Features

Equal: Who's Who in HBO Max's Queer-History Docuseries

A diverse gathering of performers portray some of the most important figures in the fight for LGBTQ liberation.
  • Photos: HBO Max
    Photos: HBO Max

    Premiering this week, HBO Max's four-part series Equal promises to tell the stories of the people who fought for queer liberation in the 20th century, from the Mattachine Society, to the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco, to Stonewall and and the countless legal battles fought to gain legal standing for gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender nonconforming people throughout the U.S..

    Along with archival and documentary footage of these brave Americans, HBO has cast a fantastic cross-section of largely queer and trans performers to portray them. Here's your cheat sheet to who's playing who (and where you've seen them before):.

    Cheyenne Jackson as Dale Jennings

    Cheyenne Jackson's big breakthrough role was in the Oscar-nominated film United 93, in which he played Mark Bingham, one of the heroes on board the plane that crashed in Western Pennslyvania on September 11, 2001. Jackson later found roles on Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, and HBO's Behind the Candelabra, before entering the Ryan Murphy universe with a short stint on Glee. He's since done two seasons of American Horror Story ("Cult" and "Apocalypse"). Most recently, he appeared on Watchmen as, essentially, the Ryan Murphy version of Hooded Justice. In Equal, he plays Dale Jennings, one of the founders of the bedrock gay rights group the Mattachine Society.

    Anthony Rapp as Harry Hay

    Playing Harry Hay, another co-founder of the Mattachine Society, as well as the Gay Liberation Front, is Anthony Rapp. Rapp began acting back in the 1980s, with parts in films like Adventures in Babysittying and Dazed and Confused. But his most memorable role to date is as one of the original stars of the Broadway musical Rent. In 2017, Rapp went public with his story about Kevin Spacey making unwanted sexual advances on him when he was only 14. Most recently, Rapp has starred on Star Trek: Discovery.

    Shannon Purser and Heather Matarazzo as Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

    Shannon Purser is best known for a single role, with a single name: Barb. The ill-fated Stranger Things bestie didn't make it out of Season 1, but her legend lives on. Since then, Purser has appeared in a recurring role on Riverdale and on the NBC musical drama Rise. She also starred as the title role in the Netflix film Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. In Equal she plays  Del Martin, founder of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian-rights organization in the United States.

    Martin's longtime partner was Phyllis Lyon, and together they were the first same-sex couple to be married in California in 2004. Playing Lyon is Heather Matarazzo, whose big breakthrough role came at age 14, playing Dawn Weiner in the indie film Welcome to the Dollhouse. She subsequently appeared in such films as The Princess Diaries (as Anne Hathaway's best friend), 54 (as Ryan Phillippe's little sister), and Hostel, Part II (as an unfortunate American vacationer).

    Sara Gilbert as J.M. from Cleveland

    The Emmy-winning star of Roseanne (for which she received two Emmy nominations for her role as Darlene) and The Conners, Sara Gilbert is also an accomplished producer. In addition to being the creative force behind the ill-fated reboot of Roseanne, and then The Conners, she co-created the CBS daytime series The Talk, on which she was a co-host from 2010-2019.

    Anne Ramsay as FBI Agent

    It's likely you're familiar with Anne Ramsay from two of her previous roles: as Lisa, sister to Helen Hunt's Jamie Buchman on Mad About You; or as Helen Haley, first base for the Rockford Peaches in A League of Their Own, whose search for her missing red hat elicited a rather curt response.

    Alexandra Grey as Lucy Hicks Anderson

    Lucy Hicks Anderson was a Black socialite and transgender woman who was tried in 1945 for perjury after claiming she was female on her marriage license. Playing her is actress Alexandra Grey, who most recently starred on the final season of Empire as Melody Barnes. Grey has appeared on Transparent, Chicago Med, How to Get Away with Murder, and played trans activist Marsha P. Johnson on Drunk History.

    Theo Germaine as Jack Starr

    Nonbinary performer Theo Germaine is likely best known for their role on Ryan Murphy's Netflix series The Politician, where they play Ben Platt's (usually) loyal political strategist James Sullivan. Germaine also plays Chris on Showtime's Work in Progress. In Equal, Germaine the gender-nonconforming Jack Starr, who lived in Montana in the early part of the 20th century.

    Jamie Clayton as Christine Jorgensen

    Jamie Clayton is likely best known for being one of the major stars of Lana and Lily Wachowski's Netflix series Sense8, playing the role of Nomi Marks. She's also starred in the third season of the Netflix-acquired series Designated Survivor and the reboot of the Showtime series The L Word. She'll be playing Christine Jorgensen, a trans woman who was famous in the 1950s for being the first American to become widely known for undergoing gender affirmation surgery.

    Isis King as Alexis

    Model and actress Isis King got her start as a contestant on the 11th cycle of America's Next Top Model. The first trans woman to compete on ANTM, King returned for the All-Stars cycle a few years later. As an actress, King's best known role has been as Marci, the sister of Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome) on Netflix's limited series When They See Us.  In Equal, she plays Alexis, a composite character who participates in the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riot.

    Samira Wiley as Lorraine Hansberry

    Lesbian Playwright Lorraine Hansberry wrote the influential and groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, earning acclaim and respect for her craft before she'd even turned 30. Playing her in Equal is Emmy-winning actress Samira Wiley, who is best known for her roles as Poussey Washington in Orange Is the New Black and as Moira in The Handmaid's Tale.

    Jai Rodriguez as José Sarria

    One of the original Fab Five on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Bravo (he was the "culture" gay), Jai Rodriguez has appeared on such TV shows as How I Met Your Mother, Grey's Anatomy and The Magicians. In Equal he plays José Sarria, the San Francisco queer activist and drag queen who, in 1961, became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States.

    Keiynan Lonsdale as Bayard Rustin

    Bayard Rustin was a gay civil rights activist who worked with the March on Washington and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He's played by queer actor Keiynan Lonsdale, best known for playing Wally West (a.k.a. Kid Flash) on the CW's Arrow-verse shows The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. He also played secret love interest Bram in Love, Simon (a role he reprised in Hulu's Love, Victor series) and has guest-starred on RuPaul's Drag Race as a "Snatch Game of Love" bachelor.

    Hailie Sahar as Sylvia Rivera

    If Hailie Sahar looks familiar to you, it's likely from her role as Lulu Abundance from the legendary House of Abundance on FX's Pose. In real life, Sahar was prominent in the Los Angeles House scene, becoming mother to the House of Rodeo. She's also appeared on Transparent, Mr. Robot, and in a recurring role on Freeform's Good Trouble. In Equal she plays Sylvia Rivera, a trans rights activist who co-founded STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

    Scott Turner Schofield as Craig Rodwell

    Transgender activist Scott Turner Schofield is a playwright, theater performer and producer. He's appeared on The Bold and the Beautiful and was a consultant on HBO's Euphoria. In Equal he's playing Craig Rodwell, a gay rights activist in 1960s New York City. A participant in the Stonewall riots, Rodwell was instrumental in the creation of the first Gay Pride march.

    Cole Doman as Mark Segal

    Mark Segal was a gay rights activist and participant in the Stonewall Riots who also co-founded the Gay Liberation Front. He's played in Equal by Cole Doman, a Chicago-trained actor whose biggest role to date has been as the title character in the wonderful queer-themed Henry Gamble's Birthday Party.

    Elizabeth Ludlow as Stormé DeLarverie

    Elizabeth Ludlow is best known for her role as Arat on The Walking Dead. She plays Stormé DeLarverie, a queer performer in 1960s New York who is said to have scuffled with the police officers at Stonewall, setting off the riots that followed.

    Gale Harold as Howard Smith

    Gale Harold is widely known in the gay community for his lead role as Brian Kinney on the American version of Queer As Folk. He's also had roles on Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and The Secret Circle. He plays Howard Smith, a journalist for the Village Voice who reported from within Stonewall during the riots.

    Sam Pancake as Dick Leitsch

    Sam Pancake is a deeply talented gay comedian who's been on TV shows like A Million Little Things and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, and web series like Pretty the Series. In Equal, he plays Dick Leitsch, a gay activist and member of the Mattachine Society, who was the first gay journalist to report on the events of Stonewall.

    Equal drops on HBO Max on October 22nd.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Equal, HBO Max, Alexandra Grey, Anne Ramsey, Anthony Rapp, Cheyenne Jackson, Cole Doman, Elizabeth Ludlow, Gale Harold, Hailie Sahar, Heather Matarazzo, Isis King, Jai Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, Keiynan Lonsdale, Samira Wiley, Sam Pancake, Sara Gilbert, Scott Turner Schofield, Shannon Purser , Theo Germaine