asian-Australian Benjamin Law is also gay. And sometimes wears a watermelon costume – but no judgment.
(By the way, we don't want to rush you or anything, but all the episodes are available on SBS On Demand for the next few days...)
The least interesting thing about the lead character in this 2015 miniseries was that he happened to be gay. OK, it was mildly interesting, especially when Matt Bashir’s (Alex Dimitriades) sexuality was revealed via a drunken pash in the bathroom of a swanky bar. But, it was nice to see a character who had much more going on than who he liked to take to bed.
Similarly, one of the most intriguing characters in this Foxtel drama is the new version of Franky Doyle (Nicole da Silva). Yes, she’s a lesbian, but so what. In fact, the main way in which Franky’s sexuality is noteworthy is that it’s just about the only character trait she shares with the identically named character in Prisoner.
Kane (Gyton Grantley) and Tom (Tim Campbell) were obviously too much of a boring, settled couple, and so producers of the Nine Network family drama split up the same-sex parents by writing Tom out. New love for Kane came in the form of Darren McMullen, who plays sexy librarian Alex – and the recent fourth season ended with Kane and Alex’s “wedding”. Take that, legislators.
While Home And Away has shied away from LGBT characters after dipping their toe in the same-sex water with a lesbian kiss back in 2009, Neighbours has featured several gay characters in recent years. The soap currently ticks about every box with the burgeoning couple of Indigenous PTSD-sufferer Nate (Meyne Wyatt) and buff Caucasian male stripper Aaron (Matt Wilson).
You always know where you stand with lesbian nurse and mother Kim Akerholt (Alicia Gardiner), who calls it like she sees it. Her no-nonsense approach to those wacky Proudmans and their endless personal problems is matched by the no-fuss way in which her character’s sexuality is treated on the show.
A Place To Call Home
Poor James Bligh. The ordeals he’s had to go through because of being a gay male during the 1950s. In between undergoing shock therapy and being the subject of hushed conversations around the mansion, he has managed to enjoy some furtive man-love with hotties like Dominic Allburn and Tim Draxl.
Starting from… Now! season 4 premieres on Monday 7 March, 9.15pm on SBS 2. Seasons 1-3 are available on SBS On Demand.
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