30 years ago, British television history was made when the first kiss between two men on mainstream British TV was broadcasted. The peck on the forehead caused a frenzy in tabloid media which motivated actor Michael Cashman, who portrayed Colin Russell in the soap Eastenders, to become an LGBT+ rights campaigner.
Cashman spoke to the Thomas Reuters Foundation ahead of the release of his autobiography ‘One of Them’ on Thursday.
While LGBT+ rights have come along way in the 30 years since Cashman is still campaigning for LGBT+ rights to be respected in the Commonwealth and in trade deals post Brexit.
One of the spin doctors in the centre of the media storm was then tabloid journalist Piers Morgan who wrote a piece for The Sun at the time the soap aired the first same-sex kiss.
In the piece, Piers described Cashman and his costar as “yuppie poofs”.
He wrote: “Furious MPs last night demanded a ban on EastEnders as the BBC soap showed two men kissing full on the lips. The homosexual love scene between yuppie poofs was screened in the early evening when millions of children were watching.”
The article then invites readers to vote on whether “TV should show scenes of men kissing each other.”
When Cashman brought the article to light again in January this year, Morgan told PinkNews that he is now “ashamed of some of the inappropriate language I used in The Sun 30 years ago about gay stars. They were different times, but that’s no excuse – it was offensive, it was wrong, and I apologise for it.”
“Politics is a bit like geology – with no pressure there is no change,” Cashman said.
Speaking on the tabloid’s coverage of the groundbreaking scene, Cashman said the backlash led to bricks being thrown through the window of his home and the outing of his partner Paul Cottingham.
“The reportage was nasty … and so were the terms they used: ‘Yuppie poofters’ and ‘queer sex scenes’,” said Cashman.
“The bricks through the window happened more than once,” said Cashman, noting that the British public, 11 million of whom regularly watched the show in the 1980s, was largely supportive.
“But in a strange way it doesn’t diminish you; it strengthens you as you think, ‘these people cannot win’,” said Cashman.
Following his role in Eastenders, Cashman served as an MEP in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 where he was a campion of LGBT+ rights.
To this day, he remains active in Britain’s House of Lords after being made a life peer in 2014 as Baron Cashman of Limehouse in east London.
His main focus is the Commonwealth, where 34 out of the 53 member states outlaw same-sex relations.
“I want agreements and strategies put in place (by the Commonwealth) that recognise the fact that criminalisation inhibits the fight against AIDS and HIV,” he said.
“There need to be protocols on non-discrimination on the grounds of difference, that you can’t be evicted from your home (for being LGBT+) and that you can’t be denied employment or access goods and services.
“(These are) all of the things that we have and take for granted.”
“There are positive developments in some other member states which we are monitoring in some cases and in others we are supporting the progression,” he said.
Cashman would like the British government to go further and include LGBT+ rights clauses in any new trade agreements post-Brexit.
“This is what the European Union tends to do with its trade agreements,” he said.
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