Two men taking to the ice might seem uncontroversial, but as a same-sex couple competing together this week on British reality TV show, Dancing On Ice, singer Ian Watkins and professional skater Matt Evers are set to make television history.
The show, which begins on January 5, will mark the first time a same-sex couple has competed together on a dance-themed reality TV show in Britain, sparking hopes from campaigners of more in the year to come.
“It’s long overdue but very welcome, proving that same-sex couples are increasingly in the mainstream and accepted,” veteran LGBT+ rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
“For young people, particularly those coming to terms with an LGBT+ identity, having same-sex couples on primetime television is a very positive, supportive affirmation of who they are.”
While the Dancing On Ice pairing will be a British television first, same-sex couples have performed in other competitive reality TV shows around the world.
In 2016, US model and actor, Nyle DiMarco, and South African dancer, Keo Motsepe, peeled off from their female partners to dance a routine together on the US show Dancing With The Stars.
Drag queen, Courtney Act, whose real name is Shane Jenek, was paired with a male partner for the Australian version of Dancing With The Stars, taking to the stage for the first dance in February 2019, and eventually being voted runner-up.
And last month, actor, Jakob Fauerby, and professional dancer, Silas Holst, won the Danish version of the show.
There has been a long tradition of same-sex couples in dance, according to a spokesman at London’s Pineapple Dance Studios, which regularly hosts both same-sex and mixed couples.
“As in popular plays in which gender roles are deliberately confused to serve the plot of the play, adding same-sex couples to popular shows might help to educate the audience about the skills and strengths necessary to execute a technical piece.”
Last year, two professional dancers on the BBC’s long-running flagship show, Strictly Come Dancing, performed in a same-sex pairing, raising hopes that a contestant might follow suit when the programme airs again later this year.
At the time, the BBC said in a statement the show, which has frequently featured LGBT+ contestants, was “inclusive”.
“We are completely open to the prospect of including same-sex pairings between our celebrities and professional dancers in the future, should the opportunity arise,” the BBC said.
However, the dance routine sparked almost 200 complaints from viewers, showing the issue still mattered, said Lisa Power, a founder of British LGBT+ rights group, Stonewall.
“It clearly does still matter because there are still people squawking with indignation about it. It won’t matter when nobody bats an eyelid,” she said.
-Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh -Thomson Reuters Foundation