When my best friend ‘exploded out of the closet’ when we were 14, just like Nathan did in Queer as Folk, I found in the writings of Russell T Davies OBE the articulation and the narration of my own life. I was Donna, the straight best friend, tagging along to Gay Pride, caught up in the vibrancy and acceptance of a community that wasn’t my own and yet I was welcomed anyway.

From Bournemouth to Brighton to Canal Street in Manchester, my teenage and student years mirrored those of Nathan, Vince, Stuart and their friends: they were filled with rainbows and poppers, fairy wings and shared eyeliner. Even when I became a Christian, Canal Street on a Saturday night was where I could have beautiful, broken conversations with people, reminiscing about the church they knew as kids, the love they felt from Jesus, the hurt they’d received from Christians, and the acceptance and shared identity they’d found in the gay community – a community forged together through pain and shame but determined to live joyful and defiant lives. 

More recently Russell T Davies has once again narrated a masterpiece with the Channel Four mini-series It’s A Sin, a captivating story narrating the lives, loves and losses of a group of young gay men and their straight best friend in London in the 1980s, right at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. 

There’s Ritchie, who hails from the Isle of Wight, from a closeted and sterile environment where a stifling and claustrophobic view of success and achievement was forced on the young man in his home before he ran away to the bright lights of London. There’s Peckham-born Roscoe, who storms out of his house adorned in glitter and make-up after his Nigerian family failed to pray away the gay. There’s quiet, shy Colin who, fresh out of Cardiff, is the misfit amongst misfits and yet still finds acceptance. And then there’s Jill, best friend Jill who becomes the angel, the helper and the godsend in these boys’ stories as they first deny and then dread the mysterious plague decimating their community. 


As a viewer you are never allowed to forget or escape the moral undertone of this story. The provocative title, inspired by the 80s hit by Pet Shop Boys, slams onto the screen at every ad break, screaming at you to take note and pay attention. 

Our British history of denying compassion and support to a community being ravaged by HIV and AIDS during the 80s and 90s, is rightly judged by Davies, and we should be ashamed if it. The dignity and humanity of others was denied by British society. Both individually and corporately, we judged others and left them bereft of mercy. 

In the series, forgiveness is only mentioned once. Roscoe’s pastor father returns from Nigeria, stricken by what he has seen there: people denied treatment, locked away like animals, declared devils, left to die. It is the hardest challenge [the Lord] gives us, to forgive,” he says. Misunderstanding his father’s meaning, Roscoe refuses to accept his forgiveness. No,” his dad says, Can you forgive me?” With tears in his eyes, Roscoe doesn’t answer. As a society, we must own what was done to a part of our community; like Roscoe’s father – we must ask for forgiveness.

In recent days, significant political conversations on care and support for LGBT people are taking place around the issue of conversion therapy. As the Government wrestles with the implications of how to ban conversion therapy, which has caused immense pain and trauma to people, church leaders and everyday Christians are rightly concerned about expansive legislation that could criminalise the fundamental practices of our faith. But no matter where we sit in the debate, we must not be swayed by polemic rhetoric seeking to demonise the other side. 

My Saturday nights in Canal Street seemed light years apart from my Sunday mornings in church. Despite the honesty and vulnerability I experienced in both, each community assumed the other would scream judgement and hostility at them; and the way current public discourse plays out, they are right to be fearful.

But that fear of judgement has led to shame on everyone’s part; and us Brits aren’t great at dealing with shame. Even in the church, we prefer guilt – that’s easier, more detached. Confess our wrongdoings, leave them at the cross, and Jesus will bear them for us. But shame is about who I am, not about what I’ve done. How do I leave myself at the cross and still carry on? How do I deal with a shame-filled identity? Do I just refuse it? Do I scream, I’m fine! If you’ve got a problem with me – that’s your problem”? Do I bury it, hide it away and pretend no one can see it? Or do I look for mercy, look for someone to see my sin and my shame, hold my hand and love me anyway?

In Matthew 9, the pharisees attack Jesus because He associates with sinners. Jesus responds by quoting Hosea 6:6: I desire mercy not sacrifice”, then sets them homework: He instructs them to go and learn what this means. By Matthew 12, the pharisees are back, attacking Jesus for breaking God’s laws and working (healing) on the Sabbath. Jesus responds, If you understood what these words meant…you would not condemn.” They failed to do their homework; they hadn’t learnt.

Davies shows us the beauty and honesty of mercy through the character of Jill. She is the one who bears witness to the sins of each character – everyone she encounters deserves her judgement but receives her mercy. She sees it all and knows that it’s not okay, any of it. But she sits there anyway, holding their hand, offering compassion to those who are in such great need of grace. 

Jesus told the religious leaders to go and learn what it means for God to desire mercy, not sacrifice – and that challenge is as poignant now as it was then. May we each do better at being the godsends to people’s shame. I pray I learn to witness people’s sin and yet hold their hands in mercy, showing compassion in place of judgement. And I pray others treat me the same.