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Is it good for

Is it good for


Promiscuous gay men. Bickering lesbians. Underage sex. PFLAG-waving moms. These things happen. But should they be on television for the world to see? Fervent fans and critics of Showtime's Queer as Folk face off.

Are love-struck Michael and the controlling Dr. Dave headed for splitsville?

Will love-'em-and-leave-'em Brian ever acknowledge that he's developed a genuine bond with young and restless Justin?

And what about Emmett? With all his pals pairing off, will he be left single and alone? And Ted--isn't he just asking for trouble by taking in that meth twinkie Blake?

And now that Melanie and Lindsay and their baby are back together, will they live happily ever after?

As Showtime's Queer as Folk ends its first season--the last episode, revolving around Brian's tumultuous 30th birthday and promising cliff-hangers aplenty, airs June 24--the ongoing debates that have dogged the series since its debut in December are sure to intensify. As the first dramatic series on American television to focus unapologetically on a circle of sexually unabashed gay men, QAF, as it's often called, has been a lavender lighting rod from the very beginning.

The show's Web site--which Showtime says draws 300,000 unique visitors a month--has played host to impassioned arguments. "I can totally relate to the characters," enthused one visitor, Rick, hailing the series as a breakthrough for its unflinching presentation of gay lives. "I have known people like Michael, Brian, Emmett, Justin. I think we all have moments like the characters, longing for someone we can't have, longing to be the beautiful one, confused about love and lust, etc." Others, like a visitor signing himself Tolver, have reacted with alarm, worrying that QAF's frank sexuality--especially its major plot thread focusing on 29-year-old Brian's dalliance with the then-17-year-old Justin--can only spell trouble: "This is very bad. Gay men as promiscuous child molesters. The religious right will use it as a weapon to sway Middle America against gays.... Nowhere in this series is there any evidence of stable gay men who are productive members of society."

That feared backlash never materialized. Though the Family Research Council aimed an obligatory broadside the show's way, cultural conservatives generally steered clear of Queer. "The religious right can't make a credible case against a show that's on pay TV late at night--most people tend to side with the right to freedom of privacy and freedom of choice, no matter what the content," says Wayne Besen, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay lobbying group. "Plus a lot of religious conservatives don't get Showtime--or at least don't acknowledge that they subscribe to a network that advertises 'No Limits.' "

But Queer as Folk has clearly struck more than a few nerves among gay and lesbian viewers, who have taken up the slack for the absent antigay forces. Fans and detractors have obsessively submitted the show--based on the 10-episode British series created by Russell Davies, which first aired on England's Channel Four in 1999--to the most rigorous analyses, pro and con.

Folk tales

Gays, lesbians, and friends from around the country assess the impact of Queer as Folk

Michael Volpatt Senior strategist for a technology communications firm, Pittsburgh native

Nothing like that happens here [in Pittsburgh]. It's a beautiful city, but it has a low-key gay scene. You wouldn't see drag queens walking down the street. Multiple people would not be having sex in an alley. There are no sex clubs here that I know of. There's not a big gym where people are running around going "Oh-h-h, Sister Sledge!" And we have no Big Q.

Tom Duane New York state senator, New York City

I think Queer as Folk has to be put into a context of the general lack of programming on television that speaks to the queer community. [The show covers] a tiny part of what some gay people's lives are about, but that's more than what we see most of the time. I wish that every night I would have trouble deciding which gay-oriented programming I wanted to watch, but it's just not like that. Is it the best thing in the world? No. But is it kind of enjoyable? Yeah. A lot of heterosexual Americans watch television because there's pretty people on their shows, so why shouldn't we have some on ours?

Amy Kobeta Spokesperson for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Washington, D.C.

I think Sharon Gless's character is an honest representation of many of our active PFLAG moms and dads in how excited she is that her son is gay, in how accepting she is, in how she embraces who her child is and how she doesn't hold back. From the first episode, where she's wearing the I'M A PFLAF MOM button, people called us and thought it was great. There are also PFLAG parents like Justin's mom--at first they're confused and scared and then upset and hurt, and then they move into a more active role. In one of the last episodes [I saw], she was in the school fighting for her son!

Bruce La Bruce Writer-filmmaker (Hustler White),Toronto

I saw the first two hours, and I thought it was terrible. I was a huge fan of the U.K. version, and I thought the American version looked substandard in every respect. I didn't like the casting, I didn't like the design, didn't like the writing. The American version does push the buttons--there are very explicit sex scenes--but everything else is so banal. I think it makes gay culture seem sad and superficial. Also, Pittsburgh is such an amazingly beautiful city, and they didn't even shoot any second-unit stuff there--it's all shot in Toronto. Here it's shot mostly in the gay ghetto, which I mostly avoid--it's the same people over and over again.

Frank Decaro Writer and regular on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, New Jersey native

I'm a big fan; I've only missed one [episode] so far. I feel like I have a relationship with the show, and as in any relationship, I get angry with it sometimes, but I'm still glad to be in the relationship. It does touch on topics in gay life that we've never seen before on TV. I think that we were quick to get jaded with the show. We were chomping at the bit for sexualized gay characters and then got over our period of being thankful for this show very quickly. I think it's a lot more realistic than a lot of gay people would like to admit and also a lot more in the tradition of Dynasty than its creators would like to admit.

The Rev. Irene Monroe Theologian, columnist, and doctoral candidate, Harvard Divinity school, Cambridge, Mass.

While I applaud the show for being unapologetically queer, I am nonetheless appalled by the slice of queer life the show chose to portray: hedonistic, promiscuous, and drugged gay men. And how is it possible to reside in Pittsburgh, an urban city, and not run into any LGBT person of color? As I have seen no people of color featured in its episodes, even in cameo appearances, the show, I've begun to realize, would have best been called Queer as White Folk. - Reported by Chad Graham

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