Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and
corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public protest and even the Oscar campaign circuit to advocate for human rights.
Here are some notables from the past year.
George Clooney is no stranger to activism, which has earned him near sainthood status in Hollywood and derision from right-wingers as the embodiment of a “limousine liberal.” But the star’s words and deeds are one and the same, such as lending his talents and support to the staging in 2012 of Dustin Lance Black’s play “8” in 2012, a look at the legal battle to overturn California’s gay marriage ban. This April, Clooney took a stand against sharia law in the nation of Brunei by calling for a boycott of the sultan’s Dorchester Collection properties, most notably, the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“They passed a law that says they want to kill [gay citizens] for who they are. Stone them to death,” Clooney tells Variety. The Oscar winner has publicly called on the studios to stop booking events like press junkets at the hotel, and similarly has discouraged his well-heeled friends from populating the legendary scene at the Polo Lounge and by the side of the oft-photographed pool.
“My dad always said to pick good fights,” says Clooney. “This seems like a good fight.”
There are many spaces in which you could argue Jamie Lee Curtis is an icon — horror, action and, later, family films. Her prolific body of work and blunt bedside manner have earned her gay icon status as well, though she may disagree. “I don’t consider myself an icon of anything, and if I did I would hope you would slap me hard,” Curtis says.
But the work she’s putting in behind the camera makes her a powerful ally in Hollywood’s rooms of decision. At Amazon, Curtis is developing a film about the life of Glenn Burke — the first openly gay Major League Baseball player (who is also credited as giving the first-ever high-five). At Lifetime, Curtis is setting up the story of Sara Cunningham, a religious woman who defied her church to embrace her gay son and went on to serve as a “stand-in mom” at gay weddings of those whose own parents shunned them.
“When the world seems to be heading toward a nationalistic, intolerant and rejecting place, it’s imperative for artists to expand consciousness through their art and tell the stories that change the world,” Curtis tells Variety.
Actor-director Joel Edgerton used his influence to make “Boy Erased,” a harrowing family drama about a young man forced into gay conversion therapy at the hands of his strict Baptist parents. Edgerton had for years been moved by the source material, a memoir by journalist Garrard Conley, and couldn’t shake the idea as a follow-up to his directorial debut, “The Gift,” a sleeper hit starring Jason Bateman.
At a time when show business is prioritizing representation, Edgerton acknowledges that he struggled with reconciling his desire to tell Conley’s story with the fact that he is not a member of the queer community. That sensitivity paid off with critical acclaim for the picture and the performances of its stars, Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman. Edgerton’s determination to shine a light on the horrors of conversion therapy gave the matter a national stage.
“You don’t have to be affected directly by an injustice to observe and be offended by injustice,” Edgerton tells Variety. “I think playing a supporting role in someone else’s direct struggle can be worthwhile support. I’d advise others to stand up for what’s right any way they can.”
The country-pop star has freely admitted that she wasn’t intending to stake out a place for LGBTQ acceptance in Nashville when she wrote some whimsical same-sex snogging into “Follow Your Arrow,” a song from her debut album; it was just a fun couple of lines. But the lyrics managed to shake up the genre anyway — and the tune proved how much the country tide is turning by winning the CMA Award for song of the year.
Since then, she’s continued to be an ally, and in a much more conscious way. When she chose to hold the premiere party for her second album in conjunction with a long-running Nashville drag show, she knew the statement it was making. Musgraves stepped up even more by appearing as a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in December.
“I love drag queens so much, and I kind of feel like I look my best when I feel like I’m borderline drag queen,” the Texas native tells Variety. “But when I started going to gay clubs and getting to know the gay community and culture more, I just fell in love with them and their confidence and their acceptance of any range of person, you know — big, small, black, white, glittery, non-glittery, masculine, feminine — all of it. Anything goes, and I think that’s a really admirable quality about the community. And I can probably steal some makeup tips from people.”
Dan Reynolds starred in 2018 HBO documentary “Believer,” a title taken from the signature song of his band, Imagine Dragons. But the project’s name also speaks to the singer’s activism in his home state of Utah, where he grew up Mormon in a land of believers.
His annual LoveLoud music festival in Salt Lake City is designed to be openly inclusive of gay youth in a part of the country where that’s hardly the norm, and aims to foster a sense of understanding across the state. The third edition of the festival takes place June 29, with Reynolds joined by acts such as Kesha, Tegan & Sara and Laura Jane Grace. The goal: that locals no longer see the full spectrum of the rainbow as “radioactive.”
“We must set aside our political and religious differences and acknowledge that this is not a matter of differing opinions. This is a matter of basic human rights,”
Reynolds tells Variety.
“We are still seeing hateful individuals and groups targeting our most precious LGBTQ youth,” he continues. “Their lives depend on people of power and privilege speaking up. Sadly, we are still seeing high suicide and depression/anxiety rates. … I plead with our political and religious leaders to stop pushing anti-LGBTQ
agendas and dangerous rhetoric upon their followers. And I plead with my fellow artists — especially those of immense privilege and power — to use their social media and voices to demand equality. We need allies across the globe to take a stand. Now is the time for our generation to declare ‘Enough is enough.’”
No celebrity has made a bigger Pride Month splash than Swift. In the very first post-midnight minutes after the calendar turned to June 1, Swift, who owns a home in Nashville, used her Instagram page to post an open letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., urging passage of the Equality Act in the U.S. Senate, and she started her own Change.org petition for Swifties to remind legislators that the majority of Americans are behind protection for LGBTQ rights. Not merely implicit in her statements was that she was standing up to Donald Trump too: “I personally reject the president’s stance that his administration ‘supports equal treatment of all’ but that the Equality Act ‘in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.’ No,” she wrote. Before the day was up, she’d appeared at an L.A. show in full rainbow regalia, reiterating her pride in being an ally.
Swift first made her support for the gay community known in “Welcome to New York,” exulting in the embrace of a city where “you can want who you want / Boys and boys and girls and girls.” She took that a parade step further with the June 14 release of her single “You Need to Calm Down.” GLAAD had already noted that Swift had made a “generous donation,” but perhaps not as generous as the new song’s overt plug: “Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?” she sings. (Best-line honors, though, have to go to “Can you just not step on his gown?”) According to the organization, donations started flowing in from Swift fans upon the track’s midnight release. The “suggested” amount was $1,300, although GLAAD was happy to accept all the $13 ones from young fans who didn’t add zeros to Swift’s favorite number.
GABRIELLE UNION and DWYANE WADE
The Wade family not only sparks joy with its many talents and exuberant social media presence — it serves as a living example of what GLAAD Vanguard Award winner Beyoncé Knowles-Carter recently encouraged all families to do: Love your children as their truest selves.
Dwyane Wade’s 12-year-old son Zion got the full support of his family in attending this year’s Miami Pride celebration. His dad shared photos from the event with the caption, “Wish I was there to see you smile kid!” Stepmom Gabrielle Union turned out in rainbow-flag regalia and uploaded the day on Instagram with a message many of the family’s fans took to heart: “We support each other with pride!”
Rachel Weisz speaks her mind. While hitting the awards circuit to beat the drum for “The Favourite,” a costume drama about a lesbian love triangle, the actress sounded off about the ways that studio concerns about the commercial prospects of a film with so much gay content made it difficult to get the movie made.
Speaking to mainstream press and gay publications, she bemoaned the long journey of “The Favourite” to the screen. Along with her role in that film, Weisz
headlined and served as producer for another important LGBTQ effort, “Disobedience,” the story of two Orthodox Jewish women who fall in love.
“In the past, queer tales have been pushed to the margins, and it is a privilege to be able to help bring those stories out of the closet and into the light,” she says. “It’s my belief that queer stories are, and should be, as prominent as the hetero-normative narratives we all grew up on. The fact that ‘The Favourite’ wasn’t made for 20 years because of the queer women at the center of it is very sad to me. Things are changing, and thank goodness for that.”