Why ‘It’s a Sin’ is more relevant now than ever

Written by Emily Latimer

Russell T Davies’ tragically, joyful ‘It’s a Sin’ is Channel 4’s most-watched drama series in its history, and its relevance today is alarming.

Most of the younger generation know little about the history of HIV other than a loose narrative which has been passed down to us. But this series brings to life the harrowing, deep-rooted reality that so many faced. Unlike others, the series does not try to moralise the topic but instead shows us how HIV was a virus twisted with injustice, prejudice and misunderstanding.

I began the series smiling as it follows the paths of each of the characters leaving their home-towns. I felt excitement for Ritchie as he stood aboard the ferry leaving his narrow-minded parents on the Isle of Wight behind him. I imagined Roscoe’s pain as he ran away from his strict, religious family. But also admired his bravery; walking away unashamed to embrace who he is. Lastly, I felt anticipation for Colin, as he leaves his small corner of Wales to explore the big city. It’s clear each of the characters has so much at stake, yet has their whole lives ahead of them.

The characters become immersed with their new lives in London in the ‘Pink Palace’; what feels like a bustling, whirlwind of adventure. We see the parties, the thrill of finally meeting like-minded people and the unfamiliar openness of those around them. We watch Ritchie become confident and charismatic, and see Colin drawn out of his shell by those around him. 

However, just like mould as Henry depicts it as, we see HIV slowly seep into the characters’ lives darkening and dampening their brightness. It’s at this point Jill starts to feel like the real protagonist, as the series cleverly follows her losing those she loves, and in doing so illustrates the number of lives HIV stole from a generation.

Yet despite the loud disruption HIV caused, ‘It’s a Sin’ reminds us of the silence that it was met with, due to the homophobia that underpinned Britain. Jill’s play in which an audience contently watch villagers laughing at people being beheaded can be seen to symbolise this reality, where making HIV known or cared about was a constant battle.

Furthermore, whilst in 2020 we have progressed in some ways, from the homophobia, toxic masculinity and gender norms from the ’80s, there is still a lot we can learn and ‘It’s a Sin’ allows us to reflect on this. Watching ‘It’s a sin’, you can’t help but feel let down by the British government who made it clear, they didn’t care for the gay community who needed them. But today this reality is all too similar when it extends to trans and non-binary people.

Trans and non-binary people are some of the most marginalised people today, with huge health disparities (including staggering rates of HIV infection), high rates of poverty, unemployment and frightening levels of physical violence. In 2020 official figures showed trans people were twice as likely to be victims of crime as cisgender people and data from Stonewall found two in five trans people have had a hate crime committed against them in the last year. Just as worryingly, Stonewall research found two in five trans young people have attempted suicide. It’s clear, just as gay people needed allies in the ’80s, trans and non-binary people need us today.

Since 2015 the UK has slipped from being the most progressive LGBTQ nation in Europe and occupying the top spot on the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) Rainbow map, (a map which ranks 49 European countries on their respective legal and policy practices for LGBTI people) to 10th place and falling. 

This continues to be the case as several laws have been silently passed throughout the pandemic. Back in September, the Gender Recognition Act which would have allowed trans people to self-identify was scrapped with little regard or explanation, meaning the process to change gender is still expensive and lengthy. Furthermore, in January the government created an open consultation detailing plans to increase the policing of gender-neutral toilets.

Today trans and non-binary rights are discussed with a discourse which is increasingly hostile and underpins similar homophobia that was present in the ’80s. ‘It’s a Sin’ highlights how despite the sacrifices that have been made previously, the pain, the removal of people’s humanity, the denial of their identity and the stigma that they faced, the same things are happening again now. 

Jill stands as a representation of who we should all be, by showing that a problem doesn’t have to threaten us directly for us to care or fight for it, and demonstrates the difference that can be made by standing in someone’s corner. But more than this, with so many of the character’s parents unable to accept their children’s identities and reluctant to the changing world around them, ‘It’s a Sin’ demonstrates that whilst the ideas of us younger generation may seem radical, we are probably the ones you should be listening to.

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