Gay Icons: 25 Divas Who Have Been Embraced by Gay Culture
March 31, 2013
From torch songs to club bangers to advocacy to empowerment to glamor that’s out of this world, great divas have affected the gay community in any number of ways ever since Judy Garland sang about somewhere over the rainbow. A term was coined for those divas who have an impact on the gay community through entertainment and advocacy. Thus the “gay icon” was born.
A gay icon is a celebrity or public figure who is embraced by the gay community. To reach gay icon status, one has to be able to relate to us through flamboyance, strength, triumph over adversity, glamor and even androgyny. Divas with powerhouse voices, gay anthems, over-the-top personalities and an unapologetic and unforgettable approach to fashion that would inspire envy in a drag queen are likely to become gay icons.
Sorry, Sir Elton John, Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Adam Lambert, but with Women’s History Month coming to a close soon, this blog post celebrates the female divas who hold bigger special places in our gay hearts than our very own fag hags. Below are 25 of the many divas who have left their marks on gay men and gay culture.
Judy Garland is probably the greatest of the diva entertainers turned gay icons. What makes her gay legacy unique is that her “Over the Rainbow” number was released in the classic family film The Wizard of Oz in 1939. During a time when being openly gay was completely condemned, Garland’s performances and personal struggles resonated with gay men. She was wildly popular during her prime and through her comebacks, and she remains a gay icon long after her death in 1969.
Interestingly, it’s not just the hearts of gay men that Julie Andrews has claimed; she’s a family icon as well. It kind of makes sense, given that her classic movie musicals Marry Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) have been entertaining both demographics for generations.
She has one of the most powerful voices ever, showcased in Broadway musicals, pop albums and classic films. Gay men love star power, and Babs is the epitome of it. Since earlier in her career, she has been embraced and shaped by the gay community. It’s been said that she shares many of our sensibilities.
Liza Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland, followed her mother into showbiz, and the gays embraced her too. She’s the ultimate stage performer, and her critically acclaimed movie musical Cabaret is one of the gayest films ever!
Some call her an accidental gay icon, given rumors of controversial anti-gay remarks. At a 1983 concert the Queen of Disco allegedly made religion-inspired comments about gay men and HIV/AIDS. She later denied the allegations and wrote a letter to members of ACT UP, an HIV/AIDS advocacy group, that said, “I did not say God is punishing gays with AIDS, I did not sit with ill intentions in judgement over your lives. I haven’t stopped talking to my friends who are gay, nor have I ever chosen my friends by their sexual preferences.” But one thing is clearly true: Summer danced her way into the hearts of gay men.
Like Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor left her mark on dance music, specifically disco, and had a huge gay following. “I Will Survive” will always be the quintessential gay anthem because of its message of triumph over heartache and fear. This makes the beloved disco queen a true gay icon.
“I’m Coming Out” is one of the most energetic and inspirational gay anthems ever, forever enshrining Diana Ross, the beautiful, stylish pop legend, in the pantheon of gay icons. She’s the epitome of glitz, glam, talent, a diva personality, big hair and an over-the-top wardrobe. With her 1980 hit she has made gay men feel like bosses just like Ms. Ross the Boss.
Is “Pull Up to the Pumper” a naughty gay anthem, or is it really just about cars? Hmm. All we know is that the 1981 club hit proved that Grace Jones is raw and unapologetic, with an original style to match. Her music, strength, energy and androgynous style have attracted quite a gay following.
Dolly Parton is a drag queen’s fantasy! The boobs, the lips, the dresses, the hair and the big stage presence may be things that drag queens will be imitating for a long time to come. Parton herself said that if she were a man, she would do drag! Not to mention the fact that she’s a gay rights advocate, which is rare for a country superstar.
Before Lady Gaga, there was Cyndi Lauper and her gay rights activism, but she’s more than an advocate or a gay icon with a gay anthem, “True Colors”; she’s family.
Labeled the Queen of Pop and the Queen of Dance, Madonna has more gay anthems than any other diva on this list, from “Holiday” to “Justify My Love” to “Vogue.” Indeed, we’ll be voguing it out until the end of time.
Maybe it’s those lingering lesbian rumors. Or maybe it’s that powerhouse voice, especially over up-tempo ’80s dance hits. Or maybe it’s her (allegedly lower-key) support of gays. Or maybe it’s that we relate to her triumphs and tragedies. Whatever it is, she’s been welcomed by the gay community (and mother Cissy Houston would probably disapprove). In 2000 Houston embraced her gay fans and shut down those lesbian rumors in an interview with Out.
Mariah Carey is the ultimate diva, with the ultimate voice to prove it, which is what attracts gay men to her. But it’s her story of growing up as an outcast, her support of the gays, and her inspirational hit “Hero” that has secured this diva a spot as a gay icon.
Like Dolly Parton, Cher could be a drag queen. And she’s about as gay-friendly as a fag hag could possibly be. With her outlandish style, her iconic voice, her dance hits, her LGBT advocacy and her transgender child, Cher’s connection with the gay community has grown over the years. She’s one of the greatest gay icons, and her longevity in entertainment owes much to having one of the hugest and most loyal gay followings ever.
Bette Midler wears her gay icon status very proudly. She’s recently gone on the record about being pleased with new, rising gay icons. From her showbiz heyday to now, the entertainer has built quite a gay following. Can anyone really be as talented as Midler is and not leave gay men in awe?
By 1998 Janet Jackson, or “Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty,” had added gay icon status to her many wonderful honors. Her 1997 concept album The Velvet Rope featured lyrics that touched upon homosexuality, and Jackson had shown her support for the gay community through AIDS advocacy and her 1997 hit “Together Again,” which talks about friends she lost to the disease.
Believe it or not, Britney Spears was once voted the ultimate gay icon. It could be because of infectious pop tunes or because of her perseverance through many life struggles. She’s a pure example of “it gets better,” and that’s how gays can relate.
Kyile Minogue came back with a string of international dance hits in the early 2000s, making her way back to the top with the support of the gays. Because her music has a huge gay following, she has garnered gay icon status.
Christina Aguilera’s over-the-top style, image changes and powerhouse voice made her welcomed by the gay community, but it was her 2002 hit “Beautiful” that gave her not only a gay anthem but a reserved spot as a gay icon.
Some have criticized BeyoncÃ© for her relative inaction in the gay community in spite of her huge gay following, but King Bey (yes, King) didn’t get all that fierceness from the sky. Yes, she was born with it, but she has acknowledged inspiration and support from gay men, and she has inspired both women and gay men to be powerful and embrace their own inner Sasha Fierce. And let’s be honest: What young, gay black male doesn’t live in awe of King Bey? And what gay male doesn’t know the routine to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”?
Robyn might be the most underrated entertainer on this list, but as a gay icon she’s up there. And she’s one of the more recent gay icons to pop up on the scene. She’s straight but connects with the gay community with her stylishly androgynous looks and assertive pop lyrics.
It’s undeniable that Lady Gaga is one of the greatest gay icons of all time. Since rising to fame, Gaga has been one of the most influential gay rights advocates. Although she’d long expressed her views on sexuality in her music, Gaga took it a step further with her 2011 mega-hit “Born This Way.” As she likes to say, “Bless God, and bless the gays!”
Katy Perry has become an avid supporter of gay rights, with several fun pop hits under her belt, a crazy style and stage presence, and an inspirational story of how her views on LGBT people changed over time. She proves that the gay community can free minds, and as a result, she’s a rising gay icon.
She has been a debatable, on-and-off gay icon, but she’s the epitome of a drag queen. Her over-the-top antics, flamboyance, uniqueness, artistry, and style have been embraced by gays since early in her mainstream career. Minaj is actually an important gay icon too. She’s a straight female rapper who plays with ideas and pushes the envelope on sexuality and gender. And although she experienced some controversy in the gay community, she’s shown major support for her gay fans as well as gay representation in hip hop.
Ke$ha might not be on the same level as the other women on this list, but she’s clearly a rising gay icon. Her over-the-top style, catchy pop tunes, empowerment anthems and major support for the gays are all the elements of what makes a true gay icon. Let’s just hope that she settles for the honorific title instead of trying to actually become a gay man.