Interview: Alicya Eyo
Publish Date: 10/10/2012
On Coming Out
“I didn’t come out – I was dragged out of the closet!” laughs Alicya. She explains; “I didn’t want to be gay. Back then I thought there was something wrong with gay people. All the gay people I knew were all damaged. There was a whole stereotype around what a lesbian what should be and look like. I thought ‘I don’t fit into that so I can’t be one.’”
“One night when I was 17 it all got too much, me and my mum got into a big row. I swore at her for the first time in my life and she just said ‘say it, say your gay’. And then I said it. The relief was immediate.”
“I always knew I was gay from a very young age and so had my mum. I think once you become sexually aware you just know. I always knew, I just didn’t want to accept it”
“I kept it a secret when I was at school but after I left I told my friends one by one. They were fine, it wasn’t an issue for them.”
“I have a 14 year old brother who I’ve had to come out to. We’re really tight and I made a choice when he was born that I would never hide anything from him. He’s had a lot of questions and still to this day I’m still honest with him. People are scared to open dialogues about it, but it’s better. My mum told the rest of the family as she knew I was having a hard time with it.”
“My mum and me took part in Liverpool Pride this year for the first time. She marched on the parade holding the banners and everything – she loved it!”
An Acting Career
Alicya started out in theatre in London and her first role was playing a 13 year old psychopath which she describes as ‘great’.
One of her most established roles was as inmate Denny Blood in Bad Girls. She talks about the show; “I thought a lesbian on telly – brilliant! Bad Girls was fantastic as although there were so many lesbian characters it wasn’t about their sexuality but about being a woman. It was great to have a show with so many strong female leads. It was groundbreaking. They focussed on the issues not just the fact that the women were gay. It was also a little known subject – women in prison. I think that’s why it became so popular”
“At the time I was out to the people I worked with but not out to the public. I was only 22. I felt too young and I wasn’t comfortable with it. I think people assumed I was gay”
ITV’s Bad Girls first aired in the 1990’s and at its peak drew in over nine million viewers. Alicya’s character Denny Blood was in it for six series, leaving in 2003 and was voted the sixth favourite inmate by the public.
“It was all very secretive to begin with. My agent was told there was an opening coming up but no details. When I read the script I found out it was a lesbian character – I thought this will be interesting.
It’s been great playing a current ‘older’ lesbian in a couple and with the un-conventional family set-up. Many of the lesbian characters on TV– although the more the better – are young so I was really pleased to see this kind of character.”
She goes onto say “I’ve received so many letters of support from all the fans. The response to playing Ruby has been fantastic. So many people have said to me ‘it’s brilliant what you’re doing’. It is a big responsibility joining a show like that”.
Emmerdale celebrates it’s 40th birthday this year and from 15th October will be airing an episode every night with what Alicya describes as a ‘big storyline’. They will also be doing a live episode on 17th.
On Being a Lesbian Role Model
Alicya comments “it’s funny as the majority of the roles I have played were straight, heterosexual. Yet the roles I am most famous for as Denny in Bad Girls and as Ruby in Emmerdale are lesbian characters”.
A 2010 Stonewall report into the representation of gay people on youth television found that in 126 hours of programming lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed for just 5 hours and 43 minutes, just 4.5% of total programming.
Alicya expresses concern over these statistics and the lack of lesbian characters on TV; “I feel we are heading towards normalising gay people, so that when there is a gay character it’s about that person as a whole. Their sexuality doesn’t define them. I don’t like token characters.”
However she doesn’t describe herself as a role model “it’s just an acting job. I try to take things as they come. Some people will see me as role model. I feel lucky to be in the position I’m in and can speak out about being gay. I do feel I have a responsibility to do that”
Alicya is passionate about supporting young people and is a patron of LGBT Youth North West and also supports Brook Wirral. She says “young people are a lot braver now but it’s sad that so many are scared to be just who they are. There is still a really long way to go. I worked with a young boy of 14 who after coming out to his mum was kicked out and is now living in supported housing. That ongoing support is crucial”