This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 29 August 2015.
Muslim Drag Queens: Monday, Channel 4
Educating Cardiff: Tuesday, Channel 4
Asif Quraishi is Britain's first out and proud Muslim drag queen. An inspirational figure, he uses his politically charged performances as part of his campaign for gay Asian – or “Gaysian” - rights. He frequently receives death threats, yet remains defiant.
Asif shone at the centre of Muslim Drag Queens, a sensitive documentary narrated by actor and gay rights activist Sir Ian McKellen.
Born to a conservative Asian family, Asif came out to his parents several years ago. His father still refuses to acknowledge his son's sexuality. However, the programme's spirit of cautious optimism was capped by the touching moment when Asif's mother joined him as he received recognition at Attitude magazine's Pride Awards bash. “He looks beautiful,” she smiled.
Inevitably, this positive spirit was diluted by tragic accounts of people committing suicide after coming out to their fiercely disapproving families. Despite the efforts of heroes like Asif, most Gaysian men continue to live in fear of ostracism and homophobic violence.
Then there was the pathos of lonely Imran. He's been using social media in the hope of finding love. So far he's discovered that many Gaysian men, some of them married, are only interested in meeting him in his female guise. That, reckons Imran, helps them to justify their deceit. He's also disappointed that most of them are only interested in casual sex. They're too scared to commit to a visible relationship.
Imran and Asif were, to say the least, incredibly brave to expose themselves in this way. Appearing on television is a defiant act in itself. Ideally, this valuable report will, at the very least, have given some hope to those gay Muslims who continue to suffer in silence.
Reader, a confession: I don't think I've ever watched an episode of Educating... without finding “something in my eye” at one point. It's pathetic. Sure enough, I had a mild ocular intrusion during episode one of its latest edition, Educating Cardiff.
The formula never fails: filmed using several fixed cameras, we follow the highs and lows of life in one of Britain's secondary schools. By examining this world of heroically dedicated teachers and potential-filled pupils, it's a riposte to those who argue that the education system is failing. It's essentially a love letter to the state school system; a covertly political project, in other words.
The new series takes place at Willows High School, which up until a few years ago was one of the worst-performing schools in Cardiff. But thanks to the efforts of head teacher Joy Ballard and her staff, its fortunes have gradually improved.
Our first visit was typically touching. It focused on two teenage girls with low self-esteem, who at first glance seemed to have little in common. One had a terrible attendance record, the other was a star pupil. But they were united by fear, of failure and fitting in; all they needed was a boost in confidence.
The star of the show was bright, bespectacled Jessica, affectionately described by one of her teachers as “a little bit quirky”. She knew she could never be one of the cool kids, but her stewardship of the school newspaper seemed to improve her social skills. “I'm scared,” she admitted, “But feigning confidence is the best way of gaining confidence.”
As usual, it was a quietly uplifting hour. One of the most commendable shows on television? Hell yeah.