Gay actor Jonathan Bailey opens up about vile homophobic episode

Fellow Travelers actor Jonathan Bailey revealed that he was targeted in a homophobic episode by a man who threatened his life.

Screen cap of Jonathan Bailey in 'Fellow Travelers' miniseries
Image: Paramount+

In a recent interview with The Standard, Jonathan Bailey, an openly gay actor currently starring in the Paramount+ series Fellow Travelers, revealed that he experienced a homophobic episode in which he said his “life was threatened” on a trip to Washington D.C. earlier this year. 

Jonathan Bailey is an English actor who rose to fame after appearing in series like Chewing Gum and Bridgerton. While the actor played straight roles in both of these projects, Bailey, 35, has been openly gay in his personal life since his 20s and has been ‘out’ professionally since 2018. 

His latest role, portraying the character of Tim Laughlin in the Paramount+ series Fellow Travelers, is one of the actor’s first high-profile queer roles to date. In the series, Bailey, alongside co-star Matt Bomer, struggles with love and lust in McCarthy era America. Working as a government clerk, both Bailey and Bomer’s characters are subject to the historical period known as “The Lavender Scare”. During this time in American history, a widespread moral panic surrounding homosexuality resulted in the firing of more than 5,000 government workers for engaging in same-sex sexual and romantic activity. 

The series similarly charts the course of Bailey and Bomer’s characters through the decades, touching briefly on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s after Bailey’s character finds out he is HIV positive. 

Speaking with The Standard about the series and the ongoing battle for LGBTQ+ equality, Bailey recalled how he had travelled to Washington D.C. earlier this year to attend a Human Rights Campaign event where his Fellow Travelers co-star, Matt Bomer, and Bridgerton creator, Shonda Rhimes, were being honoured with awards. 

Bailey recalled that the ceremony was an “amazing night,” but that the next morning, he was targeted in a local coffee shop and called homophobic slurs by a threatening man. 

“I went into a coffee shop, and I was wearing a Human Rights Campaign cap from the night before. And the young lady who I was ordering from recognised me from Bridgerton, we were just chatting,” Bailey said. 

“And a man arrived behind me and he said, ‘Are you famous?’ and I said something like, ‘I’m really famous for ordering coffee,’ which is actually quite an annoying thing to say.

“And then he got my cap, and he pulled it off my head and he threw it across the room and he said, ‘Get out of this f***ing coffee shop, you queer.’”

Bailey then remembers crossing the room to retrieve the cap that the man had thrown, only to be met with further badgering from the homophobic customer, who allegedly said: “If you don’t take that cap off, I’m gonna f***ing shoot you. Where I’m from, people like me kill people like you.”

Recalling the harrowing experience, Bailey remembered the room going silent until one “amazing” woman named Angela, pulled out her phone and started recording the interaction. According to Bailey, Angela then told the actor: “I’m recording this message. I think you are welcome in this country.”

She then turned to the man who had allegedly threatened Bailey, saying: “And what you’re saying, I think, is appalling.” According to Bailey, the man then left the coffee shop. 

While the altercation was certainly traumatizing for Bailey, his concern walking away from the coffee shop wasn’t for himself. Instead, Bailey told The Standard, that “potentially there is a kid who — that’s his father. That’s his uncle. That’s his teacher.

“My life was threatened. My body believed it; my brain didn’t and it took me a while to really catch up with it.

“But I’ve got friends and security. There are so many people that don’t. They are surrounded by that every day, and the torment of what that must be like, the amount of fear that was generated…If that’s what children are surrounded by, they’re not going to be able to grow in any way.

“And of course, that’s not just an American story. It’s international. And it’s terrifying, that [in the UK] we’re not looking after queer people, in terms of allowing them into the country. Because that is the reality; people’s lives are literally at risk,” Bailey concluded. 

Bailey’s statement about the UK’s less-than-ideal approach to LGBTQ+ issues coincides with a new study from the charity Just Like Us, which revealed that 61% of LGBTQ+ young adults in the UK have experienced verbal abuse, while 50% have experienced physical abuse. 

The FBI similarly reported this October that they have seen an alarming spike in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes throughout the United States this year. 

The grand finale of Fellow Travelers, starring Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer, airs this Friday, December 15, on Paramount+. 

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