Gay icon

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Saint Sebastian, regarded as a homo-erotic and gay icon[1][2][3]

A gay icon is a public figure who is regarded as a cultural icon by members of the LGBT community.[4] Such figures usually have a devoted LGBT fanbase and act as allies to the LGBT community, often through their work,[4] or they have been "openly appreciative of their gay fanbase".[5] Many gay icons also have a camp aesthetic style, which is part of their appeal to LGBT individuals.[6]

The most widely recognized gay icons tend to be celebrities—actresses and singers—who have garnered large LGBT fanbases, such as Judy Garland, Madonna, Janet Jackson, or Cher. However, the label can also be applied to individuals in politics, sports, literature, and other mediums, as well as historical figures deemed relatable to LGBT causes. Prominent entertainers considered to be gay icons often incorporate themes of acceptance, self-love, and sexuality in their work. Gay icons of all orientations within the LGBTQ+ community have acknowledged the role that their gay fans have played in their success.

Variations and terminology[edit]

It has been argued that the gay icon label exists primarily for public figures held as cultural icons specifically by gay men.[5] Other labels and variations include:

  • Lesbian icon: A lesbian icon, also referred to as a dykon (a portmanteau of "dyke" and "icon"),[7] is a figure that is regarded as an icon particularly by lesbians.[5] The label has been applied to men such as James Dean and Marlon Brando for their influence on the butch aesthetic for lesbians,[7] and has also been applied to various actresses who have played queer characters on film and television, such as Natasha Lyonne and Cate Blanchett.[5]
  • Queer icon: Historian Mark Nugent defines a queer icon as "a non-heterosexual representation that performs significant ideological work in either naturalizing or challenging popular constructs of the 'queer'."[8]


Multiple characters and celebrities have been hailed as gay icons through tongue-in-cheek internet memes. Some of these characters have been horror antagonists such as Ma, Annabelle, The Babadook, M3GAN and Pennywise the clown.[9][10][11]


Madonna at the 24th GLAAD Media Awards in New York City in 2013. Dressed as a Cub Scout in protest of the ban on homosexual Scouts and Scout leaders

Many celebrities have responded positively to being regarded as gay icons, several noting the loyalty of their gay fans. Eartha Kitt and Cher have credited gay fans with keeping them going at times when their careers had faltered.[12]

Madonna has performed at several gay-related events and acknowledged the influence of her LGBT fan base: "I wouldn't have a career if it weren't for the gay community".[13] Kylie Minogue has acknowledged the perception of herself as a gay icon and has performed at such events as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Asked to explain the reason for her large gay fanbase, Minogue replied, "It's always difficult for me to give the definitive answer because I don't have it. My gay audience has been with me from the beginning ... they kind of adopted me." She noted that she differed from many gay icons who were seen as tragic figures, with the comment, "I've had a lot of tragic hairdos and outfits. I think that makes up for it!"[14]

Lady Gaga at a vigil for the homophobic Orlando attacks in 2016

Lady Gaga has acknowledged and credited her gay following for launching then supporting her career stating, among other examples, "When I started in the mainstream it was the gays that lifted me up", and that "because of the gay community I'm where I am today." As a way to thank her gay audience for allowing her to perform her first album in gay clubs before she was invited to perform at straight ones, she often debuted her new albums at gay clubs. Along her career, she also dedicated a MuchMusic Video Award win, as well as her Alejandro music video, to gay people, frequently praised her gay entourage for the positive impact they had on her life and often gave a place to different queer crowds in her songs, performances, music videos as well as in the visuals of her make up line. Lady Gaga is known for her fights as an LGBT activist and attended numerous LGBT events such as Prides and Stonewall day.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

Madonna has acknowledged and embraced her gay following throughout her career, even making several references to the gay community in her songs or performances, and performed at several gay clubs. She has declared in interviews that some of her best friends are gay and that she adores gay people and refers to herself as "the biggest gay icon of all times."[22] She also has been quoted in television interviews in the early 1990s as declaring the "big problem in America at the time was homophobia."

Geri Halliwell has consistently acknowledged and accepted her status as a gay icon throughout her career as both a solo artist and member of the Spice Girls, describing a "kinship" with the gay community and her love and respect for her LGBTQ fans.[23][24]

In August 2020, Lea Salonga responded to her gay icon tag, saying, "I'm not actually sure how I am."[25] In the same interview, she continued, "Is it that I stand up for gay rights? Is it that I have siblings, cousins who are also members of the LGBT community?" She has also acknowledged the LGBT presence in musical theatre and stated that she has worked closely with members of the LGBT community for her entire career.[26] In September 2022, after playing the role of a queer mom Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, she said that "if there is someone for whom this really resonates, and see these characters and go 'Oh my gosh, that's me, and I'm not treated as a joke,' it's great."[27]


Many moments or pieces created by public figures are also characterized to be iconic and, as such, give the creators the title of Gay Icon. The works produced are then used and adopted into individual's lives and are then recognized long after their date of creation.

Lady Gaga has been reported to make unique decisions when creating expressions of herself that gather the attention of others.[28] One of her many songs, Born this Way, caught the attention of the LGBT community in which it had been written to express the ups and downs of life for the community and other minor groups as well as herself. As such, her song has become an iconic choice by the LGBT community, which has adopted and used to express themselves.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arrows of desire: How did St Sebastian become an enduring, homo-erotic icon?". The Independent. 2008-02-10. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  2. ^ "Subjects of the Visual Arts: St. Sebastian". 2002. Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  3. ^ Kaye, Richard A. (1996). "Losing His Religion: Saint Sebastian as Contemporary Gay Martyr". Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. Peter Horne and Reina Lewis, Eds. New York: Routledge. 86: 105. doi:10.4324/9780203432433_chapter_five.
  4. ^ a b Artavia, David (June 27, 2022). "What makes Judy Garland a gay icon? Experts explain what she and others, from Diana Ross to Madonna, have in common". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on November 16, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Perry, Grace (October 24, 2019). "The Problem With Queer Thirst For Straight Celebrities". BuzzFeed News. BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on October 15, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  6. ^ Lenker, Maureen Lee (June 29, 2022). "How Judy Garland became a gay icon — and why she endures as one". Entertainment Weekly. Dotdash Meredith. Archived from the original on August 12, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  7. ^ a b Jones, Daisy (September 18, 2020). "Can Men Be Lesbian Icons? An Investigation". Vice. Vice Media. Archived from the original on December 10, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  8. ^ Nugent, Mark (2008). "From 'Filthy Catamite' to 'Queer Icon': Elagabalus and the Politics of Sexuality (1960–1975)". Helios. 35 (2): 171–196. doi:10.1353/hel.0.0009. ISSN 1935-0228. S2CID 153476781.
  9. ^ "The Babadook: how the horror movie monster became a gay icon". The Guardian. 11 June 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2022.
  10. ^ Kirkland, Justin (15 October 2022). "The Creepy Robot From 'M3GAN' Is an Instant Queer Icon". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 December 2022.
  11. ^ "The Internet Thinks Pennywise from "It" Is a Gay Icon and DATING the Babadook". Teen Vogue. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2022.
  12. ^ Rutledge, Leigh W. (2003). The Gay Book of Lists, 3rd Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Publications. pp. 87–88. ISBN 1-55583-740-9.
  13. ^ Gaedeke, Emma (November 9, 2010). "Madonna: 'I Wouldn't Have a Career If It Weren't for the Gay Community'". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 4, 2022. Retrieved August 7, 2022.
  14. ^ Ives, Brian; Bottomley, C. (24 February 2004). "Kylie Minogue: Disco's Thin White Dame". Archived from the original on April 15, 2004. Retrieved 21 January 2007.
  15. ^ Nichols, James Michael (25 March 2017). "Lady Gaga: Gay Men 'Helped Me Become A Woman'". HuffPost. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Lady Gaga: 'I Really Wouldn't Be Here Without the Gay Community'". 10 September 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  17. ^ "Why gays love Gaga". 24 May 2012.
  18. ^ "The Lady Is a Vamp". 28 March 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  19. ^ Mandell, Andrea. "Lady Gaga and her stylist have a 4 a.m. kind of friendship". USA Today. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  20. ^ "12 Times Lady Gaga Showed Love for the LGBTQ Community". Billboard. 20 September 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Lady Gaga Honored For LGBT Work". Look to the Stars. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  22. ^ "Madonna: 'I hope I'm still a gay icon'". 26 October 2005. Archived from the original on 28 October 2005. Retrieved 1 August 2007.
  23. ^ Crowley, Patrick (19 June 2017). "Geri Halliwell Premieres George Michael Tribute, Talks 'Spice World' & LGBTQ Fanbase". Billboard. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  24. ^ "Attitude's Honourary Gay Award: Geri Horner". Attitude. 10 October 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  25. ^ Bernardino, Stephanie (27 August 2020). "Lea Salonga on gay icon tag, how she deals with pandemic". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  26. ^ Salonga, Lea (13 March 2013). "Time to see gay people in a different light". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  27. ^ "Lea Salonga Celebrates Queer Representation on 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin' | Pride Today". YouTube. 20 September 2022. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  28. ^ "Unlock Your Marketing Magic: The Surprising Lessons Lady Gaga's Authenticity Holds for Your Brand". Retrieved 2023-10-23.
  29. ^ Werde, Bill (2011-02-18). "Lady Gaga 'Born This Way' Cover Story". Billboard. Retrieved 2023-10-10.


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