Alan Cumming returned his 2009 OBE honor after QEII’s passing

Alan Cumming is a lovely bisexual Scotsman turned naturalized American. He lives in New York with his husband Grant Shaffer and most of his work is New York-based too, on TV shows and Broadway. He’s been pro-Scottish independence for years, but he also accepted an OBE in 2009. An OBE is “Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire,” an honor given by the monarch. Cumming was given the honor for his contributions to the arts, but also his contributions to LGBTQ rights. At the time, he accepted his OBE and he even went to the ceremony and he got his little medal from Princess Anne. Then, a few days ago, Cumming posted this message on his Instagram in honor of his 58th birthday:

Today is my 58th birthday and I want to tell you about something I recently did for myself.

I returned my OBE.

Fourteen years ago, I was incredibly grateful to receive it in the 2009 Queen’s birthday honours list, for it was awarded not just for my job as an actor but ‘for activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, USA’. Back then the Defence of Marriage Act ensured that same sex couples couldn’t get married or enjoy the same basic legal rights as straight people, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ensured that openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people were barred from serving in the military. (Incidentally both these policies were instituted by the Clinton administration).

This is the statement I made 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’.

The Queen’s death and 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. Also, thankfully, times and laws in the US have changed, and the great good the award brought to the LGBTQ+ cause back in 2009 is now less potent than the misgivings I have being associated with the toxicity of empire (OBE stands for Officer of the British Empire).

So I returned my award, explained my reasons and reiterated my great gratitude for being given it in the first place. I’m now back to being plain old Alan Cumming again.

Happy birthday to me!

[From Alan Cumming’s IG]

I’ve always loved him but I love him even more right now. I like the way he explains why he accepted the honor in the first place and why his philosophy towards the British Empire and the Windsors has evolved. This isn’t some huge republican screed – it’s a man acknowledging that times change and people need to change too. What was acceptable and even welcomed in 2009 isn’t acceptable or welcomed in 2023. The larger problem is that the Windsors remain frozen in amber, unable to make substantive changes for their own survival. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instagram.

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60 Responses to “Alan Cumming returned his 2009 OBE honor after QEII’s passing”

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  1. Pinkosaurus says:

    Clearly this is another loyal, royalist Brit abducted and brainwashed by Americans 🙄 Saying an Empire is a bad thing is just like spitting in the dead Queen’s face! How will they work Meghan’s name in though?

    • DouchesOfCambridge says:

      It’s a blindsiding slap in the face to the monarchy! How dare he! Traitor!
      It’s no honor anymore to be associated to the British monarchy.

    • Lux says:

      Americans are just waiting around, like Venus Flytraps, for that unsuspecting Brit to come by so they can clamp, stamp and brand them with our independent ways!

      Or maybe there is something wrong with an empire? One that subjugates others and claims privilege and superiority based on centuries of inbred blood?

    • HeyJude says:

      Yes, this is going to be all Meghan’s fault and the papers will somehow find out how the 4th PA on a Cumming production once dated a boom operator on a Meghan production- the nefarious smoking gun of a link! They caught Megs red-handed this time.

  2. Moderatelywealthy says:

    That is such a thoughtful, well articulated and strong explanation on why people should not be accepting these ” honours” anymore.

    Thank you for this Mr Cumming.

  3. Miss Jupitero says:

    What a lovely well spoken mensch. Xoxo

    • AlpineWitch says:

      I loved this so much, especially after the butchering of trans rights recently done by the UK government…

      Well done to Alan 👏👏

  4. equality says:

    Sorry, but the RF isn’t supposed to be involved with politics? Isn’t that the claim whenever Meghan does anything? But TQ gave honors to somebody for being involved with policies in a country that is not associated with her own “empire”? What hypocrites. And, sorry, he may be now giving back the honor but it doesn’t change the fact that he accepted it to begin with. Accepting an honor for LGBTQ rights shouldn’t involve stepping on other human rights.

    • AnnaKist says:

      If he was still a British citizen when he received the OBE, it makes sense because they still would have viewed him as “one of us”. There is no way in the world he would have been awarded the OBE once he became a US citizen.

      Yes, the BRF always claim to not be political, but, aside from the monarch, opening parliament, too many politicians are too close to members of the British royal family and vice versa, and that makes me suspicious. It will be a great day when we finally extricate ourselves from “ the Commonwealth family”, and Queenie can get off our five dollar note. 🇦🇺 🦘

    • Melissa says:

      We all grow and change…what’s the incentive for getting better if folks like you are just going to bash them anyway? Tell us your secrets, you must have never put a foot wrong

    • Sushiroll says:

      @Equality- well then, going by your mentality, just give up already. Never change or evolve, never progress, never acknowledge a mistake and learn from it, since whatever you did in 2009 must have been unforgivable.

      • equality says:

        Did he personally change? Hopefully. Or did he just “read the room” and realize that having an OBE isn’t seen as so honorable now? And, going by your own logic, where’s the incentive for the RF to change, since you are going to bash them for things their ancestors did anyway?

      • Sushiroll says:

        Oh sorry, is reading the room such a bad thing? It’s called getting with the times. Everyone should do it.

        And nah, the RF aren’t going to change, they have zero incentive. Hopefully the vile institution just withers up and dies by its own hand.

        Gestures like this are a good start in taking their symbolic power away. I do think Cumming’s gesture contributes to devaluing an OBE and everything it stands for, and that’s a fantastic thing.

    • Annalise says:

      Equality- you sound like the people who are still mad at Harry for the Nazi costume, and still hold it against him.

      ALSO- just curious, would Cummings have been Sir Alan Cummings, with the OBE?

      • Jan90067 says:

        “Sir” comes with Knighthood (“Dame” is the female equivalent).

        With OBE, MBE etc, you just put it after your name, ie:
        “Alan Cummings, OBE”.

  5. TQ says:

    Love this, and love him! In the early 2010s he was supporting LGBTQ equality lobbying work for Empire State Pride Agenda in Albany, NY, and I had a friend on the Board. We all ended up in a hotel bar (RIP 74 State Street!) late into the evening with AC on the piano & us all singing show tunes. One I remember clearly was ‘The Rainbow Connection’ from The Muppets! Was a brilliant time.

  6. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Well done. These awards are for buying loyalty. Nice that Alan can no longer be used as a prop and diversion for wealth and life-stealing colonialist murderers.

  7. Noki says:

    I honestly feel that more people don’t even want to accept them but are scared of any repercussions from snubbing the RF.

    • blue says:

      What repercussions? Not being invited to dinner anymore?

      • C says:

        We’ve seen now that the royals themselves hold the tabloids close to their chests. And they’ve had no compunction about going after high-profile names to the point of breaking and entering. So now, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything the royals would do if they felt publicly “embarrassed”.
        But beyond that, there’s social pressure in these circles too. I can see a British actor in BAFTA feeling nervous about turning it down for fear of loss of connections.

      • Nick G says:

        I saw people calling him a traitor on twitter this weekend. Like, they wanted his blood.

      • DeeSea says:

        This goes far beyond dinner invitations. There’s plenty of evidence that the “invisible contract” between the RF and the BM extends beyond just members of the RF. I could see any British public figure seriously weighing the pros and cons when considering whether to accept an OBE or other “honor.”

  8. NG_76 says:

    Very well said, he is an amazing person.

  9. Amy Bee says:

    This is great. I doubt it have any effect on the Royal family or the current British Government but it’s an important stance.

  10. notasugarhere says:

    Amazing choice, hope more follow in his footsteps. I’m a big fan of his, including his audiobook acting. ‘The Scottish play” where he plays all the roles, the Westerfeld series (I don’t like Westerfeld but listened simply because of Cummings doing the narration), etc.

  11. Brassy Rebel says:

    I salute him for doing this. We have all had our eyes opened more about the monarchy and it’s racist, colonialist past.

    I would like to point out for the younger readers here that he mentions the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being passed during the Clinton years. This is true but misleading. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton to prevent something worse, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In the nineties, there was no public support for legalizing gay marriage and no politicians were willing to publicly support it because it was so radioactive. Clinton signed it as a stopgap to prevent a movement to put a ban in the constitution, much harder to overturn. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was what Colin Powell, then Chair of the Joint Chiefs, forced upon Clinton who wanted to entirely remove the very strict ban then in place. Up until that time (the nineties), Clinton was the most pro gay president we ever had. But he was surrounded by homophobes in Congress and the bureaucracy. He shouldn’t be singled out as if he was homophobic too. In 1992, he was considered radical, running on lifting the ban against gays in the military, a ban which allowed any member of the military to be investigated for sexual orientation at any time and given a dishonorable discharge if found to be gay. Don’t Ask meant military members could not be subjected to interrogation or persecution as long as they were not “out” on the job. Not great but better.

    • dee(2) says:

      Thanks for the detailed policy explanation. This is what I try to explain to my younger cousins that complicated policy decisions and what came before them, and what was being suggested instead at the time, are complex and take more than 280 characters, or a tiktok video to explain. Nuance and understanding the time period and what else was going on in the background is important. Sometimes the less crappy option is all we can get at the time. Doesn’t mean we stop working for better.

      • Brassy Rebel says:

        You’re welcome! I do get frustrated by people framing the nineties as the Dark Ages of politics. Things would be so much worse if we hadn’t had a Democrat who believed in change and progress in the White House. That is largely why Congress went Republican in 1994. Certain demographics were made nervous by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

    • Kittenmom says:

      Thank you for the explanation. I was wondering about Clinton’s role in these.

    • Zazzoo says:

      @Brassy Rebel thank you for saving me the time. Clinton was president in a very different context. We were still fighting the worst forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. These were band aids over a more serious problem but they were intended to mitigate discrimination not incite it.

    • Annalise says:

      Brassy Rebel- thank you for clarifying! I was very young during the Clinton years, but definitely did not have the impression that President Clinton was as socially conservative as Cummings kinda made him sound, as was surprised by what he said about the laws enacted in the early 90s.
      Thank you for clearing that up! If only politics were simple……

  12. Ohno says:

    Meanwhile Helena Bonham Carter is busying disgracing herself everyday in the hopes they’ll throw her something. Pathetic.
    I heard she’s now calling for The Crown “to be cancelled”. For a woman who:
    1) just cashed a massive check from Netflix to be in The Crown
    2) complained about “cancel culture” bc ppl wanted nothing to do with her sicko BFF Depp, she really irritates me. I don’t like stupid ppl even if they’re talented.

    • AlpineWitch says:

      Don’t forget her defending JK Rowling… the more she speaks the more she shows her true colours.

      Not that she will ever be cancelled as she’s as well connected as anyone can be.

      • QuiteContrary says:

        She’s not even all that talented. No matter what character she plays it’s always quirky HBC on the screen.

  13. Shells_Bells says:

    I’m just here to say that I binged the Traitors last weekend and his fashion alone is worth the watch!

    • Louisa says:

      How / where did you watch it? I really want to see it.

    • DeeSea says:

      “The Traitors” is the most fun I’ve had watching TV in ages!!! My only complaint is that I wanted more more more Alan Cumming, and more ad-libbing from Alan Cumming. His parts were so very scripted. But his charisma and FASHUNS made up for it. So much fun! Watch it if you can!

  14. Emmy Rae says:

    I heard an interview with him once where he claimed to have introduced Liza Minelli to wearing crocs and she loved them. It wasn’t really relevant, he just wanted to share the information with someone like I am doing now.

  15. Alex says:

    Love AC! I also love the British show Portrait Artist of the Year. One season the prize was a commissioned portrait of Alan Cummings for a Scottish museum. The episode showed AC and the artist working together to create the portrait. He was so charming, smart, entertaining, an absolute great subject. The way he and the artist interacted, and the ultimate portrait, was amazing. Even if you’re not interested of art or portraiture, this was great. I’m in the US so I have to search for episodes of this show. I found it either on YouTube or HBO or Tubi. Sorry I can’t remember. If anyone is interested let me know and I’ll look for it.

    On another topic: He speaks out against the monarchy as an institution, and colonialism, but doesn’t name check the Windsors. For those of us who have had enough of the Windsors, how about staying on topic?

  16. Louisa says:

    Please check out Miriam and Alan : Lost in Scotland. Alan and Miriam Margolyes touring Scotland in a van. It’s on PBS in the US but I also watched it on You Tube. They were hilarious together.

  17. AnneL says:

    I think he played the villain in “Rob Roy,” a Liam Neeson movie about the legendary Scottish hero. It came out in the 90s. He was GREAT in that. I was hoping to see him on stage in “Cabaret” but missed it, boo.

    What a talent and a mensch.

    • CiCu says:

      I think that was Tim Roth in Rob Roy, but I agree that Alan Cummings is a great actor.

      • Annalise says:

        It WAS Tim Roth, who was AMAZING in it. Who needs Braveheart and Mel “Are You A Jew?” Gibson, when we have Rob Roy?

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I love Rob Roy. It has one of (the best?) sword fights in it.

      And it has two stars who are age-appropriate for each other. I had a difficult time watching Mel Gibson act opposite a girl young enough to be his daughter, while pretending the characters were children together? I don’t know if Hollywood realizes it, but THAT really is distracting.

  18. SpankyB says:

    I’ll watch anything with Alan Cumming in it. I was so sad when his TV show, Instinct, was cancelled. The first time I noticed him was in a James Bond movie, he was a computer guy and kept clicking his pen. Really annoying, but I knew he was something special, he had “it”. For years I called him Pen Clicker because I didn’t know his name and my husband would know who I was talking about. LOL

    Anyway, glad he returned his OBE, makes me love him even more.

  19. j.ferber says:

    Good for him. Adore and respect him. Tried to watch his new reality show (he was great), but it was too scary for me, with the contestants put in coffins underground with earth about to be heaped on them (not sure if this actually happened, but it looked that way to me and I bailed).

  20. Rnot says:

    May he be the first snowflake in an avalanche!

  21. Jezzebeelzebub says:

    *shakes fist* MEGHAN MARKLE, HOW DARE YE!

    J/K. I love Alan Cumming. He’s so classy I could barf. (That’s not sarcasm, I love him and I love that he did this.)

  22. kirk says:

    In re to other comment awaiting approval:
    Oops correction on DOMA vote count (was looking at other legislation while typing)…
    corr “preceding 258-169 House or 61-36 Senate votes” to:
    preceding 342-67 House or 85-14 Senate votes.
    So basically enough to overturn presidential veto if Clinton didn’t sign.