In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
T.R. Knight is an actor (Grey’s Anatomy).
How and when did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I don’t know when I first heard about the riots. But I vividly remember the very first time I walked down Christopher Street and stood in front of The Stonewall Inn. It was 1998, and I had just moved to New York City. I stood there shaking, completely overcome by fear and shame. Fear in the knowledge I was never going to be able to change who I was, and shame in feeling I could never be as brave as the people who led an uprising 29 years earlier.
What is the riots’ significance for you now; how far have LGBT people come since 1969?
I grew up in the Midwest in the 1980s, constricted by Catholic doctrine, believing that being gay was synonymous with AIDS, with being damned, ridiculed or at the very best, pitied.
To me, the late ’60s for lesbian, transgender, and gay people seemed medieval. I believed there wasn’t even a choice of being in or out of the closet. The only option was in.
But then I started learning about pioneers like James Baldwin, Barbara Gittings, Johnnie Phelps, Marsha P. Johnson, Lilli Vincenz, Bayard Rustin, and Harvey Milk. I saw how their moral bravery to charge through the lies and propaganda had already started to change the world.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
I’d like to see a generation who are not banned from serving in the military, who can’t get fired for being who they are, and who aren’t brainwashed into thinking they are broken or bad or sinful.
I’d like to see a generation who fully embrace their beauty, their power, their individualism, and their light. And I’d like to see a generation who, as they learn about those who fought the seemingly impossible battles of the past, will recognize that strength in themselves and be inspired to continue the fight.