SPOTLIGHT ON: LGBT+ History Month – Queer Britain

Brian Butler February 9, 2023

Browsing around for stuff to watch celebrating LGBT+ History Month, I found an absolute dearth of new material. So went back over five years to BBC 3’s six-part Queer Britain – now available on BBC iPlayer.

Queer YouTuber and journalist Riyadh Khalaf takes us to various parts of the country and deals head on with tricky themes that affect our community. In this article I’ll look at the first three episodes.

Episode one Does God Hate Queers? finds us in Dalston, East London with Josh, who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but who, when he outed himself to his parents, was forced to ‘confess’ his sexuality to the church’s congregation and was summarily ‘disfellowshipped’ – i.e chucked out and also not allowed to have any contact with his family.

As far as the church was concerned, he had a demonic possession. It’s a savage portrayal of prejudice and homophobia – and Josh returns to the episode later. Meanwhile we meet Elijah, who now identifies as trans masculine, but with a deep religious faith. Two years into his transitioning, he embarks on a naming – or renaming ceremony at a church where he feels welcome. He tells us he can truly love himself. And we’ll see him again.

Dr Mike Davidson is altogether more disturbing a character. Appearing on Nicky Campbell’s TV show, Dr Mike is the head of a Christian organisation devoted to changing people’s sexuality. Ashamed of his own homosexuality, he found himself at odds with his Christian faith. He tells us there is no way you can reconcile a Bible-based faith with being gay.

In Birmingham we meet Muslim Marium – not her real name – who wants to have an arranged marriage with a gay man in order to cover her love for another woman. The whole pretence is so she can stay within her family circle of strict religion. This was, to me, the most shocking story in the episode.

Back to Elijah, and we’re at the Oasis Church in London’s Waterloo, where the charismatic Rev Steve Chalke is about to officiate at Elijah’s naming ceremony. Elijah says: “I don’t have to apologise for who I am anymore. I am proud to be Elijah. I feel like I’ve been reborn.”

And what about Josh’s progress? He’s doing ok – he takes Riyadh to The Glory – a famous East End queer club for all tastes.

Episode two, The Search For The Perfect Body, deals with queer tribal labels and the apparent obsession in some parts of our community with body image. Riyadh is clearly having fun, first trying to buff up his physique at a gym,  and then posing nude for a Gay Times feature. Interspersed with this story we meet Jamal, a queer man who loves his make-up and pronounces himself “a femme tornado”. He’s been told he gives gay people a bad name, but his view is that “sexuality is not a personality”, and he revels in “being a gay and a shady queen”. He’s delightful.

But his full-on attitude and appearance has meant a long period of femme shaming both at school and in later life – and from his own gay community.

Rye has other issues. He’s suffered from bulimia for nine or 10 years, since he was 17. “It’s a control thing and very lonely – I don’t know how I survived”. Gay men are three times more likely to suffer eating disorders, in an attempt to fit into the accepted queer tribes – he felt he had to be a skinny twink. He says: “It’s a taboo subject in the gay community.”

In episode three – Out On The Streets – Riyadh looks at homelessness among young queer people in a very disturbing storyline. For one in four homeless young people are from the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a staggering statistic.

In Birmingham we meet Damien, who has been in care for most of his life and for whom the streets are a place to live since his husband died. Afraid to be fully shown on camera for fear of repercussions, he tells us: “I sleep with one eye open and one eye closed. If I had a choice, I’d be straight”. Disowned by his family for being gay, he resolutely says: “But what’s the point in being miserable?”

Homeless LGBTQ+ charity the Albert Kennedy Trust plays a major part in helping young people who have been thrown out by their families for owning up to their sexuality.

In Livingstone, Scotland, we meet John, who identifies as gender-neutral. Put into the care system as a child, he has also experienced dreadful episodes of homophobia, physical violence, verbal assaults and bricks through his windows. It even happens during the filming of his interview.

Cut to Kristina – made homeless because she articulated her desire to be with another woman. “Being homeless gives you no confidence, you have a lack of connection to society”. Her controlling mother wouldn’t let her use the fridge, or the bath.

But now she’s got a girlfriend and she’s living in a hostel. But she tells us “Even at college, I say my partner not my girlfriend and we don’t kiss in public”. But at least she feels she’s in a safe place. And it’s a happy story in many ways. We meet girlfriend Amy – and then Amy’s parents who have fully accepted and supported the two women.

Back in Livingstone, John seems much happier – he’s got a tenancy and surrounds himself with his own possessions, including his collection of Pride flags. But his sense of isolation in the community is tangible. As for Damien, whose lifeline is the outreach workers’ support he gets, plus the cans of booze he has each day, he has a stern message for others who might be moving towards a life on the streets. “Get yourself indoors, because this is no life”.

Queer Britain is on BBC iPlayer – look out for my other article on the series