Gay Iconography Hub

Gay Iconography: Melissa Etheridge, Yes She Is


Even today, there are few stars ready to come out at the height of their career. In the early ‘90s, it was even more of a rarity. That’s part of what makes Melissa Etheridge’s story special.

The singer-songwriter and activist blazed a trail as an openly lesbian artist, just as her career began taking off. "I had no desire to be closeted to the public. It didn't feel right," she told Philly Magazine in 2014. “So, being gay was the thing I talked about.”

GLAAD recognized her contribution to promoting equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in culture by presenting Stephen F. Kolzak Award to her in 2006. She’s not only a vocal activist for LGBT rights, but also the environment and the fight against cancer.

She explained her connection to these causes in an interview with The Daily Beast last year: “Well these are, and it’s always been, the issues that are me. I am a gay person. I did have cancer. I am affected by what happens to the world, to our earth. Those things absolutely affect me.”

Check out some of our favorite moments from Melissa’s career, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: RuPaul's Race To Stardom


From Ru’s rise to prominence in the early ‘90s to the multimedia brand he’s become today, RuPaul Andre Charles has become a subversive pop-culture institution, a guide to learning to love yourself and one of the most iconic bastions of all things glam. From film to television to music and makeup, Ru has broken barriers and, seemingly against all odds, bent mainstream culture to his will.

Prior to the empire though, RuPaul was just a punk kid in 1980s Atlanta. From the underground scene, Ru first began with gender-fuck before evolving his drag look into the striking beauty we know today. After his single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” became a hit on MTV, the Ru-volution was in full effect. A talk show, film appearances and several more dance albums followed, but they didn’t capture the same success. The real ru-surgence (I swear that’s my last one) came in 2009 with the launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race, one of the most brilliant reality-TV competitions of all time and the cornerstone of the Logo Network.

While critically-lauded and a winner of a GLAAD Media Award, the show did run into some controversy last season. The show has weathered criticisms for using transphobic language, and Ru, adored for his warmth and sensitivity, pushed back in interviews. He shared his feelings following Lance Bass’ apology for using the word "tranny" in a 2011 interview with the Huffington Post: "I love the word 'tranny'...And I hate the fact that he's apologized. I wish he would have said, 'F-you, you tranny jerk!'" It was a stance seemingly at odds with the show’s open embrace of trans contestants like Sonique, Carmen Carrera and Monica Beverly Hillz during and after the competition. However, it was a segment called “female or she-male” that finally forced the show’s hand. Outcry over the mini-challenge led to the pulling of the episode and the loss of the recurring “She-Mail” bit.

With season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race just around the corner, let’s take a look back at some of our favorite RuPaul moments, AFTER THE JUMP

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Madonna Dishes On Rebel Heart, Collaborations, Regrets, And '50 Shades of Grey'

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Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 9.29.11 AMBillboard snagged a revealing interview with Madonna where the material queen divulged details about her upcoming album, working with other artists, dealing with word policing, her relationship with Catholicism and her thoughts on 50 Shades of Grey. Madonna talked about the production process on her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, working with collaborators Nicki Minaj, Nas, Diplo, Avicii and Kanye West-who she described as a difficult artist to corral.

Said Madonna:

"Kanye, for instance, has excellent ideas, but it's hard to get him to pay attention. So my job was to keep him focused. I was the mistress walking around with the clipboard going, 'Guys, can you please -- can you guys come back in the room? Let's just finish the song. What do you mean you're going to a photo shoot? What do you mean you have to go to a red carpet event? Get off your phone! Will you stop tweeting? Wait, we haven't finished!'"

Madonna went on to talk about the theme behind songs on Rebel Heart saying songs like Joan of Arc display a vulnerable side to her usually stoic persona whereas the album's title song talks about regrets and never looking back. However, Madonna asserts that she doesn’t regret any of her career moves.

Said Madonna:

"Everyone has regrets. I have regrets for the smaller things, which ultimately are the bigger things in life. For instance, I regret not being more grateful certain times in my life. I regret not being more compassionate. I regret not saying I'm sorry. I don't have any career regrets. I have human-being regrets.

"As I say in the song Joan of Arc, 'Even hearts made of steel can break down.' Even people we look up to have their moments where they are fragile, vulnerable, scared, fearful, not sure, hurt. You can't be a superhero unless you have the other side."

Despite having "human-being" regrets, Madonna asserts that the word police can "F**k off," after bloggers criticized her for the pervasive use of the word "B**ch" in lyrics and song titles on the album. Madonna cites that her time spent among Londoners and their colorful use of language, including the C-word, desensitized her. Madonna also elaborated on her relationship with the Catholic church, and said that she enjoys the "Pomp and circumstance," of writing and singing about her relationship with religion, and the drama, confusion and hypocrisy of the church. She mentioned that if she had the chance, she wouldn’t hesitate to sit down with the Pope for a "Chat about sex." Billboard continued the conversation regarding sex asking Madonna if she read 50 Shades of Grey and she remarked that she found it unrealistic.

6a00d8341c730253ef01bb07f15b6a970d-500wiSaid Madonna: 

"Yes, I have. It's pulp fiction. It's not very sexy, maybe for someone who has never had sex before. I kept waiting for something exciting and crazy to happen in that red room thing, and I was like, 'Hmm, a lot of spanking.' I also thought, 'This is so unrealistic because no guy goes down on a girl that much.' I'm sorry, but no one eats p**** as much as the guy in that book."

Billboard asked if she felt young women have it easier these days with Madonna responding that it’s "No-holds-barred and you can do whatever you like; On the other hand, if you're a pop star and want to get your records played and reach the masses, you have to play it very safe." Madonna was asked what she thought of her role in challenging American taboos and thoughts on pop-star Miley Cyrus. Madonna responded by incorporating Cyrus into her response about what the future holds for women.

Said Madonna: 

"I like her. She seems like she doesn't care what people think. People are always telling her she's dirty or crazy or trashy, and she doesn't care. I love that about her. In her peer group, she stands out.  

"I think it's an ongoing activity in my life. I'm continuing to open doors for the women behind me. I don't know many women who have had a successful career in pop music as long as I've had. And I waited until I was older to have children. I raised children and wasn't married. And I continue to express myself -- my sexuality -- in my 50’s, even though that's also considered taboo, and I get a lot of s*** for it. But in 20 years, Miley Cyrus probably won't get s*** for it. Then, it'll be like, 'Oh, yeah, that's nothing new.'"  

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 9.27.39 AMRebel Heart releases on March 6. Madonna’s promotional tactics for the album, including photoshopping portraits of famous civil rights leaders in the style of her album cover and posting it to her social media, is stirring up criticism. It also appears radio isn't a big fan of her either as the U.K.'s Radio 1 completely removed Madonna's new single Living For Love from their station playlist, with a station insider citing that "The station has a duty to meet the needs of younger listeners. I don’t think the audience is losing sleep that it is not playing Madonna in the same way that it used to."

Gay Iconography: Beckham Kicked Open Doors For Future Allies


It’s often said that professional sports are the final frontier for the LGBT community in popular culture. We’ve written about out athletes like Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers as well as allies like Ben Cohen previously, but before they stepped into the national spotlight, another professional athlete was changing the conversation in sports: David Beckham.

The beautiful Brit ushered in the era of the metrosexual in the early 2000s, expanding the definition of masculinity throughout the popular discourse. The man credited with creating and naming the concept of the metrosexual, writer Mark Simpson, called Beckham the ultimate metrosexual, describing him in a controversial piece for Slate in 2002 as, “the biggest metrosexual in Britain because he loves being looked at and because so many men and women love to look at him.”

Beckham’s well-groomed visage became the sought-after face of many fashion and fitness campaigns, earning a rabid fanbase of admirers gay and straight. Even on this site, photos of his latest campaigns would draw lots of comments about his physique. Towleroad commenters were even featured in a book about Beckham in 2009. That same year, Beckham was voted the only straight man in the top 10 male gay icons.

Not that Beckham ever minded the attention. In 2008, he told British GQ: "To have that kind of effect on so many different people around the world, I was honoured. When people talk to me about being a gay icon I think of it as a great honour." He even famously appeared on the cover of U.K.’s gay magazine, Attitude (something he told the Times Magazine he’d do again).

It’s not all just about his buff body and bulging undie adverts. Author and journalist Chas Newkey-Burden described the effect of Beckham on sports:

“What David Beckham did was break the long silence about homosexuality in football," Newkey-Burden told CNN in 2013. "Before Beckham came along, it was basically a taboo but he changed all that. He openly courted his gay fan base, saying he loved being a gay icon and was happy for his wife to broadcast that around. He was the first to give interviews to gay magazines -- before that, no footballer would have done that.”

See some of our favorite Beckham moments (including some actual soccer), AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Jennifer Hudson, From 'Idol' to Effie


People love a good comeback, and there are few greater pop culture comebacks in the last decade than that of Jennifer Hudson, the eliminated American Idol contestant who went on to become a multiple award-winning superstar. In addition to the accolades, she’s won over a huge gay audience with her powerful pipes as well as her perseverance and support for LGBT issues.

Hudson has spoken openly in interviews about her affinity for the gay community. In a chat with The Advocate in 2014, she said: “The gay community has meant so much to me throughout my life, and there have been many gay people who have been positive influences for me,” says Hudson. “From my best friend to many of my teachers, my first producer, and more — there have been so many.”

She’s performed at pride events and Disney’s unofficial gay days, and she partnered with W Hotels and the Human Rights Campaign for the Turn It Up For Change campaign, which amplified efforts to advocate for marriage equality and employment protections.

She did however briefly run afoul of the gay community after an interview in 2006 when Hudson was quoted talking about homosexuality being a sin. The singer would go on to clarify her remarks and reaffirm her commitment to the gay community in subsequent interviews, including one with Towleroad in 2008. "A lot of times you do interviews and everybody's not a fan. They want to turn things around and display you in a certain way. It broke my heart because I don't feel that way at all. It hurt to see me being misrepresented in that way."

In her relatively short career, Hudson has gone from a reality-show also-ran to an Academy Award-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Check out some of our favorite Jennifer Hudson moments, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Going Gaga


If there’s a blueprint for the post-modern gay icon, it has got to be Lady Gaga. Arguably the biggest star of the last decade, Gaga’s bold, provocative take on pop culture may have yielded wildly divergent incarnations (and at times uneven artistic results), but one consistent element has been her steadfast support of the LGBT community.

It’s a relationship that goes back to Gaga’s start. After dropping out of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Collaborative Arts Project 21, she immersed herself in New York City’s downtown art scene. She began cultivating a rabid gay following, which she continues to embrace. As she described to MTV, “The turning point for me was the gay community,” she said. “I’ve got so many gay fans and they’re so loyal to me and they really lifted me up. They’ll always stand by me and I’ll always stand by them.”

And she has. Since rocketing to superstardom in 2008, Gaga has been committed to advocating for LGBT causes. She’s advocated to end discrimination in Russia, to boycott the Sochi Olympics and for marriage equality. She rallied her massive fan base to mobilize for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, even going so far as to bring gay servicemen and women as her escort to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. She’s appeared at marches, rallies and galas. She even dissolved a partnership with Target due to the company’s record of supporting some anti-LGBT candidates and organizations.

Then there’s the overall celebration of individuality and otherness that permeates her music. From her otherworldly fashion sense to her oft-professed love for her ‘Little Monsters,’ Gaga has been a champion for young people who may feel persecuted for being different. In 2012, she launched the Born This Way Foundation, which aims to empower young people.

That’s just the beginning. Take a look at just a few of our many favorite Gaga moments, AFTER THE JUMP

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