HBO Max Announces Powerhouse Cast for LGBTQ+ Docuseries “Equal”

Posted on August 25, 2020

We believe the appropriate phrase here is “HOLY SHIT!” Or at least, it was the phrase that sprung forth from our lips at this news. We knew that HBO was planning on a series exploring queer history and culture, but we are shocked by both the breadth and depth of the series’ focus as well as the amazingly on-point casting.

 

HBO Max has released the names and images of the actors set to portray iconic LGBTQ+ activists in the upcoming four-part docuseries EQUAL, premiering as a binge drop in October 2020 during LGBT History Month. The cast will play a handful of trailblazers recognized for their unrelenting fight for justice and equality in the queer community of post-war America and pre-Stonewall uprising. Included in the cast are Cheyenne Jackson, Anthony Rapp, Shannon Purser, Heather Matarazzo, Jamie Clayton, Isis King, Samira Wiley, Gale Harold, and many others.

EQUAL honors the rebels of yesteryear with never-before-seen archival footage along with stylistic depictions that bring to life the gripping and true backstories of these leaders and unsung heroes. Over the course of the series, viewers will meet a wide range of LGBTQ+ visionaries portrayed by the cast, many of whom identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Each part has a distinct and connected telling: part one explores the rise of early organizations, The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively; part two stories chronicles the 20th century trans experience, bookended by the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riots in San Francisco; part three examines the contributions from the Black community on the growing LGBTQ+ civil rights movement; and part four ties in the decades long struggles with the culminated Stonewall uprising – the beginning of the Pride movement.

A full list, including character descriptions in the order of appearance and by episode, are below.

 

We’re thrilled because we researched every one of these people for our book and we wound up writing about roughly half of them. If our book makes for a good entry into Queer History 101 for people who need an introduction, then Equal looks like it’s the advanced-level course.

 

 

Episode One

Cheyenne Jackson as Dale Jennings

Grammy® nominee Cheyenne Jackson as Dale Jennings. Dale was a gay rights activist, playwright and author. He was one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society in the early 1950s, one of the earliest gay rights groups in the United States. Following his entrapment and arrest on sex charges, Jennings fought the charges in a successful court cast which became a landmark moment for the movement. He was also one of the founders of One Magazine, the first pro-gay publication in the U.S.

Anthony Rapp as Harry Hay

SAG® nominee Anthony Rapp as Harry Hay. Harry was the founder of The Mattachine Society. His manifesto, “The Call,” written feverishly one night in 1948 called for the protection and improvement of the rights of homosexuals and was the foundation on which the group was built.

 

Shannon Purser as Del Martin and Heather Matarazzo as Phyllis Lyon

Primetime Emmy® nominee Shannon Purser & Heather Matarazzo as Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. Del & Phyllis were a lesbian couple (together for 56 years until Martin’s death in 2008) who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco in 1955, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States. They also published The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the US. Active in both gay and feminist politics their whole lives, they were the first same-sex couple to legally wed.

Sara Gilbert as J.M. From Cleveland

Primetime Emmy® nominee & Daytime Emmy® nominee Sara Gilbert as J.M. From Cleveland. “JM” is an “anonymous reader” of The Ladder, representing the isolated lesbians of the 1950’s who found a lifeline in the pages of the magazine, but who were forced to live closeted lives for fear of losing jobs, friends and family.

Anne-Ramsay as The FBI Agent

SAG® nominee Anne Ramsay as The FBI Agent: A composite character, the FBI kept active files on the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis – gay groups were often linked to communism and considered to be dangerous subversives.

 

Episode Two

Alexandra Grey as Lucy Hicks Anderson

Primetime Emmy® nominee, Golden Globe® nominee & GLAAD Media Award Winner Alexandra Grey as Lucy Hicks Anderson. Socialite, chef, and prohibition-era entrepreneur – and one of the first documented Black transgender persons in the USA — Lucy Hicks Anderson was one of the most prominent citizens of Oxnard, CA until 1945 when a syphilis outbreak at her brothel became her undoing, outing her to the community.

Theo Germaine as Jack Starr

Theo Germaine as Jack Starr. Jack is a little-known character in the history of folks who probably would have self-identified as trans. He was a prominent local outcast at the turn of the century in Montana, in and out of jail and in and out of the local headlines for refusing to wear clothes that conformed to the gender assigned to Jack at birth. A Jack-of-all-trades and teller of tall tales, Jack Starr (aka Jacques Moret) is an enigmatic early figure who pushed the boundaries of gender expression.

Jamie Clayton as Christine Jorgensen

Jamie Clayton as Christine Jorgensen. Widely known as the world’s first transgender celebrity, Christine became an internationally known figure following the publicity surrounding her gender confirmation surgery in the early 1950’s. She became a popular nightclub entertainer, author, and lecturer and used her celebrity to advance the cause of transgender rights.

Isis King as Alexis

Isis King as Alexis. “Alexis” is a composite character, the spirit of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in 1966, one of the first known instances of trans and queer folk rising up against police harassment – three years before the Stonewall Riots.

 

Episode Three

Samira Wiley as Lorraine Hannsberry

Primetime Emmy® Award winner Samira Wiley as Lorraine Hannsberry. Author of the landmark play “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American female author to have a play performed on Broadway. She was a radical and forceful voice within the Civil Rights Movement, who died far too young at age 34 of pancreatic cancer. While closeted during her lifetime, she wrote extensively under a variety of pseudonyms – in plays, stories and letters that discussed her lesbianism and the oppression of homosexuals in society.

Keiynan Lonsdale as Bayard Rustin

Keiynan Lonsdale as Bayard Rustin. Bayard was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. He was a close mentor and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the chief architects of the March on Washington. Because of a 1953 arrest on sex charges his sexuality was often weaponized against him and the movement, but he remained a tireless advocate for social justice his entire life – and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama in 2013.

 

 

Jai Rodriguez as José Sarria

Primetime Emmy® Award winner Jai Rodriguez as José Sarria. In 1961 José became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States, running for a seat on the SF Board of Supervisors 16 years before Harvey Milk. He is also remembered as a beloved and inspiring drag performer at SF’s Black Cat Bar, who raised the spirits and political consciousness of the bar’s gay male patrons with his rousing anthem “God Save Us Nelly Queens”! A lifelong advocate and activist, José founded the Imperial Court System, one of the oldest and largest LGBT organizations in the world.

 

Episode Four

Hailie Sahar as Sylvia Rivera

Hailie Sahar as Sylvia Rivera. Sylvia was a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist. Prominent as an activist and community worker in New York, Rivera, along with close friend Marsha P. Johnson, co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970, a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women. Whether true or a bit of self myth-making, Sylvia placed herself at the center of the Stonewall Riots – either way, her perspective on the riots and its aftermath are an indelible part of the oral history of Stonewall.

Scott Turner Schofield as Craig Rodwell

Daytime Emmy® nominee Scott Turner Schofield as Craig Rodwell. Craig was an American gay rights activist known for founding the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, the first bookstore devoted to gay and lesbian authors. A witness and participant in the Stonewall riots, he was one of the prime movers in the creation of the first New York City Pride demonstration.

Cole Doman as Mark Segal

Cole Doman as Mark Segal. Mark is an American journalist and prominent gay rights activist. He participated in the Stonewall riots and was one of the original founders of the Gay Liberation Front where he created its Gay Youth program.

Elizabeth Faith Ludlow as Stormé DeLarverie

Elizabeth Faith Ludlow as Stormé DeLarverie. Stormé was a gay civil rights icon and entertainer whose scuffle with police was, according to many eyewitnesses, the spark that ignited the Stonewall riots, spurring the crowd to action. She worked for much of her life as an MC, singer, bouncer, bodyguard and volunteer street patrol worker, the “guardian of lesbians in the Village.”

Gale Harold as Howard Smith

Gale Harold as Howard Smith. Howard was an Oscar-winning film director, producer, journalist, screenwriter, actor and radio broadcaster. At the peak of the historic Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, he managed to get inside the now famous bar with his Village Voice reporter’s police credentials. He was the only journalist who reported about the siege from that dangerous vantage point.

Sam Pancake as Dick Leitsch

Sam Pancake as Dick Leitsch. Dick was a prominent LGBTQ rights activist and president of the Mattachine Society in the 1960s. He is also known for being the first gay reporter to publish an account of the Stonewall Riots, which appeared in a special edition of the Mattachine Newsletter the day after he witnessed the first night of the riot.
 

We’re actually getting chills just thinking about the fact that these stories are going to be told. So many of them have been known only amongst queer people and those who documented our history, but to see someone playing Storme DeLarverie or Sylvia Rivera or Jose Sarria just thrills us to our cores. We can’t wait to see this one.

Also, you should buy our book if you haven’t. We’re just saying. It’s critically acclaimed, even! You’ll be able to impress all your friends by telling them you know about Jose Sarria or the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots or Storme DeLarverie WAY before it became cool!

[Photo Credit: HBO Max]

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