HBO Max is opening up the history books.
Last year, it was announced that the streamer had commissioned Equal, a four-part docuseries about LGBTQ history. Now we’re finally getting a full description of the project—and a first look at the out celebrities who will be transforming into some of our community’s most impactful historical figures.
The four-part series will feature never-before-seen archival footage along with dramatized depictions of the trailblazers and heroes from the modern queer rights movement. Episode 1 explores the rise of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis; Episode 2 focuses on the 20th-century transgender movement, including the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riots; Episode 3 highlights contributions from the Black community to the growing LGBTQ civil rights movement; and Episode 4 tackles the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the Pride movement.
Scroll through below for a first look at actors like Cheyenne Jackson, Theo Germaine, and Keiynan Lonsdale in Equal (photos and character descriptions courtesy of HBO Max).
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.
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.
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 U.S. Active in both gay and feminist politics their whole lives, they were the first same-sex couple to legally wed.
Sara Gilbert as J.M.
“JM” is an “anonymous reader” of The Ladder, representing the isolated lesbians of the 1950s 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.
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.
Alexandra Grey as Lucy Hicks Anderson
Socialite, chef, and prohibition-era entrepreneur—and one of the first documented Black transgender persons in the U.S.—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 (a.k.a. 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 1950s. 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.
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.
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.
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 riots.
Equal will premiere this October, in honor of LGBTQ History Month, on HBO Max.