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Meet the gay guys asking ‘Does God hate queers?’ in new BBC series Queer Britain

Meet the gay guys asking ‘Does God hate queers?’ in new BBC series Queer Britain

The new series is raw and honest insight into LGBTI life in the UK today

In 2016, GSN spoke exclusively with gay Londoner Josh Gutteridge, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness whose family now refuse to have contact with him.

Josh’s incredibly journey and immense bravery quickly to spread across the media.

I’m a delicate English rose I’ll have you know 🌹🌹🌹☀️☀️☀️#iamsunburnt #ithurts #ouch #delicateenglishrose

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One year on, his story is set to reach new audiences, as he takes part in amazing new BBC documentary series, Queer Britain.

The BBC3 six-parter, launching on iPlayer and YouTube on Sunday, explores non-heterosexuality in Britain, and is presented by gay YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf [below].

Riyadh famously addressed his own family’s issues with sexuality and religion in an emotional YouTube vlog last year. In it, his Muslim father admitted he contemplated suicide after his son came out.

The first episode of Queer Britain looks at sexuality and religion in more detail. As well as Riyadh and Josh, it features a handful of LGBTIs whose relationship with faith has been complex. Among them are a trans Christian man with an inspiring story, and a lesbian Muslim with a very sad one. We caught up with Riyadh and Josh to find out more…

Riyadh, can you explain how the series came to be?

BBC3 began development on an idea called ‘Gay in the UK’. They came to me and said ‘Would you be interested in telling these stories?’ They didn’t know what the stories would be specifically, just that there would be six of them. Then a crew came together, and people like Josh, people with stories [came on board], and we started shooting.

What was the timescale between when you were asked and when you started shooting?

Riyadh: About two months. It sounds like a long time, but in the TV world it’s pretty quick! I’d been living in London about six months by the time we started shooting. [Riyadh is from Dublin]. I had two, maybe three production meetings before we got into the heavy filming. I was in the deep end! Josh was there on the first day of shooting ever.

How did you come across Josh’s story for the show?

Riyadh: The team had been doing heavy research for all the episodes, It was a case of finding the right person to tell their story in an honest, open, unfiltered way. When I first heard of Josh and his background from one of the producers, I was so excited to meet this guy. He’s lived an unbelievable life. I couldn’t believe we got this guy to say yes!

#haircut #gay #gaylondon #gayman #instabeard #instagay #gaybeard #blueeyes #adidas #londonlife #dalston #chav

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Josh: The angle Queer Britain was going for fitted with how I wanted to tell my story, [appealing to] a younger audience. The only reason I speak about my story is because I want other people to benefit. The audience BBC3 attracts is ideal.

We ran a feature with you last year Josh – was that the beginning of you putting your story out there?

Definitely. You were the first person I told the story to. It was the first online exposure. A lot of religions are ‘open doors’, while Jehovah’s Witnesses is ‘closed doors’, so it’s snowballed – people are keen to hear what happened.

Have you been contacted by any Jehovah’s Witnesses since you went public with the story?

Not yet, but I guess I will next week! I’m a little bit nervous actually, but it’s fine. I think I’m going be contacted by my parents.

Really?

I think I might, I don’t know. I haven’t told them about it – I think they’ll be upset about the fact the story’s out there. But it’s completely factual anyway. It might help them to realize what my life’s like now, so it’s good. And if that’s the only reason they contact me, because they’re upset, then…

My mother tells me to close my shirt but I gotta let the nips breath mama 🌬(📷:@dougarmstrong)

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Riyadh, does your personal story feature in any of the episodes?

Yeah. When we were coming up with the six topics, we thought ‘why am I the one telling these stories?’ We didn’t want to just shoehorn me in because I’m a gay guy. So there’s a link in every episode to my own life. Although none of the episodes are about me, there’s a personal journey there. In Josh’s episode, that stemmed from my background – I have an Iraqi father who was originally Muslim, and an Irish mother who was originally Catholic. They’re both now nothing, essentially atheists. That’s because of our decision, as a family, to relieve ourselves of religious pressure.

I saw the video with your parents. They were at Queer Britain launch, cheering you on – what does that mean to you?

My parents’ journeys have been unbelievable to watch. Having a gay son has become normalized for them. Seven or eight years on, it really is nothing to us. I’m just their son that just happens to be gay. When we watch videos like the one that we shared last year, it’s very emotional. Look where we’ve come from. A lot of parents – like, for instance, Josh’s – haven’t been as open and accepting. Every day, I know how lucky I am. This series is another step in that journey for them, to see how special it is when you nurture a child who is different.

It’s mad how the face changes in your mid-twenties. Scary almost. Goodbye twinkhood 👋🏻😂

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I never would have had the confidence to put myself out there in such a public way with my identity without their love and support. My mum cried after the screening. She said ‘I’m just so proud of you.’ I said ‘this is as much yours as it is mine.’

She said ‘thank you for always making us part of it’. Whether it’s a tiny YouTube video or a BBC documentary series I make, they’re always there. Although I’m the one on camera, they’re the ones I call every night. They’re parents, managers, best friends, critics. They’re the best relationships I could ask for.

Josh, how does it make you feel seeing Riyadh’s parents’ journey? Does it make you hopeful for the same?

That’s an interesting question. It was great to see Riyadh’s relationship with his parents at the screening. But it’s hard for me to get over the barrier to think one day my parents are going to accept me the way Riyadh’s eventually accepted him. Primarily because as soon as they choose to leave the religion they can no longer have contact with any of their family and friends either. It would be a very big step for them. The community is really tight-knit. Me, personally, it’s not something I envision. But I can look on stories like Riyadh’s and feel happy that it’s worked out for them.

Do you have siblings?

I’ve got a brother and sister.

When you have a shaver accident and lose your beard. 😱😭#naked #gay #gaylondon #gayuk #gaybeard #shave #off #cries

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Do you think there’s any chance they’ll come around?

I hold out more hope for them than I do my parents. I think the more information we get out there, the more social media is becoming popular, the more YouTube videos there are, the more the younger generations can go online and find things out for themselves, and not be brought up by a community where whatever you’re told, you accept.

The final part of episode one sees the two of you on a night out at east London gay bar The Glory. What’s your favourite memory of that?

Riyadh: There aren’t any [laughs].

Josh: I thought the drag queen Bourgeoise did a fantastic show. The funny thing was me being interviewed right at the end. I was drunk out of my face, I don’t know how I managed to keep it together!

Riyadh: My favourite bit was dancing downstairs with you and your friends. Even though I’d only met you that day, I felt like I’d known you for years! For me, coming into your world in east London, and seeing you with your new gay family, it gave me a sense of warmth and made me think: ‘OK. He’s safe. He has a support structure. He’s got something he lost back in a different form.’ That’s what I love about our community. In times of need, we come together.

Is there any word on the series being broadcast on BBC1 or 2?

Riyadh: Not really. These things are in-house discussions. The great thing is it’s going to be online indefinitely on YouTube for an international audience. That’s our main priority, to get it out there, of course for a British audience, but for young LGBTs who might be having similar issues overseas. We’re in that really lucky position that BBC3 have decided to do this, to put it out on YouTube as a whole. Because in general what makes it onto YouTube is short-form content, comedy skits and promos. But the whole thing is going to live there!

What other stories are coming up?

Riyadh: There’s an incredibly brave guy who’s gone through bulimia and body image issues. We meet a guy in Birmingham who’s homeless because his parents threw him because of his sexuality. In one episode we meet some incredible people who use porn in alternative ways, to educate, break down stigmas and barriers around queer porn and what that is, and to empower themselves and love their sexualities and bodies.

We look at the no fats/no femmes/no Asians epidemic, and hear first hand stories of that. My friend Abdul decided to come along. He’s a black guy and he was telling me it’s commonplace – every time you go online, you’ve got to have that thick skin and be ready to be called awful, awful racist names, in order to find ‘the one’, or simply have a bit of fun.

Is another series a possibility?

Who knows! Let’s get people sharing the love and enjoying it, and getting inspired by it, then we’ll see what’s next! I’m always hopeful to do more. I’ve got the documentary bug now. I’ve always loved the medium for telling real, human stories. To get the opportunity to make more of them on this subject or any subject would be an honor. To get the chance to work with my Queer Britain family again would be a dream come true.

For more information on Queer Britain visit the iPlayer website.