As we celebrate Pride Month, now is the perfect time to look back on all those times the soaps have explored issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Our favourite serial dramas are much better about embracing such storylines now - but just a few decades ago, a loving kiss between a gay couple was considered too 'taboo' to be shown on television.
Thankfully attitudes have changed since then, but there are plenty of characters who were the first to break new ground in the genre and are now hailed for the impact they have had on viewers.
So from Coronation Street through to Neighbours, here's a look at the many memorable moments with which soapland helped to encourage acceptance and change.
1. EastEnders airs first gay kiss (1989)
Colin Russell (Michael Cashman) and Guido Smith (Nicholas Donovan) were the first male television characters to share a mouth-to-mouth kiss when EastEnders aired the scene in 1989. It was a passing moment that saw the pair peck each other on the lips, and the media reacted strongly.
Derogatory language featured in headlines, and at a time where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government favoured family values, this simple act of affection between two men was deemed inappropriate viewing. Today, Colin and Guido's kiss is remembered with fondness for breaking ground in the portrayal of gay relationships, and it certainly paved the way for what was to come!
2. Brookside airs first pre-watershed lesbian kiss (1994)
Brookside were next to make history with this kiss between Beth Jordache (Anna Friel) and Margaret Clemence (Nicola Stephenson). Beth was one of the Channel 4 soap's best-loved characters during this era, so the moment between her and Margaret certainly got people talking.
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It was only a mere five years since EastEnders took the first step, but gay and lesbian groups hailed Brookside for its positive portrayal. The kiss was watched by six million viewers, but was then edited out of the weekend omnibus. While people did complain about the scene, more actually took issue with the broadcaster's decision to censor the kiss. It is considered an iconic moment in the soap genre.
3. Coronation Street's Hayley Cropper introduced as soap's first transgender character (1998)
Hayley arrived on the Street as a new love interest for Roy Cropper (David Neilson). Played by cisgender actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, the character made history when she revealed to Roy that she was born a man. The couple formed one of soap's strongest ever romantic partnerships; but Hayley faced a lot of prejudice from her neighbours including the bigoted Les Battersby (Bruce Jones).
Corrie's decision to introduce Hayley got the nation talking, opening up a conversation in people's living rooms. Transgender actress and activist Annie Wallace, who went on star in Hollyoaks, advised the show on the storyline. As time went on, kind soul Hayley became one of Corrie's most beloved residents, and certainly wasn't defined by her identity. She passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2014, breaking the hearts of fans across the country.
4. Todd Grimshaw becomes Coronation Street's first openly gay character (2004)
Then played by Bruno Langley, Todd was in a relationship with Sarah Platt (Tina O'Brien) when he began to have feelings for men. He tried to kiss Sarah's brother Nick Tilsley (then played by Adam Rickett) and later embarked on an affair with nurse Karl Foster (Chris Finch). Sarah found out, and Todd eventually came out as gay.
Todd was the first openly gay regular character to feature in Corrie, and his coming out storyline was praised for its accurate portrayal of society in 21st century. The character remains on the soap to this day, with star Gareth Pierce taking over the role of Todd in 2020.
5. EastEnders explores coming out as a gay Muslim (2009)
When Walford's Syed Masood (Marc Elliott) realised he wanted to pursue a relationship with Christian Clarke (John Partridge), it wasn't just having a girlfriend that stood in his way. Syed's Muslim faith banned homosexuality, and he knew that his entire family and community would disown him if he went against them.
Despite having a passionate affair with Christian, Syed reluctantly walked away to marry Amira (Preeya Kalidas) when his mother Zainab (Nina Wadia) discovered the truth. With everything he'd ever known at stake, Syed attempted to be a good husband, suppressing his true self in the process. But when he inadvertently told Amira the truth, she left, and Syed made the brave decision to own his sexuality and be with Christian.
The Masood clan shunned him, but several months later they began to accept the situation, and gave their blessing when the couple wed in a civil partnership. Syed and Christian didn't have the best start to married life, but happily they stayed together and departed for a new life elsewhere.
6. Hollyoaks portrays domestic abuse in a gay relationship (2010)
Brendan Brady (Emmett Scanlan) made a name for himself as one of soapland's ultimate gangsters. But when he started sleeping with Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson), it sparked a harrowing new plot that had never been covered in soap before. Of course, we all remember EastEnders' Trevor's abuse of Mo - but the topic had never been explored between two men before.
In shocking scenes, Brendan began physically abusing his lover, showcasing domestic abuse in a same-sex relationship for the first time. The dark story was interwoven with Ste's coming out, but while Ste didn't struggle with his feelings towards another man, he was left vulnerable to Brendan's powerful manipulation.
7. Hollyoaks airs first legal gay marriage in a church (2014)
In 2014, same-sex marriage in church was made legal - and Hollyoaks was the first to showcase this on-screen as John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) proposed to Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson). The church was packed full of their family and friends, depicting a wedding day like any other - except for one monumental difference: the happy couple were declared husband and husband!
Of course, this was soapland, so the day didn't go without a hitch. By the time the reception was in full swing, Ste's pal Sinead O'Connor (Stephanie Davis) arrived to reveal that Ste was the father of her baby after their fling. But the fact remained that the show had been able to air something no other television programme had been able to before.
8. Hollyoaks' Ste Hay becomes the first gay character in soap to be diagnosed with HIV (2014)
Yes, Richardson has been at the centre of a number of impactful LGBTQ+ moments since his alter ego came out as gay. A man arrived in the village to warn Ste that, following their one night stand, he had tested positive for HIV. Medical developments now meant that someone could get tested and diagnosed with the condition on the same day, so Ste and John Paul both attended a clinic.
Hollyoaks showed the process of a HIV test in real time for viewers, aiming to raise awareness and reduce stigma. Richardson earned much praise for his poignant performance, as Ste became the first gay soap character to be diagnosed with the condition. Today, the character is living a stable, healthy life while on medication to control the illness.
9. First transgender actor to play a trans character in Hollyoaks (2015)
When Sally St Claire arrived in the village to take her place as the new school headteacher, a surprising connection was unveiled - she had once been in a relationship with Myra McQueen (Nicole Barber Lane) and had fathered John Paul (James Sutton) prior to her transition. Annie Wallace, who had previously been instrumental in Hayley Cropper's story in Coronation Street, now made history as the first transgender person to play a transgender character in a soap.
Sally remains an integral part of Hollyoaks, continuing to run the high school and becoming the anchor the chaotic McQueen family need. Her storylines have included being jilted at the altar by Myra and murdering George Kiss (Callum Kerr). Wallace was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA for her role in 2016.
10. EastEnders casts first transgender man to play trans character (2015)
After Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner) learned she had half-sisters she had never met, she was stunned when Kyle, played by transgender actor Riley Carter Millington, introduced himself as her brother. He explained he had been assigned female at birth but had since transitioned. Kyle and Stacey became close as he moved in with her and the family.
Star Millington was a popular addition to the cast, and remained in the role of lovable Kyle for a year. He made his mark as the first transgender actor to play a male trans character in a soap. In its Rainbow List of 2015, The Independent on Sunday named the actor as the most influential LGBTQ+ person in the UK through his work on EastEnders.
11. Robert Sugden comes out as bisexual in Emmerdale (2016)
While serial drama had seen bisexuality on-screen before, what hadn't been shown was an in-depth exploration of what it was like to come to terms with the identity. And when Robert Sugden (Ryan Hawley) came out to boyfriend Aaron Dingle (Danny Miller), fans of Emmerdale were moved and full of praise for the show and writer Maxine Alderton.
The pivotal scenes challenged stereotypes, as Robert explained that he "liked both" but this didn't mean that he loved Aaron any less. Emmerdale almost undid its hard work when Robert later went on to cheat with a woman, but he asserted that his sexuality had no bearing on this mistake. He and Aaron eventually married in a heartwarming ceremony.
12. Neighbours aired Australia's first same-sex wedding (2018)
Australia made same-sex marriage legal at the end of 2017 - and a few months later, Aaron Brennan (Matt Wilson) and David Tanaka (Takaya Honda) tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony, giving Neighbours the first gay wedding to air on television in the country.
Soapland isn't know for happy ever afters, and David and Aaron have had their fair share of drama - but they have weathered every storm together, making their union all the more memorable for viewers as well as for the LGBTQ+ community.
13. Emmerdale breaks ground with first asexual character (2019)
Feeling the pressure from pals who were interested in sex, Liv (Isobel Steele) realised she felt differently to the likes of Gabby Thomas (Rosie Bentham) when it came to romance. There was a lot of confusion for the teen as she tried to figure out her identity, but she later acknowledged that she wasn't interested in sex.
Liv came out as asexual - another soap first which Emmerdale can lay claim to. But this did not mean she couldn't fall in love, as seen through her sweet relationship with Vinny Dingle (Bradley Johnson) who she married earlier this year. Liv has faced questions from those around her, but Vinny accepted her for who she is. Star Steele has been praised by fans who are thankful to have felt recognised by her portrayal of asexuality.
14. EastEnders celebrates Pride with Walford event (2019)
From that first tentative gay kiss in the late 1980s, all the way to 2019 - yes, 30 years on, EastEnders delivered a special event in the form of Walford Pride. Callum Highway (Tony Clay) was struggling to come to terms with the realisation that he was gay, and found himself immersed in the celebrations.
Other characters embracing their identities included Tina Carter (Luisa Bradshaw-White) who shared a heartwarming conversation with teen Bernie Taylor (Clair Norris), reassuring her that she would find her way after coming out as a lesbian. Penned by Pete Lawson, this episode lives on fondly in the hearts of fans across the country.
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