Today, June 26, is the third annual Stonewall Day, a global campaign created by Pride Live to help "elevate awareness and support for the Stonewall legacy and the continuing struggle for full LGBTQ+ equality." The virtual event included a special message to the LGBTQ+ community from President Barack Obama as well as dozens of celebrity appearances, including by Hayley Kiyoko, Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Kesha, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Pride Live, a social advocacy and community engagement organization for the LGBTQ+ community, teamed up with Warner Media, Nasdaq, GLAAD, and Pride Media to present a livestream event today that raised critical funds for four LGBTQ+ organizations: Trans LifeLife, Brave Space Alliance, TransLatin@Coalition, and The Ally Coalition.
Earlier this week, we got the chance to chat with one of the campaign's official Stonewall Day Ambassadors, Nico Tortorella, about why they wanted to lend their voice to the project.
The 31-year-old actor and activist says knowing the history of the LGBTQ+ equality movement is "of the utmost importance, no matter where you stand in the community, or just as a human being. If you claim identity or expression linked to any community, you have to understand where it came from, how it started, and what it represents to the world. I was definitely taught that early on by elders within, for example, the bisexual community. When I first started speaking publicly about bisexuality, I wasn't using the term bisexual -- and I had a lot of elders reach out to me, like, 'Hey, we understand that you're trying to raise awareness, but we fought so hard for that B to even exist in the acronym. You need to respect that if you're going to have this conversation.'"
"These things aren't necessarily taught anywhere," adds Tortorella. "I mean, there really is no queer history being taught anywhere in the educational system. We as queer people need to seek out our history. You realize very quickly that queer history does not exist without racial history and socioeconomic history and class history. They're all so intrinsically linked. In terms of Stonewall, we have our rights as queer people right now in the United States because of trans women of color [like] Marsha P. Johnson. Stonewall exists because of a riot. We are living in another riot right now and we have to understand what's at stake."
Likewise, says Tortorella, now is the time for white people to stop making excuses, check their white privilege once and for all, and take a stand against systematic racism and oppression.
"I would say, first and foremost, do your homework," they say. "Figure out how we got here in the first place and check yourself. Check how privileged it is to even feel timid to speak out, right? You are allowed that luxury to not have it affect you.... It's one thing to, say, check up on your Black and POC friends and coworkers, but more importantly, it speaks to the people that you know that are not necessarily racist but not adamantly anti-racist. Speak to your family members, start from home -- and these conversations aren't easy, even for myself. I definitely come from a very white privileged little bubble and I was raised in so many ways to not see the injustices of the world."
While living a somewhat quieter quarantined life these past few months with wife Bethany Meyers, Tortorella has kept busy and found inspiration in gardening and with their new Instagram series, Space Between the Sheets. Their Instagram is also directly linked to the donation page for Transgender Law Center.
"So once quarantine started, I just needed to figure out a way to stay connected and continue to hold a queer space and build community, and my show kind of found itself," says Tortorella. "It's been so important for me in my own mental health and I know for the community I built for sure. I have conversations with people all over the world, five days a week for an hour. We really just focus on humanity, identity, and what it means to be alive in the new world. It's been incredible."
You can also catch Tortorella in a new Walking Dead spinoff premiering this fall and read our complete interview with them in the next print issue of The Advocate.