Alan Cumming returns OBE over concerns of link to ‘toxicity' of British Empire

He was honoured in 2009 for his work as an actor and for campaigning for the LGBTQ community.

Scottish actor Alan Cumming has handed back his OBE due to his “misgivings” with being associated with the “toxicity” of the British Empire.

He was made an OBE in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work as an actor, as well as his campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights in the USA.

He said at the time he was “shocked and delighted” to receive the honour.

But following the Queen’s death and subsequent conversations around the future of the monarchy, Cumming said he had decided to revoke the honour.

Edinburgh International Festival
Alan Cumming announced his decision to hand back his OBE medal on his birthday (Jane Barlow/PA)

He wrote on Instagram: “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.

“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.”

Scottish independence referendum
Cumming has been a vocal supporter of Scottish independence (Danny Lawson/PA)

Speaking on his 58th birthday on Friday, Cumming added: “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!”

In 2014, Cumming backed a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum and continues to be a supporter of the cause.

Last year, he said the debate around independence is putting people off because it had become “polarised”.