What makes a gay icon I hear you ask? Well, there’s not actually a specific set of rules, if someone is an icon, it rarely needs to be said, it’s just known. But there are some celebrities who try desperately hard to obtain the status, and they are laughed at for the most part. I’ll start with these cases first. The ones who so desperately crave a “YAAAASSSS QUEEN” off the gay community, but mostly fall short. A gay icon is created without the need for effort. For the list, I’ll be concentrating on the icons who are currently alive, with an honour roll of icons past at the end.
1. Any member of the Kardashian/Jenner clan.
There I said it, I can hear the wails of anger already. To some, they are the epitome of an icon, but to most, they are shallow, money-hungry, low rent TV reality stars who only got famous after one of them slept with Brandy’s brother and had the tape “leaked”. No one can actually point out specifically what they do. They are famous, merely for being famous. The only good thing they have going for them is they know exactly how to exploit that. Not even Caitlyn Jenner can rescue them. Her “struggles” with coming out as transgender are so far removed from the actual hell that transgender people go through that she is almost universally hated by the LGBT community. These are not people to look up to.
2. Tori Spelling
When someone feels the need to boast about their gay icon status, they are not a gay icon. While a vocal supporter of the gay community, she is far removed from icon status. Having her friends tell her she’s a gay icon doesn’t count. She’s not exactly well known, and it’s unlikely she could command much of a crowd at any event. Yeah, she used to be in Beverly Hills 90210, but who really gives a shit?
3. Katie Hopkins
Oh, Ms Hopkins, you may want to be a gay icon, but this you never shall be. While some gays may like your no nonsense mouth, to most you’re just a loud mouthed harridan who revels in spewing vitriol and trying to be as controversial as possible. It takes class to be an icon, and Katie Hopkins is severely lacking in that. You need a certain gravitas to be able to pull off being a bitch and still be beloved.
4. Perez Hilton
His disgraceful Celebrity Big Brother stint pretty much destroyed any small hope he had of achieving icon status. Gossip monger by trade, he has always tried much too hard to be a gay icon, and it comes across as crass and disingenuous. He has a knack for really pissing people off, and like Ms Hopkins, he doesn’t have the proper qualifications for being bitchy and getting away with it
5. Milo Yiannopoulos
An avid Trump supporter and self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot” Yiannopoulos tries to shock and offend as much as possible and has said incredibly offensive things about transgender people. He is the ultimate in petulant, self-obsessed, narcissistic, nasty, vindictive and hateful gays. And while some people may agree with some of the things he says, he comes across as smarmy and greasy.
6. Nick Jonas
Yes, he’s got a hot body, and a bulge for days, but being a gay tease does not an icon make. People are starting to see through the blatant attempt to appeal to the gay community by posing in very little clothing and playing TV roles that involve man on man action, I’m half expecting his nudes to “leak” at some point when he needs a boost of gay male interest in an upcoming project.
7. Miley Cyrus
Her post-Hannah Montana days shenanigans were mildly entertaining at first, but then it all became rather desperate looking and uncomfortable. She fell out of favour fairly quickly with gay fans, and she never really achieved the status of icon in the first place, despite being an advocate for LGBT rights. She seemed to be desperate for the gays to love her and it riled a lot of people.
And now for some of the true gay icons. In no particular order. This is a difficult list to narrow down because many people are considered gay icons. But there are some who stand out above the rest as the ultimate in enduring gay icons. You can’t hear their name without thinking “gay icon”
1. Dolly Parton
The queen of cheap and tacky, but amazing with it. Her look, her quirky southern charm, her infamous *ahem* assets and her attitude are forever endearing to the community. There will always be a Dolly tune you can rock out to, or find solace in. She is a true icon without having to be boastful. She is grateful and loving and supportive. That makes us love Ms Parton.
2. Sir Ian McKellan
Come on people, he’s Gandalf and Magneto, and a massive advocate for the gay community. He’s the true stately homo, with dignity and class, and his bromance with Captain Picard makes the nerd in us scream with excitement. He also loves attending Pride events, and has been known to be found at 3am outside a club, smoking and hobnobbing with fans. A proper British institution.
The big kahuna herself, and when the apocalypse happens, there will be only three things left, Cockroaches, Twinkies and Cher. Not much needs to be said as to why she is a gay icon. She’s bitchy, fabulous and a drag queen’s dream. Her costumes, stage performances and films and TV appearances bring out the queen in all of us. Plus she’s so famous she doesn’t need to know how to order pizza (according to Kathy Griffin) and no one cares. She is one of the ultimate gay icons. She’s Cher bitch!!
4. Betty White
If there’s anything better than sliced bread (she was born before it was even invented) it’s the only remaining Golden Girl herself, Betty White. She’s the matriarch of gay icons, and at 95, she is still rocking and beloved by all. There really isn’t anything bad you can say about this woman, and long may she continue to entertain us. And as the younger generation find out about The Golden Girls, they too will fall in love with Rose Nylund.
The drag mother himself, RuPaul has entertained fans for many years. Never one to mince words, RuPaul found fame in 1993 after the song “Supermodel” came out, but it was 2009 that saw his star truly rise when a little show called RuPaul’s Drag Race came thundering onto our screens, and nearly 9 seasons later the show goes from strength to strength, and also reintroduced us to RuPaul’s cohort, Michelle Visage, who is somewhat of a gay icon herself, due to her unwavering vocal support of a community who took her to their hearts.
6. Ellen DeGeneres
Her reminder of “be kind to one another” strikes a chord in the community and her warmth and generosity towards others can only make people smile. She rose from a little-known stand-up comedian to one of the most watched women on TV. People love Ellen, and her gay icon status is very much deserved. She doesn’t take herself seriously and proves that it’s OK to be gay and live a normal life without shame or guilt. A truly inspirational woman.
7. Stephen Fry
I would be hard pushed not to put bitingly witty, intelligent, charming and all round fabulous person Stephen Fry on this list. From the days of Blackadder to the presenter of QI, Fry has been an icon for a long time. He has been voted numerous times as an ultimate gay icon and it’s not hard to see why. His eloquent way of speaking and conducting himself appeals to many fans alike.
Anyone who can bring voguing into the mainstream deserves a place among the icons. The Queen of Pop and reinvention herself has been popular for 30 years, and to this day still commands massive crowds. Gay fans flocked to Madonna and her ridiculously catchy dance tunes will still get many a gay on the dance floor, and while she may not be as popular as she once, there’s still only one Madonna.
9. Diana Ross
With a gay anthem like “I’m coming out” Diana Ross with all her glittery outfits, and diva-like behaviour screams gay icon. Having a career that’s lasted since God’s dog was a puppy also helps. She’s also probably the only woman to shut down West Hollywood so she could film a music video with RuPaul and 200 drag queens. Gay Icon certified.
10. Bette Midler
Miss Midler was performing in gay venues in the 70s after seeing the positive reaction from the LGBT crowd, and then in 1993, she achieved gay cult status as Winifred Sanderson in Hocus Pocus. Her glittery stage presence and music is always a hit amongst the gay crowd, and while occasionally she has put foot in mouth, her iconic status cannot be refuted.
Some of you may ask why I haven’t included people like Britney, Beyonce or Lady Gaga, Well I’ll explain. The icons I chose have been talking points for a very long time, and I can see them still being talked about long after they are no longer with us. Gaga et al, still have a way to go before true icon status is achieved, and while they have an icon-like following, in my eyes they aren’t legendary…yet!
Honour roll of past gay icons
Marsha P Johnson
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, it’s management or editorial teams. If you’d like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.
YOUR SUPPORT MEANS EVERYTHING
Help us deliver unique, usable and reliable journalism that supports the gay, bisexual and curious community of the United Kingdom. Can you help protect LGBT+ media? Publishers like us have come under severe threat by the likes of Google and Facebook. The problem is that advertisers are choosing to put their money with them, rather than with niche publishers like us. Our goal is to eliminate banner ads altogether on site and we can do that if you could pledge us a tiny amount each month. We're asking our readers to pledge just £1 per month, more if you're feeling swanky. You can stop payment at any time. It's quick and easy to sign up and you'll only have to do it once. Click to start the journey!