In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Daniel Franzese is an actor (Mean Girls, Looking).
When and how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I was still in the closet, and new to New York City. It was 2000, and I was 23. I had moved from Florida and was a bouncer at the Duplex, one block over from Stonewall. I didn’t know the history. I worked Pride that year. I watched a re-enactment of the Stonewall Riots. A drag queen played Judy Garland rising from her grave. Someone playing a demonstrator threw a brick through a pane of glass. Some Stonewall veterans told me the story.
It was really cool to me. I loved the aspect of them not being submissive anymore because of the police and standing up for their—and our—rights. It gave me a lot of hope for the future at a time when it seemed little bit bleak. When I did come out at 24 (and then to family and friends at 25 and 26, and professionally five years ago), I knew I was standing on the shoulders of a lot of ancestors. When I make a stand, like protesting Proposition 8, Stonewall always comes to mind.
What is the significance of the riots for you now?
It definitely signifies pride and standing up for ourselves and being unified, and bonds us to the trans experience and queer people of color experience. Whatever category we are in, whatever subgroup we are in, we were one that day.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
Oh wow, I’m so proud of all we’ve done. The current administration is rolling back our rights. If there’s one thing queer people know how to do, it is to be loud, fight, and throw a good party, so they better watch out!
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
I would like to see a lot more queer people running for office, more gender fluidity, and a breaking down of toxic masculinity. It is infused in everything from sports to clothing to music. It is everywhere. It needs to break down so we can all understand each other a bit more, instead of following guidelines set by some imaginary force.
I would like to see more LGBT people realizing they don’t have to choose between “gay” and God. People who tell them they have to choose are lying to them. God knows them, no matter what.
What would you say to the demonstrators if you could?
I would let them know they are loved, thank them, and I would love them to see all the things happening now and the momentum we now have. I love that the bar is there for us, it’s a comfort knowing it’s always there. It makes me feel like we’ll always be heard. Stonewall reminds us about what the future can be, as long as we continue to fight.