Music’s Gay Icons and Pioneers
This week, Savage Garden's Darren Hayes has publicly criticised the Salvation Army for their anti-gay stance and as the awareness and support for gay rights increases and comes to the fore, more and more musicians and rockstars are coming out, or publicly showing their support for the cause. From Freddie Mercury to Judy Garland: we take a look back and celebrate some of the most iconic gay icons and pioneers in rock n' roll.
Elton John It wasn’t until 1988 that Elton John said he felt “comfortable” being gay; having been engaged in the sixties to Linda Woodrow, then married in 1984 to Renate Blauel. However since coming out, Elton has fought hard for the rights of homosexuals - not just in Britain, but around the world. Along with George Michael, John has helped champion the international pressure group Kaleidoscope, which was recently created to tackle the rising number of attacks on sexual minorities in developing countries. He even put pressure on the Gillard government to legalise same-sex marriage in Sydney last December, and now a bill to do just that is being tabled before Parliament.
Nathan Hudson of Faker Growing up in a Catholic high school in Sydney’s western suburbs, Faker’s frontman Nathan Hudson was bullied relentlessly, forcing him to forego his interest in the arts and singing for four years. Fast-forward to 2008, Faker were touring as part of the Big Day Out, and their hit single ‘This Heart Attack’ was hitting number five on Triple J’s Hottest 100. Hudson felt it was the perfect time to publicly come out, "I'm happy to talk about being gay for that kid in the suburbs who's 15 and scared,"he said. "My association with being gay was that it was bad and dark and not good for you. I had trouble finding people to look up to."
Kathleen Hanna One of the strongest gay icons of the last twenty years, Kathleen Hanna is known for her activism and the Riot Grrrl zine probably more so than for her roles in Bikini Kill and electro-pop hit-makers, Le Tigre. Known for many frank and on-the-money comments about the current musical landscape, Hanna has weighed in on Tyler The Creator, Jason Mraz and Lady Gaga with a healthy mix of vitriol and wit. Her take on Katy Perry is especially spot on; “’I Kissed a Girl’ was just straight-up offensive. The whole thing is like, I kissed a girl so my boyfriend could masturbate about it later. It’s disgusting. It’s exactly every male fantasy of fake lesbian porn. It’s pathetic. And she’s not a good singer.”
Judy Garland Often referred to as 'the Elvis of Homosexuals', though Garland never publicly came out, she is revered amongst an entire generation of gay men from the fifties and sixties. Having a gay father, two gay husbands, and an oft-commented upon entourage of gay fans and friends, it is a surprise then to note that it was not her direct association, but an affinity for her own personal struggles which elevated her to iconic status amongst the gay community. She suffered stage fright but declared performing was where she drew her greatest happiness from. This internal conflict mirrored that of closeted gay men of the era, and the message of “you’ll find what you’re looking for inside yourself” in the Wizard of Oz also struck a profound resonance.
Michael Stipe REM’s frontman Michael Stipe, fought against having a label attached to him in terms of his sexuality. Growing up during the AIDS scare of the eighties, Stipe has said “it was a very difficult time to be honest and frank about one’s sexuality”, and found the nineties equally as hard when he had to fight off rumours that he had contracted HIV, which he put down to, simply: “I wore a hat that said 'White House Stop AIDS'. I’m skinny.” Stipe long refused to be labelled as gay or bisexual, until 2011 when he claimed he was “eighty per cent gay”.
Freddie Mercury Though now considered one of the most iconic gay performers in history, during his lifetime Freddie Mercury’s sexuality divided many in the gay community. In 1992 a writer for The Gay Times described Mercury as “a 'scene-queen', unafraid to publicly express his gayness but unwilling to analyse or justify his 'lifestyle'. It was as if Mercury was saying to the world, 'I am what I am. So what?' And that in itself for some was a statement." While others criticised Mercury for not coming out as an HIV-positive man during the height of the AIDS scare, claiming that he could have made an important contribution to the awareness of the disease given his cultural status.
Madonna First introduced to the local gay community of Detroit Michigan by her ballet teacher, Madonna found instant acceptance there during her teenage years. Declaring that she “wouldn’t be here” if it weren’t for her gay fans; in the last couple years Madonna has publicly pushed for support for same-sex marriage in the United States Posting on her website in favour of same-sex marriage in New York. Most recently she’s been battling the Russian Orthodox Church, whose proposed new bill would fine people over $10 000 for promoting gay rights. Madonna’s set to tour Russia in August, and is adamant she’ll be speaking out against the bill whilst there.
Lady Gaga Superficially, Lady Gaga’s affiliation with the LGBT community centred on the question “does Lady Gaga have a cock?” What’s far more important is her actual contribution to the gay community. Along with Cyndi Lauper, Gaga has released a lipstick with MAC cosmetics, all the proceeds (currently sitting at over $200 million) of which go to the company’s campaign to prevent HIV and AIDS worldwide. Concurrently, this year Gaga launched her Born This Way foundation, which focuses on youth empowerment and anti-bullying. Similar to Madonna, a great deal of Gaga’s early success is a result of her gay fans, and she has been an unabashed advocate of gay rights her entire career; referring to the 2009 National Equality Rally as “the single most important event of [her] career.”
Cher Throughout her career, the gay community’s affinity for Cher was marked by a love of her great sense of grandiose and flamboyant style, reinvention, and of overcoming hurdles on her path to success. Much like Judy Garland, Cher embodied something which gay men found a resonance with. More recently however, Cher’s relationship with her eldest son Chaz Bono - who was born a woman - helped transform Cher into an outspoken activist for LGBT rights.
Boy George Former Culture Club frontman Boy George, famous for his androgynous appearance and long battle with drug addiction, was a divisive gay figure. Speaking openly about his own relationships, George has commented on contemporary gay issues with more clarity than one would expect from an addict. He praised Brokeback Mountain for its focus on the intimate relationship between its two homosexual characters; opposing the sordid and overtly sexual relationships contemporary society commonly views as characteristic of gay relationships. Conversely, he’s been critical of same-sex marriage, claiming “Gay unions, what is that all about? The idea that gay people have to mimic what obviously doesn’t work for straight people anymore, I think is a bit tragic. I’m looking forward to gay divorces.”
Darren Hayes The former singer for Australian superstar pop duo Savage Garden is most recently known for critiquing the Salvation Army for their position on homosexuality. However Hayes’ position towards his own sexuality was one of conflict for much of his life. Raised a Catholic, Hayes says “I think some of the difficulty I had identifying as gay was associated with negative stereotypes linking gay men and promiscuity.” He’s been reluctant to talk about his sexuality publicly, keeping his personal life private.
Adam Lambert The first openly gay man to top the billboard charts deserves a place in the list, despite any reservations people may have about his musical credibility - being attached to American Idol (Matt Corby, anyone?). Post-Idol and as an openly gay performer, Lambert lent his voice to the It Gets Better YouTube campaign; will perform with Elton John and Queen (minus Freddie) for the Olena Pinchuck ANTIAIDS Foundation and blasted the anti-gay group One Million Mums, tweeting: “Fuck ‘One Million Mums’. Hateful bigots.” Of the entertainment industry, Lambert has claimed “I consider myself a post-gay man working in a pre-gay industry.”
Kylie Minogue Much like Madonna before her, Kylie Minogue has asserted her gay fans as vital to her career. "My gay audience has been with me from the beginning ... they kind of adopted me." Minogue has explained that she first became aware of her gay audience in 1988, when several drag queens performed to her music at a Sydney pub and she later saw a similar show in Melbourne. This encouraged her to perform at gay venues throughout the world, as well as headlining Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the largest gay pride festival in the world. However, an interview published in a Mexican magazine purporting that Minogue fancied girls was dismissed, with Minogue calling bullshit on her Twitter.
k.d. Lang Along with championing animal rights and Tibetan human rights, K.D Lang has been an ardent supporter of LGBT rights since coming out as a lesbian in 1992. Supporting many causes promoting HIV/AIDS care and research, Lang is another gay artist not so concerned with same-sex marriage: “I’m for civil partnerships; I’m not for gay marriage. A friend of mine called that ‘aping the monkey’”.
Rufus Wainrwight Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright was originally in fervent opposition to gay marriage, claiming that, as a Libertarian, “I personally don’t want to get married but I think that any law or amendment to the constitution that deals with sex and love should just be banned in general. I don’t think any government should encroach on what goes on in the bedroom at all. Frankly, if you want to marry a dog, why don’t you go ahead and marry a dog, I don’t care.”However, he changed his tune after he met his partner, Jörn Weisbrodt. "I wasn't a huge gay marriage supporter before I met Jörn because I love the whole old-school promiscuous Oscar Wilde freak show of what 'being gay' once was. But since meeting Jörn that all changed.”
Melissa Etheridge Since coming out in 1993, the American singer-songwriter has championed for gay rights in the U.S and abroad. In November last year she claimed it’d be “funny” to sit down and chat to Julia Gillard about gay rights. “It's kind of ridiculous that we are completely contributing citizens and in this day and age, we all understand that this notion of right or wrong or sinful really has no place in our civil rights for people.” Arriving on our shores next month, it’s interesting timing as the federal parliament tables a bill regarding same-sex marriages. “I think it is good for any nation, any country to embrace all of its people and all of the inalienable rights in all of us because that is the only way we are going to find any peace in our world is if we embrace all the differences.”
Liza Minnelli The daughter of Judy Garland, Minnelli was almost as big an icon in the gay community as her mother. Much like her mum, Minnelli also married multiple times, her first husband being Australia’s Peter Allen - eventually an openly gay man who remained friends with Minnelli after their divorce until his death. She spent time in Andy Warhol’s factory; married the son of the man who played the Tin-Man in her mother’s Wizard of Oz, and dedicated much of her life to amFAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), after “having lost so many friends to the disease.”
Tegan and Sara Quinn The Canadian indie rock sisters have been loud supporters of same-sex marriage for a few years, penning a song about it called "I Was Married" from their 2007 album The Con."There is homophobia in every corner and pocket of this world, but at the core ... you just love someone and want to make mixtapes for them,” they once stated. Most recently they’ve come out swinging against Tyler The Creator for his homophobic lyrics. In a lengthy post on their website, the girls asked “when will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses?” Tyler's answer? “If Tegan and Sara need some hard dick, hit me up.” Ughhh…
Ricky Martin Despite facing endless questions about his sexuality as a result of his large gay fan base following the success of "Livin’ la Vida Loca", it wasn’t until 2010 that Ricky Martin publicly announced his homosexuality. Pressured into staying in the closet for fear of tarnishing his image, Martin has since claimed "everything about saying that I am gay feels right…if I’d known how good it was going to feel, I would have done it ten years ago." Since coming out he has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, and was married in New York this past January.
George Michael Like Ricky Martin, George Michael spent a long time keeping his sexuality under wraps. Unlike Martin, Michael wasn’t afraid of what it might do for his career; instead claiming he worried about the effect it would have on his mother. In 1996, after public sex allegations became very public indeed, he opened up about his life as a gay man. He performed at a rally for Equal Rights in Washington DC in 2000, and referred to California’s legalisation of same-sex marriage as “way overdue”.
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