Billboard declared Ariana Grande ‘the gay icon of her generation,’ and the internet’s divided.
Whether you love her music or not, there’s no doubt Grande is a huge supporter of the LGBTI community.
Her unconditional love for her gay brother matched with her continued fight for equality across the board is truly inspiring.
But just because she’s straight, does that mean she’s disqualified as a gay icon?
Numerous viral tweets in response to the original tweet seem to think so.
One read: ‘Wow, that’s so progressive I’m so happy to be living in a world where a fucking straight girl can be a gay icon.’
Another tweeted: ‘Rather than recognizing a straight woman as your gay icon, here is a list of some LGBT artists that can be your gay icon instead.’
It’s an interesting question and I think the answer lies in the generational divide.
My experiences of gay icons are shaped through my own cultural lens, but this may vary for other people in the LGBTI umbrella.
These pop and on-screen princesses have all made commitments to the LGBTI community in some way and speak to me on a personal level.
They’re flamboyant, feminine and glamorous – all qualities I suppressed growing up, but have since come to embrace. They were everything I wanted to be, but too scared to commit to while still not out.
Older generations might classify Cher, Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Bette Davis, Donna Summer etc as their gay icons.
But there’s an emergence of young, out and proud artists who are unapologetically LGBTI.
Of course, this is wonderful news, but is there an expectation to only lift up LGBTI artists as gay icons? Similarly, men can be feminists but the masses may not warm to the idea of Justin Trudeau being the feminist icon of our generation.
Definitions of gay icons
By its very definition: ‘A gay icon is a public figure (historical or present) who is embraced by many within lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.
‘Some of the main qualities of a gay icon often include glamor, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and androgyny in presentation.
‘Such icons can be of any sexual orientation or gender; if LGBT, they can be out or not,’ Wikiwand states.
This is certainly true for Kylie Minogue. I saw her live in concert and was instantly in love. The costumes were crazy and her fans were even crazier.
She has a longstanding commitment to the LGBTI community and even refused to get married to her partner until same-sex marriage was legal in Australia.
She’s also overcome breast cancer and heartbreak, with the tenacity of a fighter. She’s loyal to her LGBTI fanbase, through her natural charm and unbelievably positive attitude.
She told the Advocate: ‘I didn’t become a gay icon or become popular in the gay community for doing something specific. That happened just because I was being myself.
‘When I’m on tour, I think there’s a little bit of everything there. From a row of muscle Marys and drag queens to dads, moms, grandmas, and three generations of girls – everyone is there,’ she said.
I could go on, but I digress.
The definition continues by explaining the historical aspect of gay icon status. It says gay icons were typically elevated to the status because their sexuality remained a mystery. This was certainly true for Marlon Brando and James Dean.
This reluctance to live free and openly is on the decline, as newer generations grow up on out and proud celebrities.
No one can tell you who you idolize is wrong
This shift in mentality proves a strong shift in the definition, so it’s really up to you as an individual.
Gay icons are a personal choice. There will never be one universal icon that the whole LGBTI community agrees on.
You and your collective group of friends may consider someone a gay icon, but you cannot tell a whole generation who their gay icon should be.
So if you want Ariana Grande as the gay icon of your generation, go for it. But if you want to raise the voices of queer artists, then by all means, give the title to someone like Troye Sivan or Sam Smith.
Heck, these days even a cult horror movie character, Babadook, can be a gay icon. You do you.