Suranne Jones’ Gentlemen Jack helps gay women with their sexuality

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Suranne Jones’ latest role in a BBC One series is said to have helped gay women come to terms with their sexuality.

The 43-year-old actress currently stars as the “first modern lesbian” Anne Lister in the historical period drama, Gentleman Jack. Her role as the English diarist transforms viewers back to a time when men dominated the world of business and women were expected to marry and have children – and little was said of same-sex relationships.

While the conversation surrounding same-sex relationships is much more prevalent these days, a fear of judgement when coming out is still common. Ahead of the finale episode of season two airing this Sunday, the BBC released a new documentary showing how the hit tv show made it easier for women up and down the country to open up about how they truly felt. Gentleman Jack Change My Life follows women aged from 22 to 63 as they reveal how they found the courage to live life as their true authentic selves according to The Mirror.

READ MORE:BBC One’s LGBT period drama that transported Liverpool back to the 19th century with stunning costumes and carriages

Amongst those women is Yvonne, a Mormon who comes out to her adult children, and Sami, from Manchester, who is attempting to approach the sensitive subject with her mother Hazel after initially receiving a hostile response a decade earlier. However, a story more closer to Liverpool is that of Isabel, who is from Cheshire, and Katie’s as they tell of their pain that the church wedding they long for is not allowed.

Katie, 28, met Isabel five years ago when the couple sang in a church choir in London. Like Anne Lister, they share the desire to marry in church – but current rules forbid that. Isabel, a 29-year-old who works in publishing, told the Sunday Mirror how she came out five years ago.

She said: “Katie and I sat down and watched the series. I had come across Anne Lister before and stumbled on her diaries as the company I worked for published it. I thought it was so fascinating. I heard about the show and thought how brilliant it was. Sally Wainwright is phenomenal and what she has done for television and setting things in the north of England is brilliant.

“If I had this show growing up I might have known a lot sooner. It was emotional for us watching it, as I had grown up watching period dramas at university and had studied English literature. So to have a period drama on the BBC showing two people living their lives fairly unashamedly and to see everything they went through, and the barriers faced, is incredible to have this lost history of gay women. I do not think I was even ‘out’ when I first read the diaries, but little things started to make sense and I started questioning. Katie is my first girlfriend and it’s interesting to have that sense of history behind it.”

Isabel joined her local choir back in Cheshire, where she grew up, before moving to London. She explained it saddens her that not much progress has been made in the church since Anne’s time two centuries ago. Anne and her partner Ann Walker – played on TV by Sophie Rundle – had an unofficial wedding ceremony in church. It was not recognised by the Church of England.

Isabel added: “Their frustration at not being able to have this, well that’s completely relatable to me. It’s been 188 years since their marriage in 1834. Nothing has changed. There’s a lot more acceptance and people can talk about it – and a lot of clergy are gay themselves and fighting the fight. But we are all hampered by this system.

“I have been a weekly churchgoer for 20 years and it has become very important to me now I know I am a gay woman, but it saddens me that the Church of England is not always a welcoming place to be. I’ve been lucky my church in Cheshire, and the one I joined in London, have both been welcoming liberal churches. But there are a lot that aren’t.

“No gay person can marry in the Church of England where it stands, so while we have marriage equality in the country, and we can marry in a civil ceremony, we can’t marry in the church we attend. Our vicar would love to marry us but he can’t, so there is a lot of clergy in the Church of England who are supportive and want to marry gay couples, but they can’t.”

Same-sex weddings were made legal in England and Wales in 2014, but those same laws also protected the Church of England’s right to not hold such ceremonies without the fear of being taken to court under equality legislation.

Later in the documentary, viewers see four women, including Katie and Isabel, met in Halifax to visit a statue of Anne that was unveiled last year. Actress Suranne, who rose to prominence as Karen McDonald in Coronation Street between 2000 to 2004, said her “amazing” character has shown people it is “okay to explore gender in that way, to explore sexuality in that way and be courageous with it”.

Gentleman Jack Changed My Life is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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