Top 25 Gay Icons
This is my list of top 25 gay icons. In order to be a gay icon, the person must have some kind of influence in the public eye. They could be nearly universally loved by the gay community, hold political influence and support LGBT issues, be a member of the LGBT community while holding strong celebrity status, or several other qualifying factors. I did rank them as well as I could and many did not make the top 25. If you disagree with the people in the top 25 or think someone else should be in it or if you have a problem or disagreement with the order, please feel free to comment. I'd love to hear your opinions. Be respectful please. Let me know what you think and if I have made a terrible mistake in forgetting someone who clearly belongs in the top 25. I will absolutely edit this list if you make a good enough argument. Remember this is from the perspective of a 22 year old gay man and generational, gender, and sexual orientation differences will effect opinions. These are my top 25, but I am open to slight changes.
1. Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen is the most influential person in the LGBT community as she opened doors for people to feel comfortable to come out of the closet. Her celebrity and popularity across so many types of people exposed homosexuality to the masses and allowed people to see it as normal and acceptable. She inspires people to be true to who they are and not feel ashamed of it. Ellen is a pioneer in making her sexuality fun and entertaining. So many people worry about being politically correct and avoid discussing homosexuality, but Ellen stepped up and laughs at it. She is open and has no problem making jokes about sexuality and making it completely acceptable and casual. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are truly insecure. Her personality and celebrity has been critical in making homosexuality acceptable and normal to discuss. Ellen has so many fans and people in the LGBT community who look to her as a role model and she does it secondary to her true profession of being hilarious and amazing. She proves that it is ok to be gay and still live a normal life without shame or guilt.
2. Cyndi Lauper
Oh, what can I say that will do her justice? Cyndi may not seem as relevant to my generation and future generations, but she will always be a critical and relevant gay icon to me. Her music has always been popular and adored by the gay community and has made reference to gay activism and pride (ie “True Colors”). She has opened her life and work to supporting gay rights including opening a shelter for young homeless gay people, supporting gay charities including giving them exposure on “Celebrity Apprentice”, and she has been in countless pride campaigns and parades. She has been so influential in supporting the LGBT community and is the original diva in a long line of pop artists who have followed her lead in gay icon status including Madonna, Britney, and Gaga. She is truly a legend and one of the greatest gay icons of all-time.
3. Britney Spears
What, ahead of Madonna?!? Britney has taken after Madonna and in my opinion surpassed her. Britney’s music is provocative and sexually unapologetic. Her attitude is loved and revered by many. She is well known to have a large gay following and has never shied away from it. She has become a true diva and surpassed Madonna (her hero) on my list of gay icons. Madonna is amazing, but has faded slightly to the younger sensation and Britney has had great success in her musical career that has equaled if not surpassed the great Madonna. Britney may fade as an icon unless she truly follows Madonna’s lead as an advocate for LGBT rights and issues.
Don’t count her out. Madonna is still a top gay icon. She will never fade out of the top 5 completely due to her work to support the LGBT community. She has lent her support to AIDS research and has always been proud to have a large gay following. She’s a true diva who came on the scene with the great Cyndi Lauper. Madonna has much of the same style as Cyndi, but does separate her own distinct style and individual start status. Britney and Madonna will always go hand in hand with their kiss at the MTV Music Awards in 2003. Madonna has not completely faded from the pop scene as she has produced recent hits like Music, Hung Up, and 4 Minutes. She is a legend in the LGBT community and inspired many as evident in Britney Spears.
5. Sir Elton John
Sir Elton is one of the greatest musicians of all-time regardless of sexual orientation. He is a musical genius and proud gay man. He has been open and strong forever. His music has reached so many people and opened their eyes to a gay man who may be different for them, but can still be a great man. He has been a great advocate for the LGBT community and AIDS research. Elton has been an inspiration to many and his music has touched millions. He has opened eyes since the 60’s and has never faded making him a legend and eternal gay icon.
6. Adam Lambert
He’s new, hot, talented, gay, and casual. Adam is a new icon that has jumped to the top of the list. I was hesitant to put him in the top 10 because he is so new, but he has already had a huge effect. He was a star on American Idol where it was not necessary for him to come out. He was not hiding it nor advertising it making his homosexuality just as important as him being a man. It wasn’t valid to the competition. He went on to cause controversy (almost a requirement to gain gay icon status) at the AMA’s with a very sexually provocative performance topped off with a kiss between Lambert and his male keyboardist. The controversy around the Madonna-Britney kiss did not have nearly the same negative reaction as this kiss. Adam made no apologies for the kiss because there is plenty worse explicit material on television much earlier in the day that kids watch on a regular basis. Lambert has never shied away from his sexuality and has not felt the need to make his career about his sexuality. Many have taken issue with his not using his new celebrity status to further the cause. I see him as furthering equality by just being himself. He’s a talented musician who happens to be gay and proud of it. I hope that in the future he does lend support to gay activism, but for the time being, his career is young and activism isn’t necessary. His music and personality alone makes him a current top gay icon.
She has had a gay following forever. She embraces it and has been inspiring to many a drag queen. She’s a sexually provocative diva with a bitchy unapologetic attitude making her loved by many gay men everywhere. Her music is amazing and has stretched across the decades making her a long lasting diva and pop superstar having had a number one hit in every decade since 1960. Her daughter, Chastity Bono, coming out as a lesbian, only elevated her gay icon status. Cher did not have the easiest time with the news, but she eventually accepted her daughter and became even more involved in the gay community to support equality and fight for equal rights. Chastity is herself a bit of a gay icon with her coming out as a lesbian and transition to becoming a man, Chaz Bono. I, however, feel that Cher is the reason that Chaz is relevant as an icon so Cher is the one who gets the true gay icon status with Chaz grouped with her.
8. Lady Gaga
Gaga is the next in line behind Lauper, Madonna, and Britney. She is new to fame having only come out with one album thus far (“Fame”/”The Fame Monster”). She has already become a bit of a diva but hasn’t quite reached that level. She has a large gay following and her sexually provocative and unapologetic attitude are the reasons why. She is an artist with a seriously original style. Her wardrobe is always fresh and entertaining. She has taken after Cyndi Lauper where Britney took after Madonna. Gaga is already very supportive of her gay following as shown by her defense of a young man who wore a “Lady Gay Gay” shirt to school and was sent home. She will undoubtedly continue to support gay rights and move in the direction Lauper did. Gaga is new and young, but has unlimited potential and has the ability to surpass Madonna, Britney, and dare I say it, even Lauper as one of the greatest gay icons/divas of all-time. She has not had a long enough career to be at the same level of musical talent as the three (especially Lauper) but given time I expect her to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats.
9. Betty White
Betty became an icon in the gay community when she co-starred in the hit sitcom “The Golden Girls”. I can’t put my finger on it, but this show was immensely popular among gay men. I love the show and Betty says that 90% of her fan mail is actually from college aged or younger audiences. She has been very welcoming of her gay following and the support has been so great that a movement was formed to get her as host of SNL. The movement worked and she will host SNL in May, 2010. She is a legend in television and movies and has never shied away from discussing sexually explicit material or humor. Her personality and laughter is so contagious and she has been adopted as a legendary gay icon.
10. Rachel Maddow
The first political figure in the top 25, Maddow is the first openly gay anchor on a primetime news program. She is a political commentator who hosts her own television and radio shows. She has great political influence, but not without controversy. She was rumored to be running for office in Massachusetts, but furiously denied them. She has been attacked for being an extreme liberal and is not helped by the fact that she is on MSNBC, which is extremely left wing biased. She, however, does her best to remain neutral but does not shy away from expressing her opinion. She is liberal just by listening to her, but she also supports many traditionally conservative issues like national security and the military. She is a pioneer in journalism just by being gay, though it does not dominate her shows. She is a political commentator and not a gay commentator. She, like Lambert prefers to make her sexuality a casual thing and not the focus of her career. Her status and openness makes her a gay icon and clear role model to round out the top 10.
11. Margaret Cho
Cho is well known by many in the LGBT community for her stand-up. She is very proud of her gay following and has plenty of material based on sexuality and homosexuality. She is raunchy and controversial. She is hilarious and active in supporting equality. She has won several humanitarian awards for he work for the LGBT community. Her celebrity is mostly as a comedian but has also been in cinema and does have some serious pull. She is a great asset to the community and her following would undoubtedly call her an icon.
12. Kathy Griffin
Much like Cho, Griffin is a comic with a huge gay following. Griffin is actually better known than Cho, but is also more polarizing and that is why I put her just behind Cho. Griffin is bitchy, unapologetic, raunchy, and a star. Her celebrity is self proclaimed “D-List” but is much higher than that because of her constant presence in pop culture. She is proud to have a large gay following and has been active in supporting AIDS research and has protested against Prop 8 and worked to further the push for equality. She is no doubt an icon in the community.
13. George Michael
The pop sensation was secretive about his sexuality at first until coming out in the 90’s with controversy with an arrest for “engaging in a lewd act”. The charges are not important, but the public perception now made his homosexuality clear. He has since been very open and proud of his homosexuality and his music shows that (ie “Jesus to a Child”, written for a former lover who died of AIDS related complications). Michael has been an advocate for LGBT rights and AIDS research through fundraising concerts and tours. His imperfections, experiences, talent, and dedication make him a great gay icon.
14. Freddie Mercury
Well, being the lead singer of Queen doesn’t leave much doubt. Openly gay rock star, Mercury, is one of the great original icons of this list. He was not always so blunt with his sexuality and sometimes-claimed bisexual. Regardless, he was a strong icon in the LGBT community, especially after his death. He hid his diagnosis of HIV+ and was not as influential in AIDS advocacy to the public, though it is said he was very involved behind the scenes. After his death in 1991, Queen became much more popular in the US and the band then started a foundation in his honor devoted to AIDS research and education. Mercury has influenced other musicians including Lambert on this list. His rock star status separates him from the pop trend and opens up the rock world to sexuality diversity. Mercury sadly didn’t become the true icon until after his death, but will be remembered as one of the greats.
15. Oprah Winfrey
Regardless of the rumors over her own sexuality, Oprah is a great leader for LGBT issues. She has devoted a large number of episodes of her talk show to LGBT issues and fights for equality. She is the most powerful woman in the world and if she did come out as a lesbian or bisexual, she would jump to near the top of this list, but that is not necessary for her to be an incredible advocate for LGBT issues. Her sexuality is not important when you consider the work she does for the community and power she has to influence the masses. Her power and support alone make her a gay icon.
16. Neil Patrick Harris
Well known actor who many are surprised to find he is gay, Harris is an icon. Doogie came out in 2006 in order to clear up rumors over his sexuality. He has since been more visible in the gay community and has been able to make light of his sexuality as DeGeneres has. He is not as visible or well known as DeGeneres and the others making him lower on the list, but still an icon.
17. James Dean
It is interesting how most gay icons are straight women and gay men. The great James Dean is a slight exception. Dean never addressed his sexuality, but since his death it has come out that he had sexual relationships with both men and women. Many have debated his sexuality whether it be homosexual, bisexual, or even heterosexual and just had relations with men to further his career. We may never know the real truth about James Dean, but the mere controversy makes all sexual orientations more acceptable. Dean was rugged and tough. He was loved and idolized. Dean was sexy and laid back. His fame and persona is well known and the fact that he was likely bisexual makes him a great gay icon due to his effect on the community. Many perceive homosexuality as feminine and perverted. Dean’s persona shows people that even the most idolized, manly, and rugged men can be sexually attracted and involved with other men.
18. Rufus Wainwright
Yet another musician on the list, Wainwright is a gay singer-songwriter who flies under the radar. He is an amazing artist who is well known for his song “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” as well as his beautiful version of the song “Hallelujah”. He is lower on the list due to his lack of visibility, but he is a strong icon and wonderful artist.
19. Julie Andrews
She is well known in the LGBT community for her roles in Marry Poppins and The Sound of Music. Her roles in these films especially have made her adored by the gay community and she has acknowledged this. She has not been a great supporter or advocate, but has accepted her role as a gay icon and finds it interesting that she is both gay icon and family icon. It is a great balance and shows that there is nothing wrong with sexual diversity and that it is very normalized. Andrews roles are considered to be very feminist and positive for women’s movements. Her lack of personal involvement in LGBT issues drops her down the list, but she is still an icon.
20. Princess Diana
She is universally loved. She was one of the most accepting and open individuals in politics. She was loved by many and equaled that love. She was active in so much charity work and believed in equality for all. Nothing I can say will do her justice, so I will just say that she is an icon for all and must be included in this list.
21. Sharon Osbourne
She isn’t always the first person to come to mind when thinking of gay icons. Sharon Osbourne is very bitchy and open. She is provocative and unapologetic. These are common traits for our idols, but Osbourne, along with her daughter Kelly, has been active in supporting gay rights and equality. She has been a strong supporter and her no-nonsense attitude is a great asset. Sharon is loved for her wit and personality and her involvement in LGBT issues cements her as a gay icon.
22. Megan Mullally
Better known as Miss Karen Walker, Mullally has developed a huge gay following. Her role in Will & Grace was hilarious and had every trait we expect in a gay icon. Mullally is not Karen Walker, but she does have a similarly lovable personality and has said she considers herself as bisexual. She is supportive of equality and embraces her gay audience/following. Low on the list, but still present due to her recent popularity and support.
23. Drew Barrymore
Openly bisexual Barrymore is loved by many in the LGBT community. Her persona on-screen and off-screen is exactly what we expect from a gay icon. She’s independent, confident, sometimes bitchy, funny, unapologetic, and all around kick-***. Barrymore is loved by many but not universally known as a gay icon so she falls slightly down the list.
24. Judy Garland
I really don’t need to explain this one. Maybe I only need to explain her rank. Garland is nearly a mascot for gay men, but this list is an attempt to be current. Garland and mainly her role as “Dorothy” is her main reason for icon status, but I feel as though the younger generations including myself don’t relate to her being an icon. Respected as an icon, but not on the same level as more recent icons. Garland is legendary so will always last as an icon, but not as big of an icon as others on the list.
25. Mike Manning
Just cracking the top 25, one of the stars of the “Real World: DC” has become very involved in LGBT issues. Those who watch the show, or at least this season of MTV’s hit series, know why Mike is on this list. He has helped to redefine sexuality. He has labeled himself “Mike-sexual” because of his disdain for labels. Many argue that he is gay and others defend him as bisexual. These people are missing the point. Mike has a difference of sexuality from the mainstream heterosexual and he has become very active in supporting the LGBT community. The show helped show us what HRC (Human Rights Campaign) is and what work can be done by anyone. Mike’s sexuality along with his work for equality and his unbelievable good looks make him a gay icon.