Gay Iconography Hub

Gay Iconography: Legendary Laughs from Lily Tomlin


Early last year, actress Lily Tomlin married her partner Jane Wagner after being together for 42 years. Tomlin’s sexuality was something of an open secret that the comedian neither denied nor outwardly confirmed.

She described the pressure she felt to come out to The Advocate in 2009: “There were some fans who really wanted me to come out. And some media. Time magazine offered me the cover if I would come out. That was in 1975. I don’t think anybody was coming out yet then, and I frankly was not interested in being typed as the gay celebrity. I think what Ellen did was incredibly brave, and she paid a price for it—and she did it about 20 years after I got that offer.”

Although she declined the now infamous offer from Time, she would go on to eventually grace the cover a few years later. Tomlin has said that her decision not to come out publicly had less to do with her wanting to keep a secret (she frequently acknowledged Wagner in interviews) and more with the media’s lack of interest in her love life.

Even though she may not have officially come out to the media, Tomlin remained an outspoken feminist and supporter of the LGBT community, as well as a source of subversive comedy in her stage shows and TV appearances. Her work as Tommy Velour, for example, was the kind of gender-defying performance that challenged audiences to reconsider their definitions of normal. Her work spanned genres and fit just as comfortably on mainstream television as it did in her hilarious one-woman shows.

As the host of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Gala in 2010, she spoke more directly of queer history: “Years ago when Judy Garland died and the Stonewall Riots happened – in June of 1969 for the upstarts in the room – I was working in New York at Howard Johnsons. Honestly it’s hard to believe that even then, at that late a time, at a gathering like this, we could be surrounded by paddy wagons and we could all be arrested just for being here as gay folk. How far we have come. God love those pissed off queens from back in the day! You have to love them, you have to remember them, you cannot forget. I certainly will not.”

Check out just a few of our favorite Lily Tomlin clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Bessie Smith’s Queer Blues


When you think of pioneering queer musicians, folks like Elton John, David Bowie, and Sylvester might come to mind. But think further back. Much further. Before we even had rock ’n’ roll to speak of, blues artists were defying expectations (and often the law) to sing about their same-sex affairs.

Among the stars of the 1920s and 1930s, Bessie Smith is one of a few female blues singers that discussed lesbianism in her music. Nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues,” Smith was known for her big voice, hit records and a bit for her scandalous affairs. It was said she took male and female lovers while on tour, particularly during her tumultuous marriage to Jack Glee. She allegedly barked at one of these female lovers, Lillian Simpson, “I got twelve women on this show, and I can have one every night if I want it.”

Of the 160 recordings she made for Columbia throughout her career, three of her songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for their historical significance, including “St. Louis Blues,” “Empty Bed Blues,” and her No. 1 hit “Downhearted Blues.” Her music included references to her tastes for both sexes, including the line in her 1930 track “The Boy In the Boat,” where she sings: “When you see two women walking hand in hand, just look ‘em over and try to understand: They’ll go to those parties—have the lights down low—only those parties where women can go.”

Get a bigger taste of Smith’s lasting legacy, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: The Twisted Tales of John Waters


Before Mitch and Cam charmed Middle America and even RuPaul relished relative widespread notoriety, openly gay artist John Waters was pushing boundaries with unapologetically queer cinema.

“I always appealed to gay people that couldn’t even fit into the gay world, and I still do,” he told Dallas Voice earlier this year. “My crowd has always been minorities. My core crowd is minorities that can’t fit in with their own minorities.”

The Baltimore-born Waters has worn many hats — writer, director, actor, comedian, artist — but, his signature pencil mustache and camp aesthetic, his work has maintained his subversive sense of style. Responsible for some of the most shocking, transgressive moments on film, Waters has worked with everyone from legendary drag queens to today’s brightest Hollywood stars. From his most controversial films to even his most mainstream works, Waters has never lost touch of his unique sensibilities.

“I don't understand what gay people want to be like everybody else," he told BigThink in 2011. “To me, we were outlaws, we used our wit for fighting words, you know, Act Up — ‘Act Bad,’ I wanted.”

When he isn’t making movies (or hosting TV shows about married couples turned murderers or hitchhiking across America), Waters has been an advocate for gay rights, including campaigning for marriage equality in his home state of Maryland. He shared more of his political beliefs with BigThink:

“I understand that people... straight, gay, people want to get married, they want to have children. I'm for that, I'm all for that. I'm for like, why would anyone be against gay adoption? I can't understand it, or when celebrities get babies. Madonna's child won the lottery, if you ask me. The one she just got in Africa. I'm for anybody getting any kid, if they can love it. And I'm for abortion. If you can't love your kid, don't have it because it will grow up and kill us.”

Check out some of our favorite moments from John Waters’ films, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Michael Sam’s Historic Year


It’s been almost one year since Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. The historic moment, punctuated by a televised celebratory smooch with Sam’s now-fiancé Vito Cammisano, established Sam not only as an athlete on the rise, but an icon in the making.

From stadiums to sit-downs with Oprah, Sam’s impact has been felt on and off the field. The seventh of eight children, he persevered through tragedy. He lost two siblings, watching one die from a gunshot wound, while two of his other siblings are in prison. He became the first member of his family to attend college when he was offered a football scholarship from the University of Missouri. He came out to his coaches and teammates, but then came out publicly ahead of the NFL via The New York Times in 2014, creating a media storm around his opportunity to make history. Even First Lady Michelle Obama shared her excitement.

Even though a poll at the time said 86 percent of polled NFL players would welcome an openly gay teammate, Sam did face his fair share of backlash and criticism. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round, making his professional debut in August of 2014, but was released from the team later that month. Just two days later, the Dallas Cowboys added Sam to their practice team, but they would waive him the following October.

Despite these setbacks, Sam has continued to be a magazine coverboy and media darling. See some of our favorite Michael Sam moments, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Our Favorite Moments of Out Hollywood Heartthrob Matt Bomer


You won’t get too much of an argument calling Matt Bomer one of the hottest actors today, and not only because he’s got those Hollywood handsome good looks. The star of screens both big and small will be heating things up this summer in Magic Mike XXL and then bringing the scares in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel.

Bomer came out publicly in 2012 while accepting the New Generation Arts and Activism Award from the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards. In his acceptance speech, he said “And I'd really especially like to thank my beautiful family: Simon, Kit, Walker, Henry. Thank you for teaching me what unconditional love is. You will always be my proudest accomplishment,” acknowledging his husband and three children.

His coming out set rumors about the actor’s sexuality to rest, but it also raised the age-old questions about openly gay actors playing straight heartthrobs. There was a lot of momentum to cast Bomer as the lead in the film adaptation of kinky housewife trash-lit Fifty Shades of Grey. (The role eventually went to Jamie Dornan.) Bret Easton Ellis, who was once in the running to be the screenwriter for the film, said that Bomer couldn’t play the role because of his sexuality. He tweeted “Okay I'll say it. Matt Bomer isn't right for Christian Grey because he is openly gay. He's great for other roles but this is too big a game.”

Additionally, novelist Jackie Collins, claimed Bomer missed out on playing Superman after coming out. She told Gaydar Radio, “Matt Bomer, who is the most gorgeous looking guy and the star of White Collar, he was up for the role of Superman. He had not come out of the closet but people in the know knew he was gay. His audition tape went in and he called up the agent. Someone didn’t like him and told them he was gay. They said, 'No, no, we can’t cast you.' The reason he didn’t get cast was because he was gay.”

Still, Bomer’s kept himself pretty busy. Take a look at some of our favorite Matt moments, AFTER THE JUMP

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Gay Iconography: Jennifer Lopez's LGBT Support


Let’s just get this out of the way: There is a lot more to Jennifer Lopez than all that body. She’s a movie star, pop star, producer, dancer, designer and the most influential hispanic entertainer in the United States. She can rock the mic, the dance floor and an ultra low-cut dress. While she’s been breaking records and making history as a Latina legend-in-the-making, she’s an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

She described her personal connection to the community when she accepted the Vanguard Award from GLAAD last year:

"[Aunt Marisa] grew up gay in a time when it meant life could be very difficult and that her struggles were mostly kept to herself. It wasn't until I got older that I really began to know and appreciate all the difficulties she dealt with and the struggles of her community. I also realized the quiet lessons I learned from my family about love, tolerance, and acceptance. We loved her. That was all because of her. So I wanted to do this because I felt that she would be so proud of me. I thought about that a lot when I was doing this. And as I do now. I always think, I bet she would love this. And I know she is proud of me and everybody here. She's proud of all of us."

She was being honored for her connection to her gay fans, but also for her involvement producing a show for ABC Family, The Fosters. The series follows the titular Foster family, headed by an interracial lesbian couple. The drama earned a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Of course, most of us know J. Lo a lot more for her work in front of the camera. Check out some of our favorite Jennifer Lopez clips, AFTER THE JUMP

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