Daytime soap operas are afforded much attention and gossip in America, but viewers in the States might be surprised to learn that their overseas counterparts are even more addicted to the trials and tribulations of fictitious TV towns. All over the United Kingdom, millions of viewers tune in for the tea time airings of popular soaps Coronation Street, EastEnders, and–most notably to lesbian viewers–Emmerdale.
When Bianca Montgomery came out as a lesbian on All My Children in 2000, she became the first long-term lesbian character on an American soap opera, but she was not the world’s first lesbian soap star. A decade earlier, Zoe Tate (played by Leah Bracknell) became the first lesbian character to appear on a British soap when her character came out on Emmerdale, and she survived on the show for sixteen years before departing in September 2005.
Even now, Zoe Tate is the longest running TV lesbian, and also one of the better-developed lesbian characters in television history, marking Emmerdale as one of the most gay-inclusive shows in Britain.
But now that the series’ main lesbian has departed the small town, the Emmerdale writers have introduced a new storyline, this one revolving around two teens exploring their same-sex attractions for the first time–Debbie and Jasmine.
Debbie Dingle (nee Jones, played by actress Charley Webb) is the daughter of Charity Tate and Cain Dingle (who is also Charity’s cousin). Debbie was given up for adoption at birth and reunited with the Dingle family when she was a teenager, and this incestuous, illegitimate child plot was revealed in October 2002 during a conversation between Charity and her sister-in-law Zoe Tate (yes, that Zoe).
The Dingles are Emmerdale’s most notorious lineage (boasting more than 30 on-screen family members in the shows lifetime), and similarly many viewers love to hate Debbie.
Jasmine Thomas (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman) is much more likeable. She is staying in Emmerdale with her uncle (the town vicar) while her distant, inattentive parents are traveling around the world, and although she has had a much more normal childhood than her friend Debbie, she can also be rebellious at times.
The pair developed an unlikely friendship when Debbie gave birth (and then gave away) her newborn daughter. Jasmine was one of the only townspeople to stand beside her and support her decision, and although others in Emmerdale have remained at a comfortable distance from the slightly-disturbed Debbie, Jasmine has formed a close bond with her.
In April, that friendship turned into something more.