Harvey Fierstein

On this date in 1952, actor, comedian, playwright and LGBT activist Harvey Forbes Fierstein was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Fierstein debuted in the Andy Warhol play, "Pork," in 1971. He has since been in over 60 off-off-Broadway plays, including his own productions. One of his three-act plays, "The Torch Song Trilogy," in which he played a gay man, opened off-off-Broadway in 1980, transferred to Broadway, and won Fierstein two Tony Awards, an Obie Award, a Dramatist Guild Award, two Drama Desk Awards, and a nomination for the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award. The hugely successful play was made into a movie in 1988, with Fierstein writing the screenplay and co-starring with Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft. He earned his third Tony for his book of the musical "La Cage aux Folles." He picked up a fourth Tony for his portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the Broadway version of "Hairspray" (2003). In addition to his theater work, Fierstein is a popular face (and voice) in films, including such hits as "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), "Independence Day" (1996), "Death to Smoochy" (2002) and "Duplex" (2003), which starred Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore. His trademark voice has lent its popularity to television shows including "The Simpsons," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Family Guy," and animated movies such as Disney's "Mulan" (1998), "Kingdom Hearts II" (2005) and "Farce of the Penguins" (2006). Other television appearances include on the shows "Ellen" and "Common Ground," which he co-wrote, and an Emmy-nominated performance on "Cheers." He also earned an Emmy for narrating the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984).

A winner of the GLAAD Award for Visibility in 1994, Fierstein is known as a leading gay rights activist. He was openly gay when it was still highly controversial to be so. He often plays gay characters, occasionally dresses in drag, writes articles and publicly champions LGBT rights. He has consistently made his views on religion known. In an interview about playing Tevye in the Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," when asked if he was generally religious, Fierstein said: "No, but I am Jewish. . . . This [performance] has really brought out the Jew. I mean, I don't believe in God, I don't believe in heaven or hell, but I pray three or four times a day" (New York Times, by Jesse McKinley, Jan. 2, 2005). Fierstein started a segment called "Outtakes" on the Generation Q television program "In the Life" (2004): "I don't believe in heaven. In fact, I don't believe in any sort of conscious afterlife. More to the point, I don't believe in God. Or Gods. Or Goddesses. . . . More wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other cause. More people have been persecuted, reputations ruined, and fortunes plundered and murders committed in the name of religion than any other enterprise. And more everyday bigotry and prejudice is founded on what religion a person follows than any other factor." He continued: "Forget believing in God. How about thinking for yourself on any subject! Bottom line—I don't care what you believe, or what church you attend, or how religion-oriented your private life is. Keep it out of my government. Keep it out of my laws. Keep it out of my bedroom. And keep it out of the war rooms at the Pentagon!"

Photo by David Shinbone under CC 3.0

"We are lucky enough to be living in a country that not only guarantees the freedom to practice religion as we see fit, but also freedom FROM religious zealots who would persecute and prosecute and even physically harm those of us who do not believe as they do. . . . If you refuse to salute the flag and say God in your pledge, you're actually judged un-American. But that's not the way America is supposed to be. That's the way Iran is. . . . Predicating patriotism on a citizen's belief in God is as anti-American as judging him on the color of his skin. It is wrong. It is useless. It is unconstitutional." 

—Harvey Fierstein in the segment "Outtakes," from the program "In the Life," broadcast by Generation Q, Nov. 2004

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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