Feature writing

Stonewall 50

Alan Cumming on Stonewall 50: ‘I Don’t See Why I Should Thank Someone for Treating Me Equally’

Website:
The Daily Beast

Date:
June 11, 2019

The actor, author, and activist tells Tim Teeman: ‘The present U.S. government is trying to take away our rights, and make our lives less safe. Let’s not rest on our laurels.’

Alan Cumming is an actor and author.

When and how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?

I think Stonewall first came into my cognizance in the late 1980s when Stonewall UK (the campaigning organization) was set up because of Section 28, which forbade the “promotion of homosexuality.” I thought, “Oh, why have they called it Stonewall?” and found out why. So, it was because of another battle and another fight in another continent that this organization sprang up.

What are the Riots’ significance for you now?

The significance is now huge. It’s much more about ground zero for something really incredible. What it represented in the moment was that people had had enough, they were as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

They were saying, “You’ve got to listen to us, you’ve got to change the way you’re treating us and acting towards us.” And people listened. It’s a salutary lesson: When people get to the end of their tethers and are desperate and do something, it really works—especially from a group in society who you would not expect to have behaved that way, or indeed had any voice.

How far have LGBT people come since 1969?

Obviously a huge, huge way, but not far enough. We are still second-class citizens, we don’t have full equality, and we live in a time where our rights are being eroded and the present U.S. government is actively trying to take away our rights, and make our lives less safe. Let’s not rest on our laurels. Why should we be grateful? Why should we ever be grateful for getting equality? It’s such a ridiculous thing. I don’t see why I should thank someone for treating me equally.

What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?

I would like to see full equality. I would like everyone, regardless of age, sexuality, and race, to be treated the same. I would like us to be safe, absolutely safe. I would like people not to be bullied or chucked out of their homes for who they are.

My pet peeve at the moment is the “gay” prefix before our names. We don’t say “straight actor” blah blah. Things will change for the better when people stop bothering about them, and to not be defined only by our sexuality. I understand it, but I would like it if we could move forward from it.