Created and executive produced by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black, the eight-hour TV event chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of LGBTQ activists who helped pioneer equality for their community decades ago in the U.S.
In an emotional PEOPLE exclusive featurette, Guy Pearce (Cleve Jones), Rachel Griffiths (Diane) and Ivory Aquino (Cecilia Chung) join O’Donnell, Goldberg and more in portraying the fight for LGBTQ rights.
“None of these people set out to necessarily do anything historic or heroic. But they did not quit,” says Mary Louise-Parker (Roma Guy). “And there’s nothing more inspiring to me than somebody who keeps getting beaten down and keeps standing up again.”
“It is a gay rights story. It is a civil rights story. It is a woman’s rights story,” says Jonathan Majors (younger Ken Jones). “And you put all those things together and it’s a human story.”
Aquino, who revealed to PEOPLE in January that she is transgender, adds, “Every gay person, every lesbian, every trans person has a family that loves them and that they love.”
In the promo, O’Donnell attends an LGBTQ rally and asks a young activist his age. “You got a big mouth,” she commends him. “We can use a few more.”
“At the end of the day, what’s important to you on that side is probably important to me on that side, which is that we have a strong family, that we can care for our children and that we can leave the world a little bit better than we found it,” says Black.
Following President Donald Trump‘s new ruling, which is rolling back protections for transgender children, Black issued an exclusive statement to PEOPLE: “From the top down, this White House is filled with fathers. I’d like to ask each of them what they’d do if their daughters were forced to use the boy’s bathroom at school. Because I feel certain they would fight like hell to put a stop to such a mandate and defend their child’s safety. Well, trans students in this country are our children as well, and their lives have equal value, so we must fight with equal vigor to keep them just as safe so they have an equal shot at growing up strong and wise and proud.”
When We Rise premieres Monday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.