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Ryan Jamaal Swain

Ryan Jamaal Swain

Star of Pose & LGBTQ+ Activist


A breakout star of FX’s Golden Globe-nominated series, Pose, Ryan Jamaal Swain is a triple-threat actor, dancer, and singer who was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for his LGBTQ+ activism. He has won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Damon, an ambitious aspiring dancer who, after being kicked out of his home for being gay, becomes part of a self-selected family in New York City’s 80s-era queer ballroom scene. Pose, which has been widely praised for its portrayal of queer and trans people of color, catapulted the frequent off-Broadway actor into the media spotlight. Swain was named by PAPER Magazine as “100 People Taking Over 2019” and has been featured in publications such as Vogue Online, Nylon, GQ, The New York Times, Flaunt Magazine and WWD. Following the success of Pose, Swain made his Broadway debut in “Choir Boy,” directed by Academy Award winner Tarell Alvin McCraney. He is currently writing a book for young adults that is based on his own life experiences growing up queer in the South. Read More >

Known for his inspiring “rags to riches story” of heading to New York City with only $50 in his pocket to pursue his dreams, Swain’s passion for performing began at an early age. He started tap dancing lessons at age four, expanding to ballet, jazz, modern and hip hop. He honed his craft at local dance and theater companies in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and began acting during his first year at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. A first-generation college graduate, Swain earned a B.F.A. from Howard University and trained at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, U.K. In 2014, Swain wrote and starred in “A Negro Writer”, a one-man show about Langston Hughes and his life. His other credits include a World Premiere Off-Broadway production of the critically acclaimed “Kill Move Paradise” (National Black Theatre, New York) and “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” (American Theatre of Actors, New York). His favorite theater roles include “Six Degrees of Separation” (‘Paul,’ Keegan Theatre, Washington D.C), “295N” (‘Jasen,’ Signature Theatre, Washington, D.C., World Premiere), “Thoughts of a Colored Man” (‘Wisdom,’ GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington, D.C., World Premiere) and “Spring Awakening” (‘Moritz,’ City Equity Theater, Birmingham, AL).

As an activist, Swain is a Stonewall Ambassador. He notably partnered with the nonprofit It Gets Better Foundation on the “#48HoursOfLove” campaign, sharing uplifting messages of hope, empowerment and support to LGBTQ+ students during the stressful back to school season.

Whether sharing a life story that has parallels with Damon Richards (Swain was physically and emotionally abused by his stepfather because of his sexual orientation) or inspiring others to boldly pursue their dreams, Ryan Jamaal Swain brings an empowering message of overcoming odds while giving back to others. His keynotes motivate audiences to find their voice, cultivate their “why” and use what makes them unique as their superpower. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Importance of Chosen Family | It Gets Better Project

On Pose | AM to DM BuzzFeed News

Chasing a Dream with Only $50 in Your Pocket

Speech Topics

Behind the Scenes at Pose

Called “aspirational and celebratory,” “invigorating and emotionally affecting, critics have praised Ryan Murphy’s Pose and its “pirouette between artistic opulence and deliciously soapy drama.” Historic for both its content and for assembling the largest cast of LGBTQ+ actors in a scripted TV series, Pose has taken audiences into the hidden world of 1980’s underground ball culture. In this fascinating talk, Ryan Jamaal Swain (Damon Richards) takes you even further inside your favorite characters and episodes, providing an intimate look at the Golden Globe-nominated cult drama.

Black, Millennial & Queer

In this candid take on intersectionality, Ryan Jamaal Swain shares how he has succeeded in an industry that has often times shunned three of his social identities. Toughened by an abusive childhood in the conservative South, Swain learned early on how to turn his “otherness/uniqueness” into his own superpower. From setting up boundaries to crafting your own personal and professional/artistic checklists, his candid and empowering advice celebrates the power of our differences and the essential importance of authenticity.

Chasing a Dream with Only $50 in Your Pocket

In this highly motivational talk, Ryan Jamaal Swain tells a story that sounds straight out of a Hollywood movie: How an ambitious performer from Alabama headed to New York City with only $50 in his pocket, eventually catching the artistic eye of the king of American television and landing a breakout role in Ryan Murphy’s Pose. A case study in purpose, finding your own voice, overcoming adversity, perseverance and faith, Swain’s “rags to riches” success story inspires all of us to believe in ourselves and follow our own dreams.