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Where Are Soapland's LGBT Parents?

09/08/2016 17:36 | Updated 10 August 2016
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

thriving families

Time and time again, British soaps have not just held up a mirror to changing attitudes in our society, but helped shape them, by bringing hard-hitting and controversial themes to the forefront.

Over the decades, shows like EastEnders and Coronation Street have been tackling important topics like mental health, racism and themes concerning the LGBT community. Through watching the characters they've followed for years deal handling real-life issues, viewers have been able to get a better understanding of them, and even learn how to deal with them in their own lives.

However, while I have to praise soaps for the way that LGBT characters have been put in the spotlight - particularly in the past 15 years, with the clear rise of visibility among queer characters - it feels like there's still one notable absence in Soapland, and that's LGBT parents.

Although we've seen an increase in soap couples that stray from the traditional cis-hetero narrative taking a prominent place in the four main British soaps, parenthood for these characters remains a topic that's yet to be explored fully.

I want to know why this is, particularly given how many gay couples we've now seen get together, often played by gay and trans actors who are actually parents themselves.

Looking at the gay pairings we've had on screen in the main soaps, there seem to be two recurring reasons that have stopped the couples from extending their family: youth and infidelity.

In the majority of cases that I've looked at, the soap couples are either too young and early on in their romance to consider welcoming a child, or their relationships are blighted by an indiscretion before they get the chance to have the discussion.

Now, listen. I don't want this blog to turn into a #StopPromiscuousGays2016 rant, nor do I want to present the traditional "heteronormative" take on family life as aspirational, because some people don't want to settle down in a monogamous relationship or have children - and why should they?

But by the same token, others do want that life, which is totally valid too, and it would be nice to show the queer youth of today - many of whom receive their first brushes with LGBT people on either reality television or soaps - that if they want to go to work every day and come home to a happy family, then that's an option for them, too.

So what can soaps do next? Obviously, picking two existing LGBT characters at random, throwing them together for the sake of it and then lumping them with a kid to raise for the rest of their time on screen together isn't the right way to go about presenting family life on screen as an option for queer youth. For this to happen successfully, there are going to have to be a few changes.

For starters, not bringing new gay characters onto the scene specifically as a plot device to mess up existing relationships.

Every time there's a new LGBT resident in any of the main soaps, it's almost always clear from the off exactly which existing character they're there to flirt with, and while straight couples in soaps aren't exactly known for obeying the Seventh Commandment, I'm struggling to think of a single gay character in a soap who hasn't strayed from their partner at some point or another. And if we can't keep these couples together long enough for them to even chat about having a child, how are we going to be able to present them as successful parents?

Alternatively, what might be a more successful option would be introducing into one of the main soaps a new family unit, who already have a set of LGBT parents at the helm.

This would avoid patronising viewers by forcing on them a storyline with characters they knew had never expressed any interest in parenting, suddenly chatting to potential surrogates in the local café or inviting social workers round to chat about adoption over a cuppa and a custard cream.

LGBT parenting is not a radical notion, it's something that's happening in households all over the country, so it's surprising to me that it's taken soaps so long to catch up. But with the right storyline, there's a possibility to really make a difference, in particular to young gay, bisexual and trans soap fans, who one day dream of watching those same shows with a family of their own.

This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.

We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com to get involved.

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