Gay Iconography Hub




Gay Iconography: Why We Love Wanda Sykes

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Humor has always been a powerful tool for the LGBT movement, both to increase the visibility of LGBT entertainers and to call out hypocrisy and injustice.

In recent years, writer-comedian Wanda Sykes has emerged as a loud, proud voice in the ongoing fight for LGBT equality. Quick-witted and sharp-tongued, Sykes style of observational humor is perfectly positioned for her to speak out on issues including same-sex marriage, homophobia and hate-speech. As an LGBT woman of color, she’s also discussed her experience in terms of gender and race.

Before her career as a stand-up comedian, Sykes actually started working at the NSA. Her foray into stand-up led her to form a friendship with Chris Rock, and she would go on to win an Emmy for her writing on his show. She’s appeared on Will & Grace, Curb Your Enthusiasm and, recently, on Amazon’s original series Alpha House. She’s helmed her own shows, Wanda At Large, Wanda Does It and The Wanda Sykes Show, as well comedy specials Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me and, her recent comedy showcase on OWN, Herlarious.

Still, we like Wanda best when she gets political. Check out some of our favorite clips of Wanda talking about issues, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears Is A Cut Above

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Has there been a more famously flamboyant frontman than Jake Shears since Freddie Mercury? One of the lead singers of Scissor Sisters (along with Ana "Ana Matronic" Lynch), Shears' (né Jason Sellards) onstage antics and songwriting focusing on explictly gay themes has earned him a reputation as one of the most outrageous performers today.

From songs about coming out to "kiki-ing" with friends, the music of the Scissor Sisters has been largely influenced by gay culture. (In addition to Shears, members Babydaddy and Del Marquis are gay, and Ana Matronic has been immersed in the gay scene for years.) Their album Night Work, for example, was conceived of as a response to the AIDS-epidemic of the 1980s.

"It placed a big judgment call on [the gay club scene]. Suddenly, there was a big, 'Oh, you had it coming,'" he told The Guardian in 2010. I just started wondering where music was headed, where dance music would have headed, where all that would have gone. And Night Work is my hypothesis."

Though Scissor Sisters grew out of the New York City underground scene, they've enjoyed mainstream success, particularly in the United Kingdom. Their debut album spawned five top-20 singles in the U.K. and was the best-selling album of 2004, topping more traditional acts like Keane. They never reached the same level of prominence in the United States, but they have received mainstream attention, including appearance on talk shows (including Live With Regis and Kelly and The Wendy Williams Show). 

See some of our favorite clips of Shears and Scissor Sisters, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Gay Iconography: Can't Get Kylie Minogue Out of Our Heads

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Big icons come in small packages. The petite pop princess Kylie Minogue is not just a gay icon, but, according to a survey printed in The Sun, she’s the biggest gay icon of all time.

You’re free to disagree, but there’s plenty more evidence in her favor. Even Rufus Wainwright named her one of his top gay icons, saying “I love Kylie, she's the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.”

She’s acknowledged and celebrated her gay audience throughout her decades-long career.

“I didn’t become a gay icon or become popular in the gay community for doing something specific. That happened just because I was being myself,” she told The Advocate last year. “When I’m on tour, I think there’s a little bit of everything there. From a row of muscle Marys and drag queens to dads, moms, grandmas, and three generations of girls – everyone is there. So I try to put into my shows and albums a little bit for everyone and I hope that colors my work in the best way.”

Whether LGBT audiences adore her for her disco-flavored dance tunes, flashy costumes or charming personality, Kylie’s fervent fans have made her an institution since the late 1980s.

See her in action in some of our favorite clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: 'The Real World' Of Pedro Zamora

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MTV’s The Real World wasn’t always the alcohol-fueled neanderthal breeding program it became in later seasons. The show’s first few casts helped to not only pioneer socially-conscious reality television, but they also told some of the most ground-breaking stories about the LGBT community ever to grace the medium.

The third season, based in San Francisco, famously featured the story of HIV/AIDS activist Pedro Zamora. Born in Cuba, Zamora and his family came to America in 1980 and resided in the suburbs of Miami. He learned he was HIV-positive while still in high school, and spent the years following his diagnosis speaking out about living with HIV/AIDS and the importance of educating young people about the disease.

As part of 1994’s The Real World: San Francisco cast, Pedro furthered the national dialogue about HIV/AIDS. A former honor student and star athlete, he pushed his roommates’ understanding of people living with HIV/AIDS, and, in turn, the perceptions of audiences. (He also taught us that Puck was an idiot, but we probably would’ve come to that conclusion on our own.)

Revisit Pedro’s impact with some clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Bette's Divine Legacy

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Summer is camp season, and there are few people campier than the Divine Miss M herself, Bette Midler. (Seriously, who else could possibly do Mae West justice?)

Nearly a half-century since she arrived in New York City, Midler is still entertaining audiences on stages and screens, large and small. Her big voice and bawdy humor have made her a legendary performer, but her larger-than-life persona and roots in the gay community have endeared her to LGBT audiences for years. With Bette, it’s not all just attributed to her show-stopping numbers and over-the-top costumes. She got her start playing in a gay New York City bathhouse.

That doesn’t mean she’s always been in the gay community’s good graces. She ran afoul of LGBT advocates when she gave a less-than-supportive response to Larry King over the issue of same-sex marriage in an interview in 2003:

“I don't think it really hurts anybody. I think … gay men, they like to -- you know, they like to move around. … That's part of the fun of being a gay man. So if they're married, does that mean they're not going to cheat, they're only going to be with one…”

Like other public figures, her views seemed to evolve over time when in 2009 she told the Associated Press “I'm all in favor of gay marriage. I think it's fabulous.” 

From the bathhouse to the big screen, treat yourself to a few beloved Bette numbers, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Tegan and Sara Bring LGBT Visibility 'Closer' To Pop

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When actress Ellen Page made headlines coming out earlier this year, she name-dropped a few notable out celebrities, including football star Michael Sam and recent Time Magazine covergirl Laverne Cox. While those names are familiar (especially to readers of this blog), she also gave a shout-out to musicians Tegan and Sara Quin.

They may not have the name recognition as the traditional spate of gay icons, but Tegan and Sara have been providing the soundtrack to many an awkward adolescence since the release of their official debut full-length album in 1999. The lesbian twin sisters have spoken openly about their sexuality while building a career on expertly-crafted songs ranging from folk to rock to pop.

“As a political person who makes popular music that has nothing to do with politics,” Sara told The Advocate last year, “I think it’s important to be visible and have my politics be visible in appropriate ways offstage. I don’t want to make a political record, but I’m going to leave a political record offstage.”

Though certainly not as widely celebrated in the gay community as classic Judys or Madonnas, the Sisters Quin have become champions for many indie, oddball LGBT youth. The band’s signature humor, positivity and vulnerable songwriting keeps growing their fanbase as their profile continues to rise.

Enjoy some of our favorite Tegan and Sara tunes and clips, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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