Student Pride - LGBT in the media panel

The first panel talk on the General Election chaired by Evan Davis overran slightly and this was followed by a brief interval where everyone was invited to go to the main bar for an acrobatic show.

This delay might explain why Bethany Black couldn't no longer sit in. Paris Lees took the helm to bring a perspective on trans* representation.

In effervescent style Paris Lees opens the talk sans mic by saying there was no real title for this bit, "it's just a sexy sofa session" - though she joked she's had better sofa action. She promised to cover the trans topics as best she could - [ha, as if she couldn't] - in Bethany's place.

The audience's questions ranged from representation, such as why gay characters aren't more explicit and political, the absence of non-binary gender depictions, representation in children's books and ended on the reception of the recent Channel 4 Cucumber/Banana/Tofu triple-series.

Heather Peace explained that she wouldn't have been ready to 'come out' at the start of her career and it would have done more harm than good. She would never have been cast as a straight woman and there were certainly no gay characters written for her to play back then.

Peace went on to make the point that she feared mentioning that she was a lesbian in interviews, as it was likely to lead to the rest of the interview being based solely on that - there is more to her than just her sexuality - and this made her avoid doing interviews altogether.

Alicya Eyo joined in by echoing this sentiment and would frequently request people not to ask about her sexuality to avoid it being a sole issue and also inadvertently coming out to family before ready. She stated that she now feels it's important to be out as she has a responsibility as someone in the media.

Dustin Lance Black expressed that there isn't enough representation in media because "we write about what we know... and straight, white males run the writing rooms". He went on to say that people aren't always bold enough to write about gay characters.

Paris Lees would like to see more representation of trans people in film and TV, especially just trans people in roles. "You sit next to a trans person on the bus - why can't you see them on TV?" she mused. She made the point that we like to see ourselves represented so that we don't feel so alone. It would have made so much of a difference to her to see a trans person on TV when she was 15.

Dominic Treadwell-Collins, an Executive Producer from EastEnders, toed the more cautious line on this panel and repeatedly emphasised that it is important to be careful, do things slowly and slyly, and not be seen to be preaching, for fear of alienating audiences and making things worse. Not surprising since he does have to deal with a flurry of complaints following a gay kiss scene, to the tune of "that really put me off my evening meal".

He shared with the room that he has issued a rule at EastEnders: No gay kiss to end on a 'duff duff' (the sound denoting end of an episode on a cliffhanger) as it shouldn't be considered a shocking thing. All gay kisses are put in the middle. The audience applauded.

He also shared, when questioned, that a storyline featuring trans character is in the pipeline, much to the approval of the audience of the main stage. Paris Lees later remarked she'll hold him to that!

A second question arose regarding non-binary gender depiction, and Dustin Lance Black candidly admitted that he didn't really know what that means and would like to find out more. Paris Lees commended this honesty and proposed that we need to be more open and talk about it more. She explained the work she does as a trans advocate, going in to see soaps like EastEnders and Coronation Street and speaking with them.

Getting back to gay representation, there was some consternation in the audience regarding mainstream roles often being careful, and characters being bisexual, rather than gay... to make them seem safer. Again, Dominic reinforced his aims to be careful.

Much to her own amusement as well as everybody else's, Heather waxed lyrical about the BBC series Last Tango in Halifax, despite it not answering the questions in hand, but it's clearly a programme close to her heart. It's based near to where she's from and she stated that the level of engagement in the show was high in that area and that people really cared about those two lesbians. She is aware that there is anger about one of the happy lesbians being killed off, and makes reference to the critical Guardian article about it, but defended Sally Wainwright's (of At Home with the Brathwaites fame) brave choice to stay authentic to her story, and pleaded that we must support writers like her.

Dustin added, "Our families have been normal for years. We just don't have the representation," and the room cheered. He called for fair depictions and definitely thinks that there's more room for happy endings in gay storylines.

Not really to do with film or TV, but an audience member put a question to the panel about gay representation in children's books. Heather Peace responded that children's books should represent all families and people shouldn't have fears about teaching children about gay people and gay families. She hit a chord in the room when she said, "Everyone brings gay stuff back to sex when it should be about love".

The curator of talk brought things to an end by having a straw poll about the viewing of the latest Cucumber/Banana series. The response in the room wasn't particularly high or enthusiastic - a restrained 25% - but it was a positive reaction nonetheless. There was some flurry of mention among audience and panel about it being too 'sex-obsessed'.

Alicya Eyo concluded saying that "LGBT is diverse and you can't please everyone". We need these characters and we need these storylines. Support them!