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Brian Kinney: a veritable sex-machine. At 29 years old, he is living life for the now. He is his own man and believes in having sex for the sheer joy of doing it. While he and Justin have an on-and-off-again relationship, Justin is the only one of his sexual encounters that Brian finds himself falling in love with and the only one he continues to have sex with after the first night.
He makes his living as an advertising executive for Vangard, and later on builds his own company, Kinnetik, which was named by Justin. While he purports himself as not part of the gay and lesbian community, he will do what he can to protect his fellow gay man or woman. His motto when it comes to straight people: "There are two kinds of straight people in the world, those that hate you to your face and those who hate you behind your back."
Justin loses his virginity to Brian at the age of seventeen and falls in love with him. He runs away from home after coming out of the closet, primarily because his father is not accepting of his sexuality. Nicknamed "Sunshine" by Debbie because of his bright smile and cheery disposition, Justin is queer-bashed at the end of Season 1, resulting in Brian taking him in during Season 2. A talented artist, Justin briefly contemplates attending business school to appease his father but ultimately decides to attend art school to become a visual artist. He and Brian further their relationship over the five seasons eventually ending in a marriage proposal. Justin says yes, but Brian tells him to go to New York to pursue his art because he would be more successful there than he would be in Pittsburgh.
Brian's best friend since adolescence, Michael secretly harbors feelings for him. He enjoys reading comic books, particularly Captain Astro adventures. He starts the series as a manager at a Kmart-like department store, the Big Q, but eventually follows his dream of opening a comic book store. From Season 2, he and Justin create the comic book Rage which was based on Brian as the character Rage, Justin as JT (Justin Taylor) who's Rage's lover/sidekick and Michael as Zephyr, Rage's best friend/sidekick. After a somewhat stormy relationship with older Dr. David Cameron during season 1, Michael finds himself in a long-term relationship with Ben Bruckner, an HIV-positive college professor, beginning in season 2; Michael and Ben eventually marry near the end of season 4.
Originally from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Emmett is the most flamboyant of the group. He goes through several jobs, including shopkeeper at a clothing store called Torso, porn star, naked maid, party planner, and correspondent for a local news station, as well as a number of relationships during the course of the series.
An accountant with low self-esteem who envies Brian's lavish lifestyle, Ted is constantly rejected by men at gay clubs around Pittsburgh and eventually struggles with an addiction to crystal meth. He is a few years older than Michael, Brian, and Emmett. He has a relationship in Season 3 with Emmett, as well as an on-again-off-again relationship with Blake.
Brian's close friend since college who becomes the mother of his child Gus, Lindsay works as an art teacher but takes time off to care for her son. Lindsay's WASP parents are ashamed of her homosexuality and her partnership with Melanie.
Lindsay's Jewish partner who works as a lawyer. Melanie dislikes Brian, partially because Lindsay is very affectionate towards him, but she becomes friendlier towards him in later seasons. She carries her and Lindsay's second child, Jenny Rebecca, whose biological father is Michael.
A college professor who becomes Michael's long-term partner from Season 2 onwards, Ben also lives with HIV. Michael's mother Debbie disapproves of their relationship at first, because she fears that her son will become infected, but eventually she realizes that Michael loves Ben and so accepts him.
An active PFLAG member, Debbie is fiercely proud of her son Michael's homosexuality, to the extent of making him embarrassed about it. She treats all the boys as her own family, especially Justin, who briefly lives with her after he runs away from home. She is also one of the people who see past Brian's cockiness for what he really is. She works at the Liberty Diner and, at home, she takes care of her ill brother Vic.
To help Debbie pay the bills, Vic starts work as a chef at her diner. He also works as a caterer for Emmett's event planning business. Not long after an altercation with Debbie in Season 4, he dies of AIDS complications.
Michael's boyfriend during Season 1. After falling off a ladder, Michael has therapy with David, a chiropractor. Their relationship evolves quickly, and in a few months, Michael moves in with David and meets his son. There is friction between David and Brian since David is jealous of Brian's relationship with Michael.
Hunter is an HIV-positive teenage hustler who meets Ben and Michael while standing outside their apartment. Ben feels sorry for Hunter and takes him in. Eventually, he and Michael adopt him. Hunter initially has an unrequited crush on Brian, but later falls in love with a girl named Callie Leeson.
Jennifer is Justin's mother and works as a real estate agent. After having difficulty with her son's coming out, she embraces the fact that her son is gay with Debbie's help, joining PFLAG. After divorcing Craig Taylor, she dates a younger man named Tucker (Lucas Bryant) in season 5, much to Justin's disapproval.
Debbie's boyfriend. He meets Debbie while working on a case involving the murder of a young gay man named Jason Kemp. He is slightly homophobic when Debbie first meets him, but she teaches him to be more accepting of homosexuals. He asks Debbie to marry him, which she accepts but later decides that she cannot marry Horvath as long as Michael cannot legally marry. Instead, the couple decides to live together in common-law.
Alec McClure as Chris Hobbs (UK version: Ben Maguire as Christian Hobbs) (seasons 1, 2 and 4)
Bully from Justin's school. Justin gives him a handjob early in the series, but he is then revealed to be homophobic. After assaulting Justin with a baseball bat he is charged with assault and battery and sentenced to community service and probation. He is later shown working in construction and does not express remorse for his actions until Justin, at Cody's urging, forces him at gunpoint to apologize. Justin plays into Chris's homophobia by claiming that Chris will not report them to the police for fear that people would know he was almost killed by "a couple of sissy fags".
A crystal meth addict at the time he meets Ted at Babylon. His relationship with Ted ends quickly after Ted finds out that Blake is still hooked on drugs. In Season 4, he is sober and is Ted's counselor at a rehab clinic. They finally reunite in the series finale.
Justin's best friend since high school, and the first person Justin comes out to (not counting Brian or Michael). She asks Justin to take her virginity since he has experience, and as a result, falls in love with him. He quickly turns her down, but they remain friends. Later, they move in together as roommates.
Melanie's college girlfriend and best friend, she's a biker and although Lindsay is rather hostile towards her, soon warms up to her. Later on, in season 2 Leda helps rejuvenate Melanie's and Lindsay's sex life when it experiences a drought by having a threesome with them but soon grows further attached.
Fabrizio Filippo as Ethan Gold (UK version: Jonathon Natynczyk as Dazz Collinson) (seasons 2-3)
Music student at PIFA who romances Justin. Feeling neglected by Brian, Justin leaves him for Ethan. It is a short-lived relationship, however, as Ethan cheats on Justin with a fan. Justin leaves him because he had vowed to be faithful and Justin never expected that with Brian, so he reunites with Brian.
A star quarterback who, although engaged, is a closeted homosexual. He has an affair with Emmett and later leaves his wife to be with him, although they do not stay together. Drew comes out to the media with a controversial on-air kiss with Emmett.
A mayoral candidate, with Brian as head of his ad campaign. Stockwell is a homophobic police officer who abuses his authority. Initially, Brian helps with the campaign, but at a certain point, he decides to sabotage the campaign with Justin's help, as Stockwell's closing the gay nightclubs. Brian launches a smear campaign, and as a result, Stockwell loses the election and is indicted.
Brian's senior partner at the advertising agency. He buys Ryder's from the previous owner and christens it Vangard, firing every single ad exec but Brian--who proves himself indispensable by going after and signing up the Brown Athletics account that Vance had been after for years. Brian becomes and stays partner after this, until the Stockwell smear campaign in season 3 which results in his getting fired.
A renowned artist who is notoriously difficult to deal with. He is instantly attracted to Lindsay and pursues her even though she is a lesbian. After his Pittsburgh art exhibit (which Lindsay organized), Lindsay gives in and they have a brief tryst at the gallery.
Leads the "pink posse", and convinces Justin to join.
Lindsey Connell as Tracey (UK version: Caroline Pegg as Rosalie Cotter) (seasons 1-3)
Worked with Michael at the Big Q. She had strong feelings for him and was devastated to find out that he was gay but eventually remained his friend. After Michael left the Big Q to start his comic book store, Tracey made several appearances, including when Ted interviews for the store's assistant bookkeeper position in season 3.
Hunter's high school friend and at one point, girlfriend. When she finds out that he has two fathers and is HIV positive, she is surprisingly not worried. Her parents embarrass Hunter at a swim meet when he hits his head in the pool and begins to bleed. When Callie rushes to the pool to help him, her father shouts that he "has AIDS". The entire room hears, and soon the entire school knows. Callie remains a friend of Hunter and appears occasionally for the duration of the series.
Mike Shara as Brett Keller (seasons 4-5)
Hollywood movie producer who offers to produce a movie version of Rage.
Deb's replacement after she quits the diner so she and Carl may spend more time together. Loretta applies for the job with no prior experience but convinces Deb to hire her when she tells Deb that she was kicked out of her house by her abusive husband because he caught her making out with her best friend, a woman. After Loretta works at the diner for a couple of weeks, her husband comes to take her home. When she refuses, he tries to drag her out but Deb comes to the rescue, threatening him with a baseball bat. Afterwards, Loretta and Deb become friends but things go awry when Loretta kisses Deb while they are out for drinks. Deb eventually lets Loretta down gently and Loretta decides to leave town, saying that she loves Deb too much to be anywhere near her.
The first episode finds the four friends ending a night at Babylon, a popular gay club. Brian picks up and has sex with Justin, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes more than a one-night stand. Brian also becomes a father that night, bearing a son with Lindsay through artificial insemination.
Michael's seemingly unrequited love for Brian fuels the story, which he occasionally narrates in voice-over. Justin's coming out and the budding relationship with Brian has unexpected effects on Brian and Michael's lives much to Michael's dismay as Justin is only 17 years old. Justin confides in his straight high-school friend Daphne, while struggling to deal with homophobic classmates and his dismayed, divorcing parents, Craig and Jennifer. Later in the second season, Justin and Michael co-create the sexually explicit underground comic Rage, featuring a "Gay Crusader" superhero based on Brian.
Brian's son Gus, being raised by Lindsay and Melanie, becomes the focus of several episodes as issues of parental rights come to the fore. Ted is Melanie's accountant who once harbored a longstanding crush on Michael. He and Emmett begin as best friends, but briefly become lovers later in the series. Their relationship ends as Ted, unemployed and with a criminal record earned from running a legitimate porn website that was targeted by a Chief of Police running for Mayor, becomes addicted to crystal meth.
In the fourth season, Brian, who has lost his job by assisting Justin in opposing an anti-gay political client, starts his own agency. He also discovers he has testicular cancer and hides his treatment from his friends. Michael marries Ben Bruckner, an HIV-positive college professor, and the couple adopts a teenage son, James "Hunter" Montgomery, who is also HIV-positive as a result of his experiences as a young hustler.
Ted's affair with a handsome crystal meth addict, Blake Wyzecki, sets the pattern for Ted's later tragic but ultimately redeeming experiences with drug addiction.
Melanie and Lindsay's relationship, while on the surface seeming more of a "stable" relationship, is actually quite tumultuous. Each cheats on the other at various points in the series; both tackle on a threesome shortly after they marry and become separated for much of the 4th and 5th seasons. Melanie is impregnated by Michael (through artificial insemination, as Lindsay was) in the third season, so that best friends Brian and Michael become co-fathers to Lindsay and Melanie's children.
Melanie gives birth to a girl, Jenny Rebecca, over whom Melanie, Lindsay, and Michael have a brief legal custody battle following the women's transitory break-up. Brian's new advertising agency, Kinnetik, becomes highly successful both through a combination of Brian's customer loyalty and his edgier advertising. As a result of this, Brian is able to purchase Club Babylon from its bankrupt owner.
In the fifth and final season the boys have become men, and the series, perhaps more comfortable in its role in gay entertainment, tackles political issues head-on and with much more fervor.
A political campaign called "Proposition 14" is depicted during much of the final season as a looming threat to the main characters. This proposition, like so many real-life recent legislative moves that have affected many U.S. states, threatens to outlaw same-sex marriage, adoption and other family civil rights. The many ways in which such a proposition would affect the characters are depicted through nearly every episode.
Debbie, Justin, Jennifer, Daphne, Emmett, Ted, Michael, Ben, Lindsay, Melanie, and the children are depicted standing up and fighting against this proposition both by active canvassing, political contributions, and other democratic processes, but are met with staunch opposition, discrimination, outright hatred, and political setbacks.
The show climaxes near the end of the series when a benefit to support opposition to Proposition 14 hosted at Brian's club Babylon (after repeated relocations of the benefit, due to discrimination) is attacked by a bomb that initially kills 4, and eventually another 3 and injures 67.
This horrible event sets the bittersweet tone for the final three episodes, in which Brian, frightened by this third possible loss of Justin, finally declares his love for him. The two even plan to marry, but Justin's artistic abilities get noticed by a New York art critic and the two decide, for the time being at least, in favor of a more realistic approach to a stormy relationship that nevertheless works for their characters. Melanie and Lindsay, realizing they have more in common than they don't, resume their relationship but relocate to Canada to "raise [their children] in an environment where they will not be called names, singled out for discrimination, or ever have to fear for their life."
Emmett becomes a Queer-Eye type TV presenter but is later fired when professional football player Drew Boyd kisses him on the news to signify his coming out. Ted confronts his midlife crisis head-on and finally reunites with Blake. Hunter returns and the Novotny-Bruckner family perseveres.
The series came full circle with the final scenes staged in the restored Babylon nightclub. In the final scene, Brian dances to Heather Small's "Proud," a song that accompanied a pivotal scene between Brian and Michael in the very first episode of the series. It ends with a final narration by Michael:
So the "thumpa thumpa" continues. It always will. No matter what happens. No matter who's president. As our lady of Disco, the divine Miss Gloria Gaynor has always sung to us: We will survive.
The American version of Queer as Folk quickly became the number one show on the Showtime roster. The network's initial marketing of the show was primarily targeted at gay male (and to some extent, lesbian) audiences, yet a sizeable segment of the viewership turned out to be heterosexual women.
Groundbreaking scenes abounded in Queer as Folk, beginning with the first episode, containing the first simulated sex scene between two men shown on American television (including mutual masturbation, anal sex, and rimming), albeit more tame than the scene it was based on in the UK version.
Despite the frank portrayals of drug use and casual sex in the gay club scene, the expected right-wing uproar, besides some token opposition, never materialized. Cowen and Lipman, however, admitted in 2015 that they were surprised by a backlash from some quarters of the LGBT community, fearing negative implications that may result from the show.
The series, at times, made humorous reference to its image in the gay community. A few episodes featured the show-within-a-showGay as Blazes, a cheesy, dull, badly acted, and abundantly politically correct drama which Brian particularly disagreed with, and which was eventually canceled.
Cultural implications in the Asian context
Acting as one of the pioneering dramas depicting gay characters from a complex perspective, alternative media and platforms within Asia had also adopted the drama. In the case of South Korea itself, the Queer film festivals (first labeled as a "scandal" in 1998) was slowly accepted and even popularised across the South Korean society - Queer as Folk played a significant role when it was screened during the festival in 2000, providing a narrative for an alternative lifestyle especially with respect to the LGBT community.
Cast's real-life sexual orientation
The actors' real-life sexual orientation has been the subject of speculation from the public. In a 2015 Queer as Folk reunion, actors Gale Harold and Scott Lowell said they refused to discuss their own sexuality in the press, at least during the show's first season, in an effort to lessen distractions, which was corroborated by Lipman, who went on to say that during the show's first season, even he did not know their real-life sexuality.
Three months after the interview on Larry King Live, Gant came out as gay in an article on The Advocate.
In 2004, Gill, married to director Brian Richmond at the time, came out as a bisexual in an interview with Windy City Times.
Meanwhile, Sharon Gless's life as a woman married to a man was already well known by the time Queer as Folk was in production, having married Barney Rosenzweig in 1991. She has been described as a straight woman.
In the years since Queer as Folk ended, Harold, Harrison, Lowell, Paige and Sparks have openly discussed their sexual orientation in gay publications.
The series was set in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which it depicted with a good deal of creative license; one example is the numerous references made to the Susquehanna River which flows in the eastern and central parts of Pennsylvania whereas Pittsburgh is in the west. Pittsburgh was chosen as the closest parallel to the UK series' industrial setting of Manchester, England. However, since Pittsburgh does not have a large gay district like San Francisco or New York City, almost all of the Liberty Avenue scenes were filmed in and around the Church and Wellesley area of Toronto which is that city's gay village. In fact, not a single shot of the real Liberty Avenue was ever used in the series. Toronto was chosen as the production center of the series because of its lower cost of production and established mature television and film industry. And, as it happens, Toronto's gay village had the look the producers needed to bring their vision of Liberty Avenue alive.
Woody's, the central bar in this fantasy Pittsburgh, is the name of a leading gay bar in Toronto, whose real exterior was shot with only minor disguise. (In a Season 4 episode in which several characters traveled to Toronto, the real Woody's was dubbed "Moosie's".) Babylon was also the name of a real gay bar in Toronto, which was open during the show's run but subsequently closed, although the real establishment was a sitdown martini bar; the dance club scenes in the series were actually filmed at a different Toronto nightclub, Fly.
International and online release
From February 1, 2014 to February 1, 2019, the entire series was available for online streaming via Netflix. Fans of the series have complained that the music on the Netflix version is different from the original version.
In Canada, the series aired in first run on Showcase, and still airs in reruns on OutTV.
In the United Kingdom, Season 1 was broadcast by the BBC on its digital channel BBC Choice in 2002. Seasons 3 and 4 were broadcast by Channel 4's digital channel E4 in an unpromoted post-midnight slot (Channel 4 was the broadcaster of the British series). While the BBC still holds the rights to Season 2, it has never been broadcast since BBC Choice was rebranded BBC Three and its remit was changed. All five seasons have been released on DVD in the UK; Seasons 1 and 2 were first released exclusively through HMV, but are now also available as part of a boxed set and separately from Amazon.
^CNN 2002: "And Randy is the only other actual gay person in the show."
^CNN 2002: "We begin with, here in Los Angeles, Peter Paige. He plays Emmett Honeycutt. And he's out as a gay man in real life."
^ abCNN 2002: "Two straight ladies here in Los Angeles; Tea Gill, who plays Lindsey Patterson, a university professor in a committed lesbian relationship and Michelle Clooney who plays Melanie Marcus. Melanie is a tough lawyer in that committed lesbian relationship."
^CNN 2002: "In New York is Robert Gant, he plays Ben Bruchner. Ben was not part of the first season. He is a professor of gay studies, also is HIV positive, also is straight."
^CNN 2002: "In New York, Gale Harold, who is also straight."
^CNN 2002: "Let's meet our next panes, here in Los Angeles Scott Lowell plays Ted Schmidt. Ted is a gay, low key, down to earth accountant. And by the way, he's also a straight man."
^CNN 2002: " Hal, as a straight actor, why did you take the role of a gay person?"
^Lasswell, Mark (November 7, 1994). "When Cagney Met Lacey (II)". People Magazine. Retrieved 2017. Gless, after seven weeks at Hazelden, concentrated on her personal life, becoming a first-time bride at 47, when she married Rosenzweig in 1991.
^"Hal Sparks up close and personal". Out & About Nashville. Retrieved 2017. O&A: As a straight guy, are you tired of being related to gay culture? Do other celebrities make jokes about all your money being gay money? Sparks: No, actually I don't think I would've taken the project if I was ever really concerned. I've been involved in the AIDS Walk for longer than I was on the show. I get more flack, I guess, about that from the gay community than support. Like, I must be tired of it because I'm straight. I must be wanting to get away from it because I am, then the reality. It's really an awkward thing because I don't know how one would handle it. It's kinda like being on a date with someone, and they constantly don't understand why you're sitting across from them at dinner. It's like, 'I'm being nice, I'm being myself.'
^"Hal Sparks speaks". MileHighGayGuy. September 11, 2008. Retrieved 2017. My feeling always was, as an actor - and especially as one of the straight actors on the show...
^Willard, Jeremy (March 18, 2014). "Meet you at Woody's". Pink Triangle Press. Retrieved 2017. Queer as Folk gained Woody's international attention. The show was set in Pittsburgh but shot in Toronto, and Woody's was one of its bars. Woody's was also used as another bar for the show, called Moosie's, for which they had to alter the exterior.