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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. “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 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. 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 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 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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
About the Directors
Stephen Kijak is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning filmmaker who has collaborated with and documented musical icons and legends such as David Bowie, Scott Walker, The Rolling Stones, The Backstreet Boys, Jaco Pastorius, X Japan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Smiths, and most recently, the great Judy Garland in a documentary for Showtime titled Sid & Judy. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Kimberly Reed’s trailblazing film Prodigal Sons won 14 international awards and was the first documentary by a transgender filmmaker to be theatrically released in the US. Her most recent film Dark Money, an award-winning selection at Sundance 2018, was promptly named one of Vogue’s 66 Best Documentaries of All Time, nominated for 4 Critics’ Choice Awards and the IDA Award for Best Documentary, shortlisted for an Oscar, and won the duPont Columbia Prize. She was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and Out Magazine’s “Out 100.”
About HBO Max
HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering, which debuted May 27, 2020. With 10,000 hours of curated premium content, HBO Max offers powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. Website: HBOMax.com
WarnerMedia is a leading media and entertainment company that creates and distributes premium and popular content from a diverse array of talented storytellers and journalists to global audiences through its consumer brands including: HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC Entertainment, New Line, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies and others, as well as Xandr’s suite of advanced advertising solutions designed to help to improve advertising for brands, publishers, and consumers.
About Scout Productions
Scout Productions is an Emmy® and Academy Award®-winning multimedia company working primarily in film and television content creation. Scout is known for culturally resonant, critically-acclaimed storytelling that shines a light on lives and characters not traditionally found in mainstream content. Most notably, Scout created and produced the Emmy Award-winning Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for Bravo, as well as the wildly popular reimagining of Queer Eye for Netflix, for which Scout earned another seven Emmy Awards. Recently, Scout Productions’ hit show Legendary premiered on HBO Max to rave reviews. The series highlights the world of modern day voguing and ball culture, and features teams battling with attitude for cash and trophies and has been renewed for a second season. In film, they have produced the Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War for Errol Morris, the cult-classic thriller Session 9, and the critically acclimated thriller Transsiberian.
About Berlanti Productions
Berlanti Productions is a production company founded by Emmy and Golden Globe nominated writer, director, and producer, Greg Berlanti. The company has produced both critically acclaimed and commercially successful titles since its inception in 2006. Berlanti’s producing partner, Sarah Schechter, serves as Chairwoman and David Madden serves as President of the company.
Currently, Berlanti Productions has a record-breaking 19 scripted series across seven different networks, the highest number of shows to air at one time. Series produced under Berlanti Productions include CW’s Riverdale, The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, All American, Batwoman, DC Universe’s Titans, HBO Max’s Doom Patrol, HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, Netflix’s You, FOX’s Prodigal Son.
Most recently, Berlanti directed the highly acclaimed 2018 film, Love, Simon.
Berlanti Productions has a wealth of film titles currently in development, including Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, set to premiere in July 2020 and Unpregnant, the first of four films Berlanti Productions is making for HBO Max. Other upcoming film projects including Rock Hudson’s biopic All That Heaven Allows, written by Richard Lagravenese at Universal Pictures, and Alice & Freda’s Forever, to be directed by Jennifer Kent for Amazon Studios.
About Warner Horizon Unscripted Television
Warner Horizon Unscripted Television is one of the entertainment industry’s leading producers of primetime reality series for both network and cable. A division of Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative Television, led by Mike Darnell, Warner Horizon’s Unscripted Television slate includes The Voice, and the Ellen DeGeneres-hosted Ellen’s Game of Games for NBC; The Bachelor franchise, which also includes The Bachelorette, and Bachelor In Paradise for ABC; and Ava DuVernay’s highly anticipated Home Sweet Home for NBC.
About That’s Wonderful Productions
That’s Wonderful Productions (TWP) was founded in 2015 by Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak with an eye towards distinct voices and character-driven storytelling; the company’s focus is to produce elevated, timely content with an underlying social consciousness. TWP is producing the upcoming Fox comedy CALL ME KAT with BBC Worldwide based on the British format MIRANDA, starring Mayim Bialik, written by Darlene Hunt, and directed by Beth McCarthy Miller. TWP also produces the Netflix comedy SPECIAL, currently on its second season, written by and starring Ryan O’Connell, which received four EMMY nominations. On the feature side TWP produced the acclaimed A KID LIKE JAKE, which was a 2018 Sundance Film Festival Selection that starred Jim Parsons, Claire Danes, and Octavia Spencer and was distributed by IFC Films. TWP is set to go into production on SPOILER ALERT: THE HERO DIES in 2021 at Focus Features with Michael Showalter directing. TWP has an exclusive deal with WBTV and has sold and developed a number of series in Broadcast and Cable, including HBO Max, Netflix, Apple, Quibi, NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, TBS, Freeform, and The CW. Additionally, Parsons and Spiewak serve as executive producers, and TWP’s Head of Development and Production, Eric Norsoph, a co-producer on the hit CBS sitcom Young Sheldon.
About Jon Jashni
Jon Jashni is a media investor, advisor and content executive who operates through his investment fund Raintree Ventures. He is currently a Founding Advisor to Influence Media, a music fund allied with Warner Music, and Sreda Global, the leading Russian TV studio. Jashni also serves as a strategic advisor to such entities as Mass Appeal, Bonfire Game Studios, Prometheus Entertainment and Wevr and is a Founding Partner of Synthesis Entertainment. From 2006 to 2016, Jashni was Co-Founder, President and Chief Creative Officer of Legendary Entertainment. During his 10-year tenure at the company he was integral to establishing and evolving the company into a leading, diversified, multi-platform media company. Over the course of his career, Jashni has been associated with the creation and monetization of content that has generated over $7 billion in gross revenue.