In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is an actor, best known for his role in the comedy Modern Family. He has won multiple Screen Actors Guild awards, alongside Drama Desk awards for his theater work.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what is their significance for you?
I first became aware of the Stonewall Riots when I moved to NYC at the age of 18. I was lucky enough to meet a lot of wildly influential members of the LGBTQ community when I was very young: George C. Wolfe, Lea DeLaria, Tony Kushner. I learned about the riots through the prism of their experience with that time.
I remember my emotional reaction to it was that of relief and gratitude; relief that we had come so far since then, and gratitude for those who fought for future generations. Twenty-five years later, I look back on myself as a teenager wishing I could tell that kid that we still had so much farther to go… and we still do.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
Well, the biggest mark of progress in my eye is same-sex marriage being legal in all 50 states, but there are still so many threats against the LGBTQ community. I can drive across the country and my protections change over each state line. The fact that we are rolling back rights, like banning the inclusion of transgender people in the military, is beyond discouraging.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
We have to do better when it comes to true equality. There is still too much division among race, gender and sex.