Over the years, many Hollywood celebs have made an impact in the LGBTQ+ community. From their songs to their advocacy, these stars have become cultural icons for queer people everywhere. Wonderwall.com is taking a look at a few of them, starting with this pop star… From her killer style to her infectious songs, Ariana Grande has steadily established herself as one of the music industry’s most beloved gay icons. In addition to incorporating voguing — a style of dance that gained prominence at drag competitions — in live performances of her tracks like “Be Alright,” the former “Victorious” actress has also long been outspoken about her support for the LGBTQ+ community. Keep reading for more…
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Cher gained a significant gay following in the ’70s and ’80s with the release of numerous chart-topping songs and her penchant for flamboyant performance costumes and leather ensembles. She became a favorite star to imitate at drag performances and was one of the first celebs to bring drag to the masses when she hired two female impersonators to perform with her during her Las Vegas residency in 1979. Her status as an LGBTQ+ icon was solidified when she publicly supported her transgender son, Chaz Bono, during his transition.
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Freddie Mercury is one of rock music’s most celebrated gay icons. The Queen frontman, who never publicly came out, often sported flamboyant outfits and hairstyles and playfully alluded to his sexuality with campy stage performances. Freddie, who was very private, quietly dated partner Jim Hutton throughout the ’80s. The music star died in 1991 from AIDS-related illnesses.
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It’s no surprise that RuPaul is considered one of the most beloved gay icons of all-time. While he in recent years gained more fame as the host of the long-running Emmy-winning reality competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Ru was an icon way before that. After moving to New York City, he became a prominent name in the LGBTQ+ nightclub scene and released a hit single recorded by his drag queen persona, “Supermodel (You Better Work),” which was also part of his 1993 debut studio album, “Supermodel of the World.” A year later, he was named a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics and raised money for the MAC AIDS Fund, after which he began hosting his own VH1 talk show, “The RuPaul Show,” beginning in 1996. RuPaul has left a lasting mark on the LGBTQ community — in fact, Fortune branded him “easily the world’s most famous” drag performer.
Judy Garland is arguably the most famous gay icon. In fact, The Advocate referred to her as “the Elvis of homosexuals.” The singer-actress gained a huge gay fanbase with her films and many gay men felt that they could relate to her personal struggles. Her legendary movie “The Wizard of Oz” also contributed to her status as a gay icon. In the 1950s, the term “Is he a friend of Dorothy?” was slang in the gay community for “Is he gay?” In the 1939 film, Judy’s character, Dorothy, befriends a group of odd or “queer” friends, which is how the term came to be.
Like her mother, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli is also a popular gay icon. LGBTQ+ fans have embraced Liza for her vocals, vulnerability and those stunning lashes. Liza’s performance in 1972’s “Cabaret,” which depicts bisexuality, solidified her status as one of Hollywood’s gay idols.
Sir Elton John has been a gay icon for decades, long before he publicly came out as gay in the ’90s. The British music legend was first embraced by the LGBTQ+ community in the 1970s when he came out as bisexual and began sporting over-the-top, flamboyant costumes on stage. In 1992, he confirmed he’s gay and launched the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $600 million for HIV/AIDS programs across the globe. He married his longtime partner, David Furnish, in 2014.
Madonna has been a powerful force within the gay community since the 1980s. The pop star, who began going to gay bars as a teen, presented sexual taboos in her lyrics, music videos and image. Madonna was also one of the first major superstars to show support for the LGBTQ+ community during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Diana Ross is one of the most famous gay icons ever thanks to her festive costumes, campy movies and fun music. The Motown singer starred in one of the campiest films of the 1970s, “Mahogany,” and later appeared in the embellished, queer-friendly musical “The Wiz.” In 1980, she released what would become one of the biggest gay anthems of all time, “I’m Coming Out.”
Elizabeth Taylor is one of the greatest gay icons because of her glamour, talent and activism. The Hollywood star initially gained a gay following in the ’50s and ’60s thanks to her legendary films and stunning style and grace. However, it was her HIV/AIDS activism that gave her icon status. She was one of the first celebrities to advocate for the cause and co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985 and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. “[I] decided that with my name, I could open certain doors, that I was a commodity in myself — and I’m not talking as an actress,” she told Vanity Fair. “I could take the fame I’d resented and tried to get away from for so many years — but you can never get away from it — and use it to do some good. I wanted to retire, but the tabloids wouldn’t let me. So I thought: If you’re going to screw me over, I’ll use you.” She helped raise more than $270 million for the cause and her estate — she died in 2011 — continues to fund the ETAF’s work, donating 25% of her royalties to the foundation.
Barbra Streisand began her career performing in a gay nightclub, The Lion, in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and her status as a gay idol has only grown from there. She’s since gained a massive gay fanbase with her legendary music and films and became an LGBTQ+ advocate when she publicly supported her gay son, Jason Gould, in 1999. “I would never wish for my son to be anything but what he is,” she told The Advocate. “He is bright, kind, sensitive, caring and a very conscientious and good person. He is a very gifted actor and filmmaker. What more could a parent ask for in their child? I have been truly blessed.”
Like Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler started her career in the gay community. The vocal powerhouse first began singing in the Continental Baths, a New York City gay bathhouse where she built a core following in the ’70s. “Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I’m still proud of those days,” she told the Houston Voice. “I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward.” Bette is still celebrated as a gay icon thanks to her stand-out vocals and campy characters.
Janet Jackson was first embraced by the gay community in the 1980s but it was the release of 1997’s “The Velvet Rope” that confirmed her gay idol status. The album spoke out against homophobia and advocated for same sex love, which led Janet to win the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding music album. She wrote the album’s second single, “Together Again,” after losing a close friend to AIDS and the song has since become a gay anthem. “I don’t mind people thinking that I’m gay or calling me gay. People are going to believe whatever they want. Yes, I hang out at gay clubs, but other clubs too. I go where the music is good. I love people regardless of sexual preference, regardless of race,” she told Ebony at the time.
David Bowie was welcomed by the gay community when he debuted his glam, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s. In 1976, he came out as bisexual, saying “it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” He later walked it back, claiming that he was actually a “closet heterosexual” and was more interested in LBGTQ+ culture as a whole.
Lady Gaga is one of the latest Hollywood stars to emerge as a gay icon. The Oscar winner, who identifies as bisexual, credits the gay community for her early success. Her chart-topping single “Born This Way” is considered a gay anthem and Gaga is a fierce LGBTQ+ advocate, having spoken out against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Pulse nightclub shooting and the military transgender ban. In 2012, she and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, founded the Born This Way Foundation, which supports the mental health and wellness of young people and does a lot of work with LGBTQ+ youth.
Kylie Minogue has been favorite in the LGBTQ+ community since the ’80s. Drag queens in her native Australia began intimating Kylie around this time and her gay fanbase has only grown since then. “My gay audience has been with me from the beginning … they kind of adopted me,” she told VH1. She later said, “I am not a traditional gay icon. There’s been no tragedy in my life, only tragic outfits.”
Prince has been celebrated by the gay community since he first entered the music industry in the early ’80s. Never one to back away from wearing heels, makeup and vibrant clothing, Prince presented an androgynous look that LGBTQ+ fans loved. His music also oozed with sexuality and open sexual expression, which contributed to his position as a gay idol.
Cyndi Lauper is an icon who’s been embraced by both gay men and lesbian women. The pop star gained a large LGBTQ+ following after releasing her 1983 album, “She’s So Unusual”; the No. 1 single “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” has been adopted by many as a lesbian-friendly anthem. “It wasn’t until my sister came out in the early [1970s] that I became more aware of the bigoted slurs and the violence against a community of people… who were gay,” she told The Advocate. Cyndi’s an active gay rights activist and even named her annual music festival True Colors in support of LGBTQ+ issues.
The Village People was a group created specifically for the gay community. The ’70s band was formed to appeal to the the gay disco audience and its members wore costumes to reflect gay-macho fantasies. Consisting of members Randy Jones, David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Victor Willis, Glenn Hughes and Alexander Briley, the Village People had crossover appeal that made them a worldwide phenomenon. Their No. 1 single “Y.M.C.A.” is one of the biggest gay anthems of all time.
Donna Summer was the “it” girl in the gay community in the ’70s. Her disco hits like “Love to Love You Baby” and “Last Dance” were played on repeat in gay clubs and the community’s early support helped to launch her career. “I don’t know if I would have a career if it hadn’t been in some ways for the way ‘Love to Love You Baby’ started off, and everybody jumped on it. It was really in the gay clubs, the song took off — they really embraced that new sound. I have to give credit where credit is due,” she told PrideSource. Donna’s position as a gay icon was damaged in the mid-’80s when rumors were spread that she made anti-gay remarks about HIV/AIDS. She continuously denied the rumors and told The Advocate in 1998, “I’ve lost a lot of friends who have died of AIDS. I’m hurtin’ as much as anyone else at the amount of people who are gone.”
With her powerful vocals, glam attire, diva personality and extravagant lifestyle, Mariah Carey is one of the gay community’s most celebrated icons. Her 1993 single “Hero” is widely regarded as a gay anthem, thanks to its themes of vulnerability and individuality. In 2016, Mariah was honored by GLAAD with its GLAAD Ally Award. “[Thank you] for the unconditional love because it’s very difficult for me to have that. I haven’t experienced much of it… I wish all of you love, peace [and] harmony,” she said during her acceptance speech.
Boy George has refused to conform to traditional gender roles and has been regarded as a gay idol since the ’80s. The British singer often rocks androgynous looks and is known for his fierce makeup and feminine clothing. George came out as bisexual in 1983 and has said that some of Culture Club’s biggest songs have been inspired by his relationships with other men.
Ellen DeGeneres became a gay icon when she publicly came out as a lesbian in the ’90s, a move that soon led to the cancelation of her hugely popular sitcom, “Ellen.” Undeterred, the comedian went on to fight for LGBTQ+ rights and host one of the most popular daytime talk shows of all time, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She married longtime girlfriend Portia De Rossi in 2008.
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