BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 05: Alan Cumming attends AARP's 17th Annual Movies For Grownups Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 5, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.

Alan Cumming Hands Back His OBE For his Birthday

Bisexual icon and Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming, who’s been generating a ton of buzz as the host of The Traitors, turned 58 on January 27. On his birthday, Cumming posted on his Instagram that he’s celebrating by returning his Officer of the British Empire (OBE) award.

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Cumming received his OBE in 2009 for both his work as an actor and “for activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, USA.” At the time, both the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) were in effect, both of which Cumming cites in his new Instagram post. He recalls his statement at the time: “I am really shocked and delighted to receive this honour. I am especially happy to be honoured for my activism as much as for my work. 

“The fight for equality for the LGBT community in the US is something I am very passionate about, and I see this honour as encouragement to go on fighting for what I believe is right and for what I take for granted as a UK citizen. Thank you to the Queen and those who make up her Birthday honours list for bringing attention to the inaction of the US government on this issue. It makes me very proud to be British, and galvanised as an American.”

Cumming received his OBE approximately six months after becoming a dual citizen of the US and the UK. Now, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Cumming writes, “the ensuing conversations about the role of monarchy and especially the way the British Empire profited at the expense (and death) of indigenous peoples across the world really opened my eyes.”

He also notes that while receiving the OBE was a boon to the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights 14 years ago, now it is “less potent than the misgivings I have being associated with the toxicity of empire.” He says he returned his award and is “now back to being plain old Alan Cumming again.”

Cumming returning his OBE award likely won’t have any tangible effect on the ongoing fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in the US or the UK, both of which have seen an influx of anti-transgender bills in the last few years.

It’s a symbolic gesture at best, but one that’s at least prompting more conversation about the role of the British Royal Family in 2023. In the last few years, the monarchy has been accused of blatant racism by its very own Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Prince Andrew was stripped of all his titles following allegations of sexual abuse. Peoples of the Commonwealth are demanding reparations over royal visits, and the general attitude toward the British Royal Family is that it’s done significantly more harm than good throughout the centuries. Cumming returning his OBE award just adds to the multitude of people distancing themselves from the monarchy and what it represents.

At time of writing, Buckingham Palace has not released a statement in response to Cumming’s announcement.

(featured image: Rich Fury/Getty Images)

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Samantha Puc
Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and editor who has been working in digital and print media since 2010. Their work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture and their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.