HBO Max Unveils Cast for “Equal” Series on LGBTQ History

Keiynan Lonsdale will star as Bayard Rustin.

A four-part series based on pivotal moments in queer history, including key events prior to the Stonewall Uprising, is coming to HBO Max in October — just in time for LGBTQ History Month.

The first part of the series will focus on the roots of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, a group for lesbians. The Mattachine Society formed in the 1950s in Los Angeles before branching out to San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and other areas across the country. While the group has a firm place in history for protesting and bringing awareness to queer issues, it was sometimes perceived as too moderate.

Cheyenne Jackson will star as Dale Jennings, a co-founder of the Mattachine Society who went on to lead the gay publication One Magazine under ONE Inc., which was also an LGBTQ organization. Among others, Anne Ramsay will play an FBI agent and Anthony Rapp will star as Harry Hay, a founder of Mattachine Society who first came up with the idea of the group in 1948.

The Daughters of Bilitis was founded in 1955 by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who went on to become the first couple to legally marry in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008. Lyon, who died in April at the age of 95, edited the group’s newsletter and turned it into an important resource for lesbians for approximately two decades. Shannon Purser will star as Martin and Heather Matarazzo will play Lyon.

The second part will spotlight the the experience of transgender people in the 20th century, including the Compton Cafeteria riots in San Francisco in 1966, which represented a key development in transgender history. Trans individuals frequently dined at the restaurant, which was considered a safer space for the trans community, but by the 1960s the restaurant’s staff sought to drive them out. Police raids and harassment of the patrons triggered an uprising that laid the groundwork for subsequent trans rights activism. For this part, Isis King plays Alexis, a character who is not based on a specific real-life person but is intended to embody one of the trans individuals who stood up and fought back at the Compton Cafeteria Riots.

Shannon Purser will play Del Martin and Heather Matarazzo will star as Phyllis LyonHBO Max

The third portion of the series is dedicated to telling the stories of Black LGBTQ leaders in the fight for queer rights. While HBO is light on details about the third episode, we know that Bayard Rustin will be played by actor Keiynan Lonsdale. Rustin worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but was hampered by a 1953 sodomy arrest and conviction (he was posthumously pardoned earlier this year).

The conviction wound up drawing attention to his sexuality, costing him his job as director of race relations for Fellowship of Reconciliation and forcing him to regain his footing in his social circle.

The final episode leads up to the Stonewall Uprising and goes beyond that era into the 1970s.

Among other stars on the show include Samira Wiley, who will portray Lorraine Hansberry, known as the first Black woman author to see her play get performed on Broadway. Her work invoked themes of lesbianism and queer rights and she even contributed work under her initials to the newsletter produced by Daughters of Bilitis.

Samira Wiley will portray Lorraine Hansberry.HBO Max

Theo Germaine will play gender non-conforming Montanan Jack Starr, Jamie Clayton will portray trans celebrity Christine Jorgensen, and Jai Rodriguez will star as José Sarria, who unsuccessfully ran for office in 1961 as an out gay candidate for San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Hailie Sahar will play New York-based trans icon Sylvia Rivera, while Sam Pancake will star as Dick Leitsch, the Mattachine Society president who participated in the “Sip-In” at Julius’ Bar in New York. It is not clear whether Marsha P. Johnson will be featured.

Cole Doman will play Mark Segal, a founder of the Gay Liberation Front and Philadelphia Gay News, and Scott Turner Schofield will portray Craig Rodwell, who also participated in the “Sip-In,” was involved in the Stonewall Uprising, and founded the Oscar Widle Memorial Bookshop.

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