As he surveys the past 10 seasons of ABC’s “Modern Family,” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson is thrilled to have been a part of a “pop culture touchstone” that set a new precedent for LGBTQ representation on mainstream TV and is “holding the door open for the next generation” of queer-inclusive storytelling.
“It was the biggest thing to happen to all of us, and I don’t think any of us are expecting to have a job like this ever again,” said Ferguson, who played Mitchell Pritchett, one-half of the ensemble comedy’s central gay couple. With the 11th and final season of the show on the horizon, he added, “My hope is that we only continue to move forward with representation on television.”
“Modern Family” also helped land Ferguson, otherwise best known for his stage work, on the Hollywood map. He’s consistently used that platform to express his longstanding commitment to LGBTQ causes, notably in 2012 when he and husband Justin Mikita founded Tie The Knot, selling custom-designed bow ties with proceeds going to pro-marriage equality organizations. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, Tie The Knot shifted its focus somewhat, supporting various groups “that are in the trenches fighting” for LGBTQ equality at large.
And queer themes continue to infuse much of Ferguson’s acting work outside of “Modern Family,” too. He’s slated to return to Broadway opposite Jesse Williams in a 2020 revival of Richard Greenberg’s drama, “Take Me Out,” which follows a professional baseball player (Williams) who comes out as gay. Earlier this month, he and Mikita joined Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Rippon and the Fab Five of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” in the star-studded video for Taylor Swift’s new single and musical denouncement of homophobia, “You Need To Calm Down.”
Ferguson spoke to HuffPost after he unveiled the latest Tie The Knot designs (including one commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising) at a special Pride Month pop-up shop at The Tie Bar in New York. In a candid chat, he touched on his LGBTQ advocacy work, collaborating with Swift and what he sees as the next hurdle for queer-inclusive representation in Hollywood.
You launched Tie The Knot as a gesture in support of marriage equality, which became the law of the land in 2015. Why was it important for you to maintain the brand?
We shifted the focus of Tie The Knot once we achieved full federal marriage rights. Right now, it’s about protection. Achieving marriage equality was a huge civil rights milestone in LGBTQ history, and it was a moment worth celebrating. What we are concerned about now is protecting those rights that we fought so hard to obtain.
So many LGBTQ people continue to be in the line of fire when it comes to their rights. Look at the transgender military ban or the harmful bathroom bills. Protecting our marriage rights is wildly important. There are still places in our country where you can be married on a Friday and lose your job on Monday, just for marrying the person you love. And these laws change over state lines. When we look at the bigger picture, we don’t have full federal equality when it comes to protections.
Tie The Knot is a collaboration with your husband, Justin Mikita. What are your discussions like with regard to brainstorming ideas for designs and/or guest designers?
We encourage our designers to bring us all of their wild ideas. The sky is the limit with the creation process, and we take their inspirations and try and develop a wearable design that reflects that. Our partners at The Tie Bar are also super helpful with helping us keep up with current trends. We always have a strong vision of what we want, and they help us go back and forth to bring that to life. It’s really a collaborative effort.
You and Justin made a big splash in the new Taylor Swift video, “You Need To Calm Down.” Why’d you want to be a part of it?
Taylor’s team reached out to us about being involved in the video. All we knew is that we would be getting married in the scene. We didn’t know anything more about it. We weren’t even able to hear the song! Unfortunately, our schedule kept us from being involved on the main shoot date, so we shot our piece in a studio weeks after the majority of the video had been shot.
We did our scene against a green screen and through the magic of Hollywood, they inserted us into the video. It was like Christmas morning getting to see the whole thing put together! We saw the final product the same day everyone else did.
We’re looking forward to seeing you back on Broadway next season in the revival of “Take Me Out.” The original production was provocative for its time ― why do you think that story still feels relevant today, in spite of the social and cultural strides we’ve made in the LGBTQ space?
I saw the original production twice and I fell in love with the writing of the piece but also the performance of Denis O’Hare, who won a Tony Award for the role I’ve been offered. It’s wildly intimidating stepping into those shoes, but I am excited about the challenge and Denis has been very generous with his support of the casting.
It reads as a play that was written yesterday. The themes of homophobia — specifically in sports — still feel wildly relevant. We have made huge strides with LGBTQ representation in the world of professional sports, but I know that the courage to be open in that arena still holds ramifications. There is still a stigma. Not everyone is so welcoming. The consequences of being out and proud are not always positive. That’s a reality we are still living with today.
What do you see as the next hurdle for LGBTQ people, or narratives, in Hollywood?
I would love to see more roles representing the trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming community. Additionally, I would love to see members of those communities having the opportunity to play those roles and tell those stories.
In a best-case scenario, what do you hope the next 50 years will look like in terms of achieving LGBTQ equality?
We have to keep moving forward. I want to see protections for everyone in the LGBTQ community. For years, we’ve lived with parameters. I would love to see those walls broken down. My hope and dream for my LGBTQ family is to reach a place where we can go into any establishment and be treated with respect, without discrimination.
My hope and dream for my LGBTQ family is to reach a place where we can go into any establishment and be treated with respect, without discrimination. Jesse Tyler Ferguson
What does “Pride” mean to you?
It changes as I get older. It used to be about being seen out loud and proud, and now it’s more about visibility in a more grounded way. It’s not about a day or a parade for me anymore. It’s a moment when you have the attention of the LGBTQ community and their allies. It’s an opportunity for re-strengthening, re-inspiring and re-mobilizing. And of course, it’s moment to honor and celebrate where we’ve come from and to rally and unite about where we want to go.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.