Equal: First Look at HBO Max’s Four-Part LGBTQ+ Docuseries
HBO Max has released new first look photos 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 more. You can check out the photos now in the gallery below!
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.
Acclaimed filmmaker and producer Stephen Kijak (Sid & Judy) is the showrunner and director of episodes one, three, and four alongside ground-breaking trans director Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons), who directs episode two. You can check out the episode and character descriptions based on the order of appearance below!
Grammy nominee Cheyenne Jackson stars 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.
SAG nominee Anthony Rapp stars 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.
Primetime Emmy nominee Shannon Purser & Heather Matarazzo star 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.
Primetime Emmy nominee & Daytime Emmy nominee Sara Gilbert stars 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.
SAG nominee Anne Ramsay stars 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.
Primetime Emmy nominee, Golden Globe nominee & GLAAD Media Award Winner Alexandra Grey stars 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 stars 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 stars 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 1950s. She became a popular nightclub entertainer, author, and lecturer and used her celebrity to advance the cause of transgender rights.
Isis King stars 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.
Primetime Emmy Award winner Samira Wiley stars 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 stars 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.
Primetime Emmy Award winner Jai Rodriguez stars 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.
Hailie Sahar stars 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.
Daytime Emmy nominee Scott Turner Schofield stars 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 stars 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 stars 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 stars 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 stars 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.
Equal is executive produced and led by Scout Productions’ Emmy Award-winning team – Academy Award winner Michael Williams (The Fog of War), Joel Chiodi, David Collins (Queer Eye), and Rob Eric (Queer Eye) along with Emmy nominated Berlanti Productions’ Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon, Arrow, Riverdale, The Flash) and Sarah Schechter (Supergirl, Riverdale), Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory, The Normal Heart, The Boys in the Band) and Emmy nominee Todd Spiewak (Special, Young Sheldon, A Kid Like Jake), as well as Eric Norsoph from That’s Wonderful Productions, Jon Jashni (Lost in Space) from Raintree Ventures, and Mike Darnell and Brooke Karzen, Warner Horizon Unscripted Television. Diane Becker and Melanie Miller of Fishbowl Films serve as producers.