Brookside’s iconic lesbian kiss is an important reminder that homophobes will never stop the rainbow wave of progress
Cast your minds back to 1994, well, if you’re old enough to remember it that is. It was certainly a thrilling and eventful year.
Torvill and Dean had just won the British ice dancing championship at Sheffield Arena, everyone was looking forward to the Channel Tunnel opening, Jurassic Park was tipped to be the year’s top movie, and the entire nation reeled in unison after seeing the first lesbian kiss on a soap opera before the watershed, as a chenille jumper-clad Anna Friel (Beth Jordache) locked lips with Nicola Stephenson (Margaret Clemence) in Brookside.
To say that kiss caused a huge sensation is a bit of an understatement, given how often it still comes up as a topic of conversation whenever the issue of LGBT+ representation on British TV comes up.
It was even used as part of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony – which was streamed live to 61 countries, including countries where homosexuality is illegal, meaning that low definition footage from a long-cancelled Scouse soap was the first televised lesbian kiss many viewers had ever seen.
The kiss came up again, more recently, in discussions about a kiss on Canadian teen drama series The Next Step. On 22 July 2020, two female characters, Jude and Cleo, kissed – the first same-sex kiss to air on CBBC.
Like Beth and Margaret’s fairly chaste snog more than two decades ago, it generated a slew of homophobic complaints – more than 100, according to the Metro. Many compared the furore to the similar pearl-clutching outrage that followed the Brookside kiss 26 years previously.
Molly Saunders, who plays Jude, addressed the complaints, saying: “I think it’s sad and disappointing that people can still be sad about something like this. But I think that the BBC and [production company] Boat Rocker dealt with this really well. I think they stood by what aired.”
Just as complaints about Brookside didn’t stem the tide of LGBT+ representation on TV shows aimed at adults, complaints about The Next Step won’t do a thing to slow the impressive progress that’s being made to show LGBT+ characters and relationships in contemporary children’s shows.
The 2017 Nickelodeon cartoon Mysticons featured a lesbian couple (Kitty and Zarya), there’s a transgender frog in the 2019 reboot of Rocko’s Modern Life, and Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins featured a lesbian interracial married couple voiced by Wanda Sykes and Portia de Rossi.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a smorgasbord of LGBT+ representation, but it’s worth singling out equine lesbian couple Aunt Holiday and Auntie Lofty. And that’s just the tip of the big gay iceberg: add in young queer YouTube influencers and role models like the recently out JoJo Siwa, and the snowball begins to turn into an avalanche.
Just like the Brookside kiss, these milestones will be spoken about for years to come. They mean a huge amount to young people today, just as that Beth-on-Margaret smooch in the 90s meant a lot to many teen lesbians watching awkwardly with their parents after a dinner of Findus crispy pancakes.
The enduring legacy of that kiss really can’t be understated. It’s mentioned in tweets at least once or twice a day, which is pretty impressive given the fact that Twitter wasn’t even a twinkle in Jack Dorsey’s eye in 1994. And when it is, it’s usually in response to a similar overreaction to two people putting their mouths close together.
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In January 2021, the official Twitter account of The Walking Dead had to firmly insist that homophobes unfollow the page after they received backlash for showing a gay kiss on a spin-off show (The Walking Dead: World Beyond).
One top tweet about the ‘controversy’ read: “#TheWalkingDead makes powerful statement to stand with #LGBT fans! LCB users say: I thought we were all past this after the lesbian kiss on Brookside in 1994.”
Also in early 2021, Cadbury’s aired an advert that featured a gay couple kissing and everyone collectively lost their minds. It featured real-life gay couple Callum Sterling and Dale K Moran sharing an intimate moment, with Sterling biting the chocolate treat in half in the mouth of his partner. Everyone collectively lost their damn minds. One person said: “Showing two men passionately enjoying a creme egg that children love to eat will only confuse children as such a young age. Why??”
Cue Beth and Margaret, who showed up again, like the reliable lesbian couple who always help you move. Example tweet: “Remember the lesbian kiss on Brookside? The press went berserk…”
It just goes to show that although we’ve come a long, long way in terms of representation since 1994, the homophobes are still out there, kicking up a loud fuss. However, the Brookside lesbian kiss serves as an important reminder that complaints and hate speech won’t stop the progress we’re making.