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Film and TV

Queer as Folk fans share how the show inspired them 21 years on

Josh Milton February 23, 2020
The original Queer as Folk cast.

Queer as Folk ran for two seasons, the first episode airing on February 23, 1999. (Channel 4)

Queer as Folk turns 21 today. The British show can now legally drink alcohol in the States, but the real cause for celebration is now radical and fearless it still is more than two decades on.

An unflinchingly honest look at gay life in the late 1990s and early 200s, the show’s graphic sex scenes and hot button issues may not feel as taboo today, but that just shows how path-breaking Queer as Folk was.

Created by gay screenwriting legend Russell T Davies, the show tracked the lives of three gay men – best pals Stuart Jones and Vince Tyler, and 15-year-old Nathan Maloney.

The trio live in Manchester, England’s gay village. Airing on Channel 4 in 1999, it was a different time for the LGBT+ community.

Section 28, the legislation banning local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality, had been commonplace for a decade.

Civil partnerships weren’t on the cards, let alone marriage. And only during the show’s two season run did the age of consent get legalised by lawmakers.

Queer as Folk broke barriers and ‘opened so many eyes’ to the LGBT+ world. 

On its 21st anniversary, some fans took to Twitter to reminisce the days of watching it in secrecy. Sneaking downstairs their parent’s place to watch it with the audio switched off, whispering with friends by the water cooler the next day recapping the chaotic adventures.

To celebrate the show’s birthday, Davies swung by Cruz 101, a creaky bar in Manchester’s Canal Street on Saturday.

The joint held an anniversary party where cheap beers were sold and drag queens performed, but the spot holds a lot of significance to the Doctor Who writer.

As a bystander in Cruz 101 on April 12, 1998, Davies caught eyes with a man while he lent on a railing. That man would later become his late husband, Andrew Smith.

Russell T Davies: ‘We had complaints everywhere.’

Cruz 101 was regularly featured in Queer as Folk – rebranded as Babylon – as the beating heart of queer nightlife. But being a dramatisation of urban gay living, the clubs shown dotted with vodka shots and sweat were also spaces of safety.

The meandering streets of Manchester’s queer neighbourhood and the clubs that honeycombed it was safety net from a world outside.

A world where queer folk were navigating a hostile press and felt weary and beaten down by the HIV/Aids crisis of the decade prior.

“We had complaints everywhere,” Davies recounted to PinkNews.

Russell T Davies accepted the award for Lifetime Achievement at the PinkNews Awards 2019. (Paul Grace)
Russell T Davies accepted the award for Lifetime Achievement at the PinkNews Awards 2019. (Paul Grace)

“We had complaints from straight people. We had complaints from gay people. But do you know who we had complaints from? Folk dancers. ‘Dear sir, Don’t associate my hobby with rimming and paedophilia.’ Frankly, it’s a fine line between that and the tarantella. Not that much of difference!”

Despite the struggles he faced, Davies said that he wouldn’t have preferred to write in a more tolerant era if he had the choice.

“If I could’ve started writing 20 years earlier, in the 60s and 70s, that would have been glorious,” he said. “But certainly not later, no, I enjoyed being the first with Queer as Folk.

“I loved knocking down the walls, I loved challenging the press, I loved the fight we had to make!

“It was great fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

More: queer as folk, russell t davies

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