Producers and writers from EastEnders, Emmerdale, and Hollyoaks were all on the panel.
A panel at the Royal Television Society last night, called LGBTQ in Soap: Job Done?, discussed representation and how it could be improved.
The panel all agreed that they felt soaps had come a long way with their representation of gay and lesbian characters, but needed to do better with the representation of bisexual characters.
On the panel were BBC drama boss Oliver Kent, EastEnders scriptwriter Pete Lawson, Emmerdale’s producer Iain MacLeod, and Hollyoaks’ executive producer Bryan Kirkwood.
Speaking on the panel, Kent said: “I think that something we could be better at exploring is bisexual characters. I don’t think we’ve quite got that right yet as often as we could.
“You don’t want the sexuality to be the story, and yet if you hide it too much, it’s not part of the story at all. I think we could probably be better at that,” he added.
MacLeod responded to the recent criticism of Emmerdale’s depiction of bisexuality, saying: “We took the view with the character of Robert [Sugden] that his sexuality was low on the list of things that were most interesting about him. He’s devious, manipulative and self-serving and has been since birth.”
He then continued, saying: “But he recently cheated on his partner and we’ve got a very angry backlash from certain portions of our audience, who feel that we’ve pandered to this incorrect perception that bisexual people are somehow promiscuous or untrustworthy.”
EastEnders scriptwriter, Pete Lawson, praised Hollyoaks for its portrayal of bisexual characters, saying: “I think Hollyoaks is brilliant at both bisexuality and gender fluidity.
“With a younger audience, I think there’s a totally different attitude. So I think Hollyoaks does it really well – and we haven’t quite got there yet.”
He then added: “We’re not brilliant at having characters who go: ‘I am bisexual, I love men and women’. We do much more: ‘Oh, I’m not a lesbian anymore’.”
However, despite the praise, Bryan Kirkwood admitted that they have had issues with exploring the theme of bisexuality with some of its characters.
“I wouldn’t say a ‘backlash’, but anything close to a backlash was to a character called Lockie, who was a bisexual man and declared it almost in his first episode,” he said.
“We also have Grace Black, who is a bisexual woman and a fierce leading lady.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard anything approaching concern from the audience, where people thought the characters were just ‘flip-flopping’.
“Maybe that’s because we didn’t tell the stories well enough, I expect, or probably because we didn’t declare it loudly or clear enough.”
He finished by saying: “Whereas our audience absolutely seem to accept the Ls and the Gs, not so much the Bs so far.”
Meanwhile, Hollyoaks recently released a documentary which explored its LGBT+ characters.
Words Matt Moore