LGBTQIA+ representations on TV and film: my top five

February 2023

Visibility and positive representation are so important for LGBTQIA+ communities and their mental well-being. In the context of LGBT+ History Month's theme 'behind the lens', Alison reflects on her five most influential LGBTQIA+ moments in film and TV

When I look back at my teenage years during the 1980s, I struggle to think of many lesbians in the media, in TV or films. Martina Navratilova was a sportswoman who was ‘out’, but I can’t think of anyone else.

I didn’t realise I was a lesbian until my mid-40s, but I do have memories as a teenager of wondering about lesbians and I was always fascinated with them! Would my life have been different if lesbians had been more visible in mainstream culture when I was a teenager, I wonder?

The theme of this year’s LGBT+ History Month is ‘Behind the Lens’, celebrating LGBTQIA+ people’s contributions to cinema and TV and it’s a great opportunity to reflect on LGBTQIA+ ‘moments’ in TV and film that are influential for me. My top five may seem to be in a strange order, but please bear with me!

  1. Orange is the New Black aired between 2013-2019 on Netflix. I started watching the series and couldn’t stop thinking about one of the main female characters, Alex Vause. This was the catalyst for me realising I was gay! So it has to come first on my list.
  2. Brookside 1994 – Beth and Margaret’s kiss, the first lesbian kiss on mainstream TV. The tabloids went wild over this, mostly negative. It was sensitively handled, and actress Anna Friel insisted that her character’s sexual attraction towards Margaret wasn’t framed as a reaction to sexual abuse.
  3. Comedian, broadcaster and writer Sandi Toksvig was outed in 1994 and reviled by the tabloid press, but went on to host shows such as Call My Bluff and was the first woman to present a mainstream comedy panel show. She was sent death threats and was forced into hiding.
  4. A Secret Love, Netflix, 2022. This is the story of a lesbian couple in their eighties who finally come out to their family. This film is beautiful and heart-breaking. Living a lie for 65 years, this couple had two families, their biological family and their ‘gay’ family, who they could fully be themselves around. Many of my lesbian friends who are now in their fifties have a gay family. Sadly many of them were disowned by their biological families when they came out and this has had a huge impact on their mental health over the years. There is a big community of gay older people, who are isolated with no family around them, especially in this area with its proximity to Brighton.
  5. Rebel Dykes, 2021. This is a documentary about a group of lesbians in London in the 1980s and 1990s, who broke into the BBC and interrupted the news in protest against Clause 28. They were at Greenham Common and they abseiled into the House of Lords to highlight the HIV and AIDS crisis. I stand on the shoulders of these brave women. What would the landscape look like today without campaigners such as these?

Would my life have been different if lesbians had been more visible in mainstream culture when I was a teenager, I wonder?


I spoke to my non-binary offspring and their partner about representations of LGBTQIA+ people when I was growing up – and they couldn’t believe that my lesbian friends and I were unable to think of one lesbian in TV or film when we were teenagers! They said, what about Clare Balding? I said that: firstly, she wasn’t on the TV until the late 1990s, by which point I had married a man and had one child; and secondly, that she didn’t come out publicly until 2003!

Visibility is hugely important to our mental health in the LGBTQIA+ community as, among other things, it helps people to know they aren’t alone and to see positive representations that reflect themselves in the media. Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. I have had the best mental health of my life since I came out. Of course, this isn’t just because of me being out; it’s also a product of me being able to access therapy through the years and managing my depression better with medication.

So hopefully things will continue to improve for LGBTQIA+ visibility. Last year, CBBC showed its first lesbian kiss, so things are definitely changing!

Alison Lake is the project manager of the self-harm learning network at West Sussex Mind and manager of the VCSE mental health network.