Barbra Streisand | Film and TV | Gay Iconography | Judy Garland

Gay Iconography: Does Judy Still Matter?


The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot, but what does that really mean? Welcome to Gay Iconography, a new feature where we present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts. So far we've looked at two pivotal television figures from the '90s (Rickie Vasquez from 'My So-Called Life' and Roseanne), but this week we tackle the heaviest of heavy hitters.

Any conversation about gay icons of past, present or future would simply be incomplete without mention of the legendary Judy Garland.

Whether it was the voice, the glamour, the tragedy or the ugly-duckling mentality, Judy has become the archetype for everything we expect a gay icon to be. While some younger generations may not identify as strongly with Judy personally, hers is the story we measure all other icons against.

Take a stroll down the old yellow brick road, relive some moments from Garland's career, and share your thoughts, AFTER THE JUMP...


As a young star working for MGM, Judy had a string of successes working with Mickey Rooney. The breakneck pace of cranking out film after film for the studio laid the groundwork for Judy's tragic struggle with drugs, having been given pills as a child star to keep up. These early years also reinforced the idea that Judy was not a conventional beauty. She was made to wear caps on her teeth and rubber discs in her nostrils, and also called fat and a hunchback. 



An iconic song in any context, Over the Rainbow was declared No. 1 on the Recording Industry Association of America and National Endowment for the Arts' "Songs of the Century" list, as well as No. 1 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years … 100 Songs." It's also a quintessential gay anthem, telling the story of what it means to dream of a place where one truly fits in. It (at least partially) inspired the Rainbow Flag we fly today, and cemented Judy into the bedrock of the community with "friend of Dorothy" becoming synonymous with being gay. Many even say that Judy's death was part of the impetus for the Stonewall Riots.



It's hard not to love this over-the-top performance from 1949's In the Good Old Summertime. It even maintains its campy charm in GIF.



Even the banter that Judy shares with Barbra Streisand before this performance on The Judy Garland Show embodies a sort of self-aware humor and diva attitude one expects from icons. Once they start singing, however, the electric energy between those incredible voices reminds us while not all gay icons are as immensely talented, the legends are. 



Long before Mariah Carey cornered the holiday music market with "All I Want For Christmas," this classic from Meet Me In St. Louis was essential listening to make the yuletide gay.

Does Judy's legend still feel as relevant to the gay community today? Why do you think some folks are reluctant to identify with Judy Garland? Sound off in the comments.

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  1. This headline is puzzling. Does she still "matter?" In what way? If you mean, is she relevant as a beloved figure in the gay community, then of course. I sense an implication that the passing of time renders someone irrelevant. Indeed, it does not.

    Posted by: Jack M | Nov 22, 2013 2:03:04 PM

  2. I think that the reason modern gay men don't identify strongly with Judy Garland is pretty obvious. They are male, they are not women. They have plenty of gay male stars out there to look up to now, and they don't all come with tragic stories. If I was around 20 again, I would think I'd identify more with NPH or Matt Bomer, who seem to have perfectly normal domestic lives and successful careers, or if you expand the net, someone like Tim Cook.

    Posted by: Joey Y | Nov 22, 2013 2:06:22 PM

  3. If Judy no longer matters, then I'm turning in my gay card.

    Posted by: les | Nov 22, 2013 2:06:34 PM

  4. Put a three year old boy in front of two television monitors. One has Beyonce or Lady Gaga, the other has Judy as Dorothy singing "Over The Rainbow". If the boy is Gay his attention goes to Dorothy...later on he'll learn about Beyonce and Gaga.

    I won't even read what Miss Rick has to say on this subject.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Nov 22, 2013 2:13:18 PM

  5. I think that she may be a "beloved figure in the gay community" for an older segment of the gay community. I would doubt that she is as much of a "beloved" figure for those that hold Lady Gaga, and/or Madonna, or Cher in such high esteem. The passage of time and change has made her less relevant simply because younger gay men have more "divas" to lavish their appreciation upon. JMO

    Posted by: *****overTX | Nov 22, 2013 2:14:29 PM

  6. I obtained my gay card without even knowing why I should find Judy Garland relevant. I'm still not sure.

    Posted by: jeo | Nov 22, 2013 2:16:21 PM

  7. She matters because one hears every emotional moment of her life in every single note she sings. She was the consummate performer. The Best.

    Posted by: throwslikeagirl | Nov 22, 2013 2:17:30 PM

  8. What ThrowsLikeAGirl said.

    Posted by: Gerry | Nov 22, 2013 2:19:46 PM

  9. She matters to the gays who are paragons of culture and taste :D

    I dunno, it's one of those things - being gay doesn't mean you have to love Judy, and loving Judy doesn't mean that you're gay. And yet many of us "family" do love her. Her voice was amazing. Judgment at Nuremberg is amazing. Oz is ICONIC. THAT SONG is iconic.

    There will people of every generation who dismiss what came before, or during, or after "their time" - then there are lil'mos like me who have always had a fascination with icons - be Karen Black, Quentin Crisp, Sal Mineo, Barbra, etc.

    Here's what Judy has become to mean to me, as I've grown - I look at her and wonder what I'd have felt had I been a young gay man growing up in *her* heyday....I often think about things like that: if i was the age I am now, back in the 40s/50s/60s/70s/etc.... what would have been my escape, who would have been my inspirations, what would have been the art and music i turned to in a time when the world was against *me*.

    I'm thankful that Judy, and others, were there for you - my elder gay brothers and sisters, as whatever inspiration you gleaned from those icons you put into your lives, and your lives opened the doors for ME.

    i tip my hat to y'all, and all who inspired you.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Nov 22, 2013 2:20:58 PM

  10. She still matters to me, but younger gays have divas today they follow and adore the way gay men 30+ love Judy.

    Posted by: Francis | Nov 22, 2013 2:24:04 PM

  11. I had not heard of this actress till I just read this post, although I am fairly certain I saw the 'Wizard of Oz' movie as a kid (but none of the other movies referenced). Was she openly gay? I can say with great certainty that most gay people under 45 have not heard of this actor or realize she was a gay civil rights activist. No gay person in my generation (Generation X) cares about this Garland actor in any way, shape, or form. The gay icons known by my generation include Barack Obama, Gene Robinson, Lou Reed, Ellen Degeneres, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, James Franco, Macklemore, Anderson Cooper, Jason Collins, Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno, Nancy Pelosi, Mary Bonauto, Bayard Rustin, Robbie Rogers, Anderson Cooper, Gavin Newsom, and Edith Windsor.

    Posted by: DB | Nov 22, 2013 2:28:04 PM

  12. This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but not all gay men are the same age. To gentlemen of a certain age who are "friends of Dorothy" she will always "matter" and the question is absurd.

    Posted by: BZ | Nov 22, 2013 2:31:39 PM

  13. I'm 45 and she has never mattered to me. Not trying to be mean, just honest. I've never seen the attraction. The same with Barbra Streisand. Now, Lynda Carter and Dolly Parton--they're a different story!

    Posted by: Michael W. | Nov 22, 2013 2:34:57 PM

  14. DB's troll post is HILARIOUS.

    "Yes. No gay person under 45 has heard of Judy Garland. Riiiight"

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Nov 22, 2013 2:35:35 PM

  15. The whole concept of a "diva" mattering to me is a bit strange.

    Posted by: apagar | Nov 22, 2013 2:36:16 PM

  16. I don't like Judy, Barbara, Madonna, or Gaga. Guess I'm not really gay.

    Posted by: David | Nov 22, 2013 2:38:14 PM

  17. Well said, Little Kiwi, and thank you for saying it.

    Posted by: Elsewhere1010 | Nov 22, 2013 2:38:24 PM

  18. It's more of a generational thing.

    Reckon I am over Lady Gaga and most divas anyways.

    Posted by: Sam | Nov 22, 2013 2:47:07 PM

  19. JUDY will always matter to me more than MADONNA, CHER OR GAGA - nice to see an article here about a diva other than these three!!!

    Posted by: Lulu | Nov 22, 2013 2:48:32 PM


    Posted by: Mark Barnes | Nov 22, 2013 3:04:21 PM

  21. If reading these comments on a regular basis doesn't make you wanna turn in your gay card, nothing will. I like Judy Garland because she was a gifted vocalist. None of the others mentioned here are either of those things... *perhaps* with the exception of Beyoncé.

    Posted by: kaccompany | Nov 22, 2013 3:04:30 PM

  22. She was relevant only because there was a cohort of alcoholic, drug-using, lonely gays who suffered from mood disorders and saw themselves as quasi-women. Accordingly, they identified with an alcoholic, drug-using, lonely, woman with mood disorders.

    Fortunately, she is gone, that era is gone, and those afflicted gay men and their destructive attitudes are mostly gone.

    Posted by: Matt | Nov 22, 2013 3:05:58 PM

  23. Like Michael W., I'm 45. And Judy has always mattered to me. Even as a little kid, she was my first favorite celebrity. I grew up without electricity, but every year we went to my aunt's house to watch "The Wizard of Oz." I didn't know she was a gay icon. I didn't understand that these crushes I had on boys meant I was gay. I was only a year old when she died. But somehow, Judy Garland still spoke to me.

    Posted by: Kevin_BGFH | Nov 22, 2013 3:07:35 PM

  24. Kiwi, I am confused by your comment. You write as if you weren't around in the 1960s. I've seen your pics. Either you were around in Judy's time or someone left you out in the sun too long!

    Posted by: Babs | Nov 22, 2013 3:09:01 PM

  25. Wow, Matt. So you think that the epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse suffered at the hands of gays and lesbians are mostly gone?
    You have never been to a treatment facility? An AA Meeting? An NA Meeting? I am assuming. Much like yourself.

    Posted by: Mitch | Nov 22, 2013 3:09:45 PM

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