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Gay Iconography: What You Said In 2014

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When I started writing Gay Iconography in late 2013, I hoped to explore why some celebrities and artists held mass appeal — not to be confused with universal appeal, mind you — within the gay community. Over time, what began as a light-hearted feature celebrating these stars with a few YouTube clips became a lightning rod of conversation and, shall we say, spirited debate.

The original premise, as stated in the early posts, was to “present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts.” The second half of the stated mission — asking you to weigh in with your thoughts — is what’s made it most interesting for me.

This year, the first full calendar year of the column, Gay Iconography has received more than 1,300 comments (and, yes, I read them all). I thought it would be interesting to look back at lessons learned from these conversations and see if we’re any closer to recognizing what draws some of us to these cultural cornerstones.

The conversation may not have always been nuanced (and, of course, it did occasionally devolve into name-calling and flamewars like any comments section on the Internet), but there have been some surprising revelations. For example, while I had expected some controversial choices like Queen Latifah and Donna Summer to be met with criticism, and I could have anticipated younger picks like Robyn or Frank Ocean to be easily dismissed, I was still surprised to see people deny the impact of, say, Cher, Madonna or Dolly Parton. There’s always room to debate the merits of any one individual, but it seemed at times as if some folks aimed to refute the existence of a unique LGBT culture to represent at all.

However, looking back over the comments from this year, some trends do start to emerge as to what some might consider a gay icon. See some of the most prevailing ideas perpetuated in the comments and let us know if you agree, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Pee-Wee's Big Holiday Adventure

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If there’s a case to be made for nurture versus nature, I’d have to cop to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special playing at least a small role in my personal little gay development. The primetime special, initially aired December 1988, is some of the greatest — and gayest — holiday TV of all time. Now, as of this week, the special (along with the rest of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse series) is available on Netflix to delight a whole new generation.

For a children’s program, it was an incredibly unique world, blending retrofuturist glitz with absurdist humor, a richly diverse cast, and a touch of morality. “I’m just trying to illustrate that it's okay to be different — not that it's good, not that it's bad, but that it's all right,” Reubens told Rolling Stone about the series. “I’m trying to tell kids to have a good time and to encourage them to be creative and to question things.”

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, written by Paul Reubens and John Paragon, follows Pee-Wee (Reubens) as he preps the playhouse for the holidays. The special doesn’t find Pee-Wee visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present or future, but it does feature more gay icons than the last three New Now Next Awards combined. There are appearances from Annette Funicello, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, Dinah Shore, Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, and many more alongside playhouse regulars like Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis) and S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba.

Don your gay apparel and relax with some of our favorite clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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Westboro Baptist Church to Picket 'That Bundle of Confusion Going by the Name Cher'

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The Westboro Baptist Church has thrown down the gauntlet at Cher, announcing a May 31 picket at the Sprint Center, and released a typically hilarious press release.

Enjoy the show.


Gay Iconography: What Is It About Cher?

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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. 

I started thinking about this feature back in June last year when I first read that Cher would be headlining New York City's Pride Dance On the Pier. Now, while of course I appreciated Cher and could easily sing along to many of her hits, I didn't really consider myself a "Cher person," per se. I didn't own any albums, I couldn't recite her IMDB page from memory and I can barely do a decent approximation of that thing she does with her tongue.

Still, Cher performing on the pier called to me like a big, gay siren song. I couldn't resist the urge to buy tickets. Of course I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to see an icon, especially surrounded by my people.

That's what got me thinking. What is it about these (mostly straight, mostly white) female figures that resonates so strongly with gay men? It's obvious why we would laud figures like Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin; it's less immediately clear why we gravitate toward the likes of Cher, Bette and Barbra. Then there's a whole slew of people who don't necessarily fit the same Judy/Liza/Cher mold, but are adored by the gay community anyway. Who gets to decide the definition of gay icon?

Well, we do. After all, our interest in these people says just as much (if not more) about us than it does about them. These are conversation starters, and it's been amazing to see some really interesting discussion take place in the comments.

So, in that spirit, let's start the new year talking about the one who first inspired this feature, someone that Liza Minnelli once said was a bigger icon than Barbra Streisand and herself. Let's talk about Cher.

Get in the spirit with just a few Cher clips, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Cher Takes Andrew Christian Like a Man: WATCH

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Cher put out a new clip last night which is a mash-up of several Andrew Christian underwear promos, tweeting "Some friends made me a present for ‘Take It Like A Man’".

Check it out, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Will Justin Timberlake Condemn Russia's Anti-Gay Laws When He Performs There?

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This week, Justin Timberlake announced on his website that his 20/20 Experience World Tour is headed to Russia--St. Petersburg and Moscow, to be exact--in 2014, with tickets going on sale this Saturday. Since the performances in Russia will mark Timberlake's first time performing in the country, people are starting to ask, essentially, WWJD--what will Justin do? US News reports:

"Obviously our hope is that Justin will use his time in Russia as an opportunity to highlight and expose the horrible situation that the LGBT [community is] facing there," says Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Charles Joughin. Recent legislation passed by the Kremlin includes the prohibition of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and a ban of the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples abroad and unmarried individuals in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

Cher recently revealed she had been asked to perform at 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February, but turned down the offer because of the crackdown. Elton John, meanwhile, has vowed to go on with his concerts in Russia next month, despite boycott threats, being labeled "the devil's work" by a Russian Islamic leader, and calls that John wear a traditional Cossack uniform rather than his usual costume, which one group suggested was "homosexual propaganda." 

The problem, as HRC's Joughin points out, is that Russia's anti-gay laws are so vague--and so all-encompassing--that nobody really knows exactly what's illegal.  "It could be that tweeting, 'I support LGBT equality,' while you're in Russia could violate the law," Joughin told US News.

Of course, Timberlake's not the kind of gay icon that Cher or Elton John are, but he has voiced his support for LGBT rights in the past.  More importantly, though, he represents--and can speak to--a younger generation.  And in today's Russia, that generation could use all the pro-LGBT sentiment it can get.


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