Aliens Star Was LGBTQ Rights Pioneer

J.E. Freeman, who appears as Dr. Mason Wren in 1997's Alien: Resurrection, was kicked out of the military for being gay and was at the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

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J.E. Freeman and Brad Dourif (left) in Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Depending on where your TV and/or movie tastes fall, you may not know much about the late J.E. Freeman; including that he made a big splash in the Aliens franchise. Even if you are the kind of serious cinephile familiar with everything from his early work with the Cohen brothers and David Lynch, to bigger budget projects like Alien: Resurrection and the Harrison Ford-led Jack Ryan films, you may not know he was fighting for the LGBTQ community for decades. Freeman was kicked out of the military when he was 22 for being openly gay, and two years later he was ground zero at the Stonewall riots.

In 2009 — 12 years after J.E. Freeman starred in the final chapter of the original Aliens movie series — the now-retired Freeman wrote a lengthy letter to the editor at SFGate recounting his experience at Stonewall. He describes a night “tinged with mourning” because of the death of The Wizard of Oz icon Judy Garland. Freeman recalls “blowing a joint up the block” from the Stonewall when the NYPD raided.

“I remember the three cops who came to the front door with the emergency hose from the back. I remember the nozzle pointing at us from across the street… And I remember the moment froze. And the water lost its power. And shrank away to an impotent drip.”

-J.E. Freeman on the Stonewall riots

Two years before Stonewall, the actor was ejected from the Marine Corps. J.E. Freeman, future star of the Aliens films, outed himself as gay to his commanding officer and was discharged for it.

“I had ‘turned myself in’ to my CO because I was queer and I didn’t want to go and kill or be killed in Vietnam for a government that did not want to recognize my right to exist.”

J.E. Freeman on being kicked out of the Marine Corps.
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J.E. Freeman as Eddie Dane in Miller’s Crossing (1990)

In his letter, J.E. Freeman leaves you with the impression that it wasn’t time with the Aliens franchise, on TV, or in any other prominent role that defined him as much as it was the courage that was inspired in him by the events of Stonewall. Writing of the marching he’d done since then, Freeman says, “I’ve grown tired and old and sick marching. I’ve grown powerful and brave, wise and proud marching.”

Along with J.E. Freeman playing a memorable villain in 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, the final film of the original Aliens movie series, he played some of his best roles seven years earlier in 1990. That was the year he starred both as the gangster Marcello Santos in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, and the brutal button man Eddie Dane in the Cohen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. Freeman also had a prominent role in 1992’s Patriot Games as Marty Cantor, Jack Ryan‘s (Harrison Ford) boss at the CIA.

J.E. Freeman died of AIDS in 2014 at the age of 68.