A lesbian police officer and her forensics expert girlfriend sneaking a quickie at work. A lesbian doctor and a female nurse house-hunting together after finally reuniting. A young woman trying to figure out how to tell her boyfriend of eight years that she’s fallen in love with a woman.
No, this isn’t the lineup of an American gay TV channel — this is what you’ll see on some of the most popular national primetime series in Spain.
While the American primetime television landscape is virtually barren when it comes to lesbian and bisexual visibility — with very few lesbian/bi characters on broadcast TV, and only slightly more on cable or premium channels — lesbian/bi characters are flourishing on mainstream Spanish TV shows.
Spanish TV wasn’t always this inclusive. Only 10 years ago, LGBT characters were primarily limited to smaller shows on regional channels, with a few exceptions such as the lesbian couple on one of the country’s most popular sitcoms, Aquí No Hay Quien Viva (No One Lives Here), from 2003 to 2006.
But as social awareness and acceptance of same-sex marriage rights has grown in Spain, so has the number of Spanish TV shows that include LGBT characters. National channels like Antena 3, Telecino, and Cuatro, and popular regional channels like TV3, now regularly include lesbian and bisexual characters and relationships in their TV shows.
The legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain in 2005, and the subsequent lesbian wedding storyline on Telecinco’s medical drama Hospital Central later that year, are considered a turning point in the visibility of lesbian and bisexual women on Spanish television.
Lesbian pediatrician Maca Fernández Wilson (Patricia Vico) joined the medical drama in the eighth season, and developed a friendship with the chief nurse, Esther García (Fátima Baeza). The friendship soon led to romance, culminating in their engagement at the end of the ninth season.
When Hospital Central finally aired the couple’s wedding in 2005, it created a flurry of coverage by the Spanish media, because it was the first same-sex wedding on Spanish television. It even made international headlines, and became the first Spanish television show we wrote about on AfterEllen.com.
Maca and Esther marry on Hospital Central in 2005
There were some complaints prior to the episode airing, but the producers of the series dealt with them by saying they would take appropriate action if any dire consequences resulted.
But not only were there no negative consequences, the wedding episode made the show even more popular — it was the most-watched episode of the series at the time — and the couple remains one of the more popular ones on the show several seasons later, with fan sites such as maca-esther.mforos.com and Patricia-Vico.com devoted to the characters and the actresses.
“The scriptwriters succeeded in writing a very nice, authentic love story between two women,” explains Sandra Showtime, editor in Chief of EurOut.org, a website devoted to European lesbian entertainment and political news. “People got hooked on this story. Maca and Esther became two of the leading characters in the series, and the number of viewers skyrocketed.”
Rogue, the editor of Spanish-language blog Lesbicanarias.es, which features news and recaps of lesbian and bisexual women in the media, agrees.
“I really think the [Hospital Central] producers were just trying to find something new to attract attention when they decided to create a lesbian storyline,” says Rogue, “but they developed it really well — at least in the beginning of the relationship — and they discovered that not only could they get a lot of attention from LGBT viewers, but that heterosexual viewers were really enjoying the opportunity to follow the story of this couple, too.”