Hollyoaks is to launch a major new long-running issue-based storyline highlighting the dangers to young people of conversion therapy.
This is not the first time Hollyoaks has brought light to this topic, having aired a BAFTA-nominated documentary strand, “Hollyoaks IRL,” last year. The documentary examined the real-life impact of this devastating practice.
It will now be dramatised for viewers, as campaigners call for a speeding up of legislation to ban conversion therapy, which has been promised by the government.
The intention behind the practice is to get a person to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Alarming data shows that 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ people have experienced having their sexuality questioned (2018 Government).
Actor and campaigner David Ames joined the soap to take part in the storyline, playing Carter Shepherd.
Revered heritage characters John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) and Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) will also be involved, along with Ste’ son Lucas Hay (Oscar Curtis) and newcomer Dillon Ray (Nathaniel Dass).
Viewers have so far seen that headteacher Carter has ambitions beyond education as he has begun offering self-growth sessions. In autumn a more sinister agenda will start to appear.
Channel 4 commissioning executive Ben Wadey said: “Conversion therapy may sound like something extreme or rare but sadly the figures tell us otherwise.
“It is a practice that is devastating and tends to affect the most vulnerable in the community, young people coming out or exploring their sexuality which is why it is vital that Hollyoaks’ audience, with its youthful demographic, are fully informed.
“Through our established characters and the recent arrival of Carter we will look at this devastating practise and the various insidious forms that it can hide behind.
“Hollyoaks is well-known for never shying away from a subject that is agenda-setting and can help educate and inform and has a history of successfully telling difficult and important stories.”
Hollyoaks has worked with campaigners and advisors with lived experience of conversion therapy.
Award-winning journalist Josh Parry’s investigative work brought the practice to the attention of parliament when he went undercover at a church in Anfield to undergo conversion therapy while posing as a member of the public.
The former Liverpool Echo journalist, now working at the BBC, won Young Journalist of the Year at the Regional Press Awards 2017 for his reporting and has since continued to report on the topic across national TV, radio and online.
He has advised on the storyline and scripts and shared his lived experience from his investigation and research on conversion therapy with Hollyoaks’ cast and crew.
On working with Hollyoaks on the story, Josh said: “It’s been an honour to be asked to guide the team through this complex and sensitive storyline.
“As someone who themselves has been through gay conversion therapy as an undercover reporter, I have experienced first-hand the misleading and often damaging claims made by so-called conversion therapists.
“I think Hollyoaks is the perfect platform to bring the reality of these practices to life so that the public can better understand them and the impact they can have.
“The team has put so much effort into making the storyline engaging and entertaining but above-all accurate and realistic on what is an extremely emotive topic.”
Justin Beck, who detailed his traumatic experience in the Hollyoaks: IRL documentary strand, which was nominated for a BAFTA, has also worked across the storyline.
In Hollyoaks: IRL I Survived Conversion Therapy, Justin detailed his journey to self-acceptance and finding love after surviving gay conversion therapy. His experience was a religious one. In the documentary he revealed:
“There was nobody that I could turn to, nobody in that church ever said to me, ‘Justin, you’re just gay and that’s OK’ so it’s a very lonely place. Looking back, I was emotionally vulnerable, and very open to be manipulated and swayed.
“All conversion therapy is coercive; you can’t give consent to that.”
After a difficult decade, which saw him contemplate suicide, Justin said he is “proud” of his sexuality and wants to celebrate it.
On advising on the storyline, he said: “I could never have foreseen the impact that sharing my story would have had being part of Hollyoaks IRL – finding out that it was nominated for a BAFTA was amazing and then to be involved in a full storyline has been an honour and a privilege.
“Representation matters – and with something as insidious, manipulative and dangerous as conversion therapy – it is important that stories, like mine, shine a light and raise awareness on what is happening to vulnerable LGBT people right now.”
Hollyoaks characters John Paul McQueen and Ste Hay have carried heavyweight issue-based stories across the last two decades including John Paul falling in love with his teenage best friend Craig, recovery from alcoholism and male rape. His character supported Ste through his HIV diagnosis, a milestone as Ste is the first and only gay character in a continuing drama living with HIV.
John Paul and Ste’s wedding was the first same-sex church wedding in a soap. Although no longer a couple they will need to support each other when Ste’s schoolboy son Lucas begins to explore his sexuality after falling for Dillon.
Headteacher Carter, who has positioned himself as a guru and life coach, will use his influence on Lucas and the audience will see that there is a far more sinister motive for the mentoring and help he offers within the Hollyoaks community.
Actor David said of joining to lead the story: “I’m incredibly proud to portray this story for Hollyoaks and Channel 4. It’s an incredibly moving and difficult story to tell.
“There is so much shame and fear involved. Conversion therapy is abhorrent so it’s an incredible challenge to take a side I don’t fall on and to illustrate the dangers of how all too easily these archaic stances can destroy lives.”
Hollyoaks airs weeknights at 7pm on E4