Alan Cumming: BBC The Traitors USA star returns OBE after conversations about ‘toxic’ British Empire

BBC The Traitors USA star hands back OBE following the death of the Queen
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Alan Cumming has returned his OBE after having a series of conversations about the “toxicity” of the British Empire, following the death of the Queen.

BBC The Traitors USA star, 58, from Aberfeldy, explained on Instagram that he decided to return the award after having had eye-opening discussions about how the British Empire “profited at the expense (and death) of indigenous peoples” around the world.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He admitted to having been initially “grateful” to have received his OBE in 2009 “for activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community” in the USA.

Speaking on his 58th birthday, Alan told his over 479,000 followers that he was returning the award as something he wanted to do for himself.

The actor, who has lived in the U.S for over 20 years, shared a snap showing himself sat cross legged on the floor as well as a photo from the day he was given his OBE.

In the lengthy caption, he wrote: “Today is my 58th birthday and I want to tell you about something I recently did for myself. I returned my OBE.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“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’.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He continued: “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.

Alan Cumming (Getty Images)Alan Cumming (Getty Images)
Alan Cumming (Getty Images)

“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!”

The post quickly garnered over 7,000 likes with many commenters choosing to focus on wishing Alan a happy birthday rather than voicing their opinion on the monarchy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He joins a list of celebrities who’ve snubbed a British honour including Jon Snow, Nigella Lawson and Davie Bowie.

What is an OBE?

The Order of the British Empire was created by George V in 1917, during World War I. It is awarded to civilians and members of the armed forces who’ve made major contributions or their work has gained national recognition.

JK Rowling, David Beckham and Frank Lampard are among celebrities who’ve received the award.