Gay Iconography

Gay Iconography: Don't Call Patti LaBelle A Diva


The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot, but why is it that some figures amass more of a gay audience? Welcome to Gay Iconography, a feature where we present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts. 

"Icon" isn't the only label often overused. It seems like every modern female pop star (and Real Housewife) has now adopted the "diva" title.

Musical legend Patti LaBelle certainly agrees.

In a recent interview, she said the term has been too "loosely" used. She further elaborated, "All these little heifers who can't sing are called divas!"

No longer considering herself a diva, she may be more comfortable as a proud gay icon. Not only has LaBelle's powerful voice, outspoken attitude and outlandish costumes made her a favorite of gay audiences, but she's long been a vocal supporter of the gay community, appearing at Pride events and speaking out on HIV/AIDs. She's been recognized for her relationship to the gay community by GLAAD and amfAR. (Her record with the gay community isn't spotless, however. LaBelle received criticism in 2006 for singing at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, home of noted anti-gay pastor Eddie Long.)

End your week with a few classic clips, and share your thoughts on Miss Patti's icon status, AFTER THE JUMP


We've got Patti's group Labelle to thank for introducing us to "voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir" in their 1975 disco hit, "Lady Marmalade" (the group's largest ever). Watch them slay "Lady Marmalade" on an episode of Soul Train, above. The song rose to prominence in the early-aughts with the Grammy-winning, Christina Aguilera-led No. 1 hit cover.


Before Gaga, before Madonna, Labelle were rocking otherworldly styles. Their unique look definitely made them stand out (and further endeared them to the gay community). When Patti LaBelle went solo in the late '70s, she maintained her outrageous fashions, which were on display during her incredible 1985 television special. She's singing her hit "New Attitude" in the clip above, but you can watch the whole special here.


Patti's singing style can be just as over-the-top as her look. Take this love-it-or-hate-it performance of gay anthem "Over the Rainbow" from The Merv Griffin Show, for instance.


Patti spoke with Oprah about her feud with fellow iconic star Diana Ross. (She spoke about it a lot less nicely here.) Many people were scandalized when -- allegedly -- Diana Ross took the microphone away from LaBelle during the finale of Motown Returns to The Apollo. It's not entirely clear from the clip above, but it's worth watching anyway to see George Michael look entirely out of place and Jesse Jackson carrying Emmanuel Lewis during a massive group singalong of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is."


Journalist Clay Cane sat down with Patti to speak directly about why she thinks she's so beloved to the gay community. You can see highlights from that interview in the video above. She discusses how her outspoken nature and big personality were big factors, as well as lending her support to transgender people. She also expressed concern for R&B singers coming out of the closet. 

Whether she's a diva, an icon, neither or both, tell us why you love (or loathe) Miss Patti in the comments.

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  1. Yet another lame and stupid TW article with the idiotic and banal redundancy: "The phrase 'gay icon' blah blah blah blah blah"...

    Thanks TW for reminding me again why it is I and my friends automatically reject almost everything in the queer media that the queer media uses to differentiate us from everybody else.

    Kill the "gay icons" concept. Kill it NOW.

    You want to know who MY "gay icons" are ? People hardly anybody's ever heard of, people who stood-up for themselves and all of us, who suffered and most of whom passed away without so much as any kind of odious overblown gay media attention.

    Posted by: Just Sayin' | Jan 24, 2014 8:26:55 PM

  2. You should check out Patti LaBelle's duet with Cyndi Lauper from Diva's Live 2004 of Time After Time, it's incredible. Two soul singers belting their hearts out.

    Cyndi Lauper, now there is a gay icon...hint hint.

    Posted by: Thomas | Jan 24, 2014 8:28:54 PM

  3. Great linked article in PrideSource...Patti Labelle dishing on "little heifers" - Hilarious...I wonder who she had in mind.

    I respect that Just Sayin' has an opinion, but I'm comfortable with the term Gay Icon and when it's applied to people like Labelle and her contemporaries. More so, when you consider the actual definition of the word

    The words I would use to describe the ideal that Just Sayin' expressed would be "Gay Heroes"

    Posted by: NotSafeForWork | Jan 24, 2014 8:35:20 PM

  4. No.

    Posted by: Knock | Jan 24, 2014 8:36:54 PM

  5. I suspect the only Gays that would disagree with calling LaBelle a Gay icon are those that think only the ones that cater to White Gay Males are relevant.

    Posted by: sugarrhill | Jan 24, 2014 8:54:42 PM

  6. Patty La belle Was a gay Icon for her time. The 70's and 80's was her best moments. She is an amazing vocalist. She had amazing hair that no one else had. She was definitely was one of those people that many many people in her industry wanted on their albums or jam session with her on stage. She was so unique, and so very her own.I love her. But now? A gay icon? Yes ok, if your 60yrs old maybe...

    Posted by: HAHA-NO | Jan 24, 2014 9:37:35 PM

  7. I'm focused on Emmanuel Lewis (Webster) sitting in Bill Cosby's lap. Remember when Michael Jackson did the same thing at an awards show?

    Patti Labelle is the original Lady Gaga.

    Posted by: Brian in Texas | Jan 24, 2014 9:49:36 PM

  8. SUGARRHILL- you are insane, right" Patti LaBelle not appealing to a white gay male audience? Next you'll say the same about Diana Ross or Chaka Khan. You talk like a fool

    Posted by: enchantra | Jan 24, 2014 10:09:37 PM

  9. Damn, this site talks about supposed gay icons a lot. All the time I come on here there is something about a person/thing that might be a gay icon. What's up with that?

    Posted by: Mike | Jan 24, 2014 10:46:04 PM

  10. OK Ill call her a c*nt because she ripped me off and put on one of the most disappointing concerts I have ever seen.

    Posted by: JWL | Jan 24, 2014 10:53:25 PM

  11. Damn, Mike, you'd think it's like an interesting & popular ongoing series or something. What's up with that?

    Posted by: Rich | Jan 24, 2014 11:11:10 PM

  12. I've watched the "Motown Returns Finale" countless times and it always give me chills and brings tears to my eyes; first for Diana singing one of my favorite songs, and then seeing all of the Motown greats that we've lost throughout the years.

    Posted by: johninpa | Jan 24, 2014 11:25:05 PM

  13. I love Patti Labelle.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Jan 24, 2014 11:28:11 PM

  14. We call you a lot of worse things than "diva" if you want to Patti.

    Posted by: Sam | Jan 24, 2014 11:39:42 PM

  15. Any Patti fans know at what time in her career Patti started to embrace her gay fanbase? Did she do it early on or only relatively recently? This article has me curious

    Posted by: JMC | Jan 24, 2014 11:58:12 PM

  16. @JMC

    This is from the first linked interview...

    When did you first know you had a big gay following?

    I've been in this business for maybe 51 years, and so I think 50 years ago. (Laughs) The first year I wasn't sure, but the second year of performing I got this love - I mean, great love - from my gay fans. I always questioned, "Why do they love me? Why do they really, really give a damn about Patti LaBelle?" And I think it's because I'm such a free spirit and such a drag queen, really, myself. The original drag queen.

    Posted by: NotSafeForWork | Jan 25, 2014 12:21:42 AM

  17. Patti is the best! I love the first 2 LaBelle records-'Labelle' and 'Moonshadow'. Absolutely lost classics. On that body of work alone, she's my favorite singer of all time. Fierce!

    Posted by: RIBBON | Jan 25, 2014 1:34:30 AM

  18. I loved Labelle.. I remember one concert in Hyannis with a close friend with Patti.. And my nose bleed that came from no where. Too weird.. So I got tickets to the Labelle reunion several years back at The Beacon theater in NYC .. Made time/ spent the money and after so many concerts Patti took a " backseat" in this show & she's not known for that.. I was so mad that she was not singing I thought it was her diabetis or something but she was really off enough to postpone the concert but no it went on.. That concert everyone was cheated.. Postpone or cancel/ we're all old enough to take the news.. From that point forward I can't listen to her music .. Was annoying. Ok it's off my chest .. Thank you


    Posted by: TonyC | Jan 25, 2014 1:56:29 AM

  19. Why did I read even part of this article? Why am I writing a comment?

    Posted by: Richard | Jan 25, 2014 2:23:02 AM

  20. Ever since Madonna came on the scene, gay men have been into fake divas. Our standards dropped dramatically. I'm glad Patti LaBelle pointed this out.

    Posted by: sam | Jan 25, 2014 2:51:17 AM

  21. Patti LaBelle can say and do as she pleases. 50 years in the industry, 50 million records sold. Patti has been championing the gay community since the 60s. Patti is 100% right and I love that she's telling like it is. Go on Patti - the Gays love you.

    Posted by: Marco | Jan 25, 2014 3:10:32 AM

  22. Is the comma after "POSTED JAN 24" a gay icon?

    Posted by: Regina | Jan 25, 2014 7:04:51 AM

  23. Icon schmicon! You are a bunch of fools worshiping people who have nothing to do with your lives - or give two sh*ts about you. It's time to stand on your own two feet.

    Posted by: niles | Jan 25, 2014 7:18:18 AM

  24. Patti LaBelle is spot-on. I think gay men's tastes in music have deteriorated to the point of trash. How we went from admiring true singers like Patti LaBelle to total fakes like Britney Spears should be the question we should all be asking ourselves.

    I think it's a case study in how the gay male community has declined over time to become a disposable and fake community. It's sad and distressing.

    Posted by: richard | Jan 25, 2014 8:15:38 AM

  25. Yeah, my husband likes her, but I agree this "icon" crap is tedious at best.

    Posted by: Hylas | Jan 25, 2014 8:22:47 AM

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