The Gayest Ads in History


Adweek looks at gay advertising's long march out of the closet:

After years of baby steps toward LGBT consumers, who represent an estimated $790 billion in spending power, brands like Crate & Barrel, American Airlines and even Bridgestone tires have brought their marketing out of the closet, picturing same-sex couples that are unquestionably more than just friends. While it may seem like such ads rode a cultural wave of gay acceptance that began with Will & Grace and crested with Glee, it is actually a trend that was decades in the making, and a look back through advertising's dusty annals reveals images of startlingly frank male-on-male intimacy dating back to the early 20th century.

And make sure not to miss their choices for the 16 gayest ads in history, starting with the one above:

J.C. Leyendecker—the most successful commercial artist of the 1920s, and also a gay man—often seasoned his work with surprisingly sexual male-on-male imagery, such as this WWII Navy recruiting poster (complete with stripped-down sailors and that suggestively positioned projectile). It’s a testament to how thoroughly invisible the gay community was at this time that the military brass who OK’d this ad didn’t even see it as suggestive.

With regard to my previous post, it's interesting how the gay angle in military recruiting ads has evolved.


  1. Sam says

    I think, based on the signature on the bottom left and how the paint was handled, this should be attributed to JC Leyendecker’s brother, FX Leyendecker. But nevertheless, both are stellar painters and JC Leyendecker’s life long partner, Charles Beach should also be mentioned as he was whom JC based his Arrow Collar men’s advertising on, which catapulted both the brand and the painter. It’s a great love story on it’s own accord too, how JC first saw Charles was when FX hired him as a model and things just took off from then on, together until JC’s death and Charles soon followed him a year later out of heartbreak.

  2. Joseph says

    What a coincidence: I just bought this Leyendecker print at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City over the weekend. (And, yeah, this poster is from WWI, not WWII.)

  3. Michael Bedwell says

    Yes, there’s no excuse for the author not noticing the signature on the first ad which makes plain it’s by JC [Joseph Christian] Leyendecker’s brother FX [Francis Xavier] Leyendecker. And, it has to be WWI because FX died before WWII, in 1924. The date, on its face, is hard to pin down as that of so many of their illustrations because the men look so “modern.” Check out some actual photos of sailors in WWI and you’ll see very few looked like this. The same can be said for the majority of leading men, so to speak, in their civilian scenario ads, too. JC, especially, is unmistakably responsible for creating what most still think of as the classically handsome Caucasian male. As for “author and professor” Bruce Joffe’s assertion that “There was just no sensibility about gay people [during WWII],” that’s painfully, unforgivably idiotic for many reasons. One is that it was during WWII that the American military first created a policy against gay men as a “class” serving, adding to an existing statute against acts of “sodomy.” On their way to gather those palm fronds, the nude soldiers in the ad “camping” it up could well have passed a “queer stockade” where anyone discovered to be gay was often sent.

  4. Acronym Jim says

    The only phrases that came to mind when I looked at the ad were:

    “FIRE IN THE HOLE” and


    Thanks for the chuckle.