“Actor Leah Bracknell’s Zoe Tate will live on as a lez/bi legend and as the first lesbian character in a British soap”


For most queer female viewers, The Brookside Kiss is the seminal lez/bi soap moment, but for me, it was the coming out of Zoe Tate in Emmerdale, a whole year before Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence locked lips.

Leah Bracknell, whose tragically early death from lung cancer was announced yesterday, 16 October 2019, played the vet with an understated charm – even if her storylines were anything but!

In the 2006 book, The Way We Are Now: Gay And Lesbian Lives In The 21st Century, ex-DIVA editor Jane Czyzselska wrote that lesbian characters in British television tended to be “issuised” but singled out Emmerdale as one of the few exceptions: “Where vet Zoe Tate is subject to the crazy ideas of the script writers as much as the next heterosexual character.”

From 1993 until 2005 – when Leah Bracknell left – soap fans were regaled with lesbian storylines that involved attempted murder, near rape, blackmail, childbirth, schizophrenia and abduction.

All the while Zoe, a serial romancer, had relationships with half a dozen women including bi character Charity Dingle who, at the time was romantically involved with Zoe’s brother, Chris Tate.

Shortly after Zoe’s blessing to Emma, which was attended by the whole of Emmerdale decades before the Marriage Equality Bill, she ran off with her bride’s ex-girlfriend. Pure lez/bi drama.

I was gutted when Zoe immigrated to New Zealand, as were other fans, such as Sarah and Lee who wrote to AfterEllen at the time: “Leah Bracknell left Emmerdale in 2005 and many waved a fond farewell to the longest running, and possibly the best representation of a lesbian ever to grace British soap land. 

“Emmerdale is still the only soap to allow its lesbian resident to exist without having to wear a sign around her neck that constantly reinforced her sexuality. Sometimes she was just having a drink, or working or visiting her brother. No other British soap opera has managed this since.” 

I always hoped that Leah Bracknell would eventually bring her character back to the Dales but that was never to be. Now Zoe Tate will live on as a lez/bi legend and as the first lesbian character in a British soap.

Her legacy will also live on in one of the most enduring and popular (DIVA Award for best storyline-winning) lesbian couples on British television – one that involves her ex-fling Charity Dingle in a humorous and authentic relationship with Emmerdale’s current lesbian vet, Vannessa Woodfiled, played by lez/bi actress and DIVA Award winner, Michelle Hardwick. 

In fact, Michelle posted a tweet mourning the death of Leah Bracknell, saying she, “was a beautiful lady inside and out.” Whilst most of us only knew her as her character, Zoe Tate, it’s safe to say that Leah’s portrayal, for over 16 years, cannot be underestimated in the progress for positive representation of lesbianism on British television.  

You’ll be missed, Leah.

Zoe Tate’s coming out episodes are playing, by incidence, on ITV3 at present. 

Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.

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