At this weekend’s GLAAD Awards ceremony, actor Andrew Garfield wore a pin bearing the colors of the transgender Pride flag while presenting an award to transgender actress Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work toward eliminating queerphobia in media.
Garfield’s pin-wearing gained applause from most Twitter users, though some criticized him for not doing more for trans rights. Indeed, his entire career has been punctuated by earnest but uneven attempts at showing his LGBTQ allyship. Here are five such moments:
1) Asking why Spider-Man can’t be gay
While speaking about his turn as the web-slinging superhero in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Garfield said that he had talked with the film’s producer about exploring the character’s sexuality on film.
“I was kind of joking, but kind of not joking about MJ (Spider-Man’s love interest),” he told Entertainment Weekly. “What if MJ is a dude? Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking! So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys.”
But while Garfield’s subsequent comment that Spider-Man should represent everybody got him a standing ovation at a Comic-Con panel, he also said that “it wouldn’t make sense” to suddenly make the superhero gay. Some were disappointed at the latter comment, especially since internal memos from Sony Studios said that Spider-Man is definitely “not a homosexual.”
2) Playing a trans woman in a music video
In 2014, Garfield played a trans woman in the music video for Arcade Fire’s song “We Exist,” a song about a child coming out to their father.
In the video, Garfield’s character uncertainly dons a bra, makeup and cowgirl duds before walking to a rural dive bar. When transphobic patrons assault her, she breaks into an emotional spotlight dance that ends with her blissfully rocking out with the band at Coachella.
The video’s director said he chose Garfield because of his passion for the project, and thought that it would be “pretty damn powerful” for queer kids to see the Spider-Man actor in a queer role. However, trans punk rocker Laura Jane Grace criticized the video for not choosing an actual trans woman to play the role.
3) Playing a gay AIDS survivor in Angels in America
In 2017, Garfield played Prior Walter, a man with AIDS living in 1985 New York City, in a London production of Tony Kushner’s theatrical masterpiece Angels in America. Garfield acted alongside out actors Russell Tovey and Nathan Lane.
But while some praised Garfield for playing a quasi-tragic role part in such an important social issues play, others criticized him for possibly taking the role from a gay actor while others took issue with his admission that he prepared for the role by watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
4) Coming out as gay… sort of, not really
While giving interviews for Angels in America, Garfield seemed to come out, stating, “I am a gay man right now just without the physical act.”
“As far as I know, I am not a gay man,” he added. “Maybe I’ll have an awakening later in my life, which I’m sure will be wonderful and I’ll get to explore that part of the garden, but right now I’m secluded to my area, which is wonderful as well. I adore it.”
His comments were largely criticized by Twitter users who said he was over-simplifying what it means to be gay.
He later clarified, “The intention [in my comments] was to … speak to my desire to play this part to the best of my ability and to fully immerse myself in a culture that I adore.”
5) Dedicating his Best Actor 2018 Tony award to the LGBTQ community
Garfield ended up winning a Tony Award for Angels in America. While accepting the award, he said his character “represents the purest spirit of humanity and especially that of the LGBTQ community,” adding, “I dedicate this award to the countless LGBTQ who have fought and died to protect that spirit.”
— Angels in America (@angelsbway) June 11, 2018