Who’s your gay icon?

April 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm 3 comments

According to Wikipedia, a Gay Icon is a person (usually (in)famous) who is embraced by LGBTs for being…um… sexually ambiguous, outrageous, outspoken, flamboyant, pro-LGBT yada yada. Actually, I don’t think Wiki’s definition is helpful at all considering who makes the list on there, and on this here National Portrait Gallery’s (UK) list of gay icons, compiled by 10 contemporary gay icons themselves.

Selected by Waheed Alli, Alan Hollinghurst, Elton John, Jackie Kay, Billie Jean King, Ian McKellen, Chris Smith, Ben Summerskill, Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Waters.

Gay Icons explores gay social and cultural history through the unique personal insights of ten high-profile gay figures, who have selected their historical and modern icons. The chosen icons, who may or may not be gay themselves, have all been important to each selector, having influenced or inspired them.

The list is interesting because it excludes many expected names such as Judy Garland, Martina Navratilova, Barbra Streisand, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Steinem, Ellen or Kylie Minogue. It includes persons unfamiliar to me but no less interesting. I guess they were restricted as to how many they could each choose.

From the Guardian:

Yesterday the gallery divulged about a third of the icons. The novelist Alan Hollinghurst has chosen two wildly different men: Andy Warhol’s sex symbol Joe Dallesandro, who starred as a hustler in Paul Morrissey’s trilogy Flesh, Trash, and Heat; and the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, an intense and painfully repressed Catholic who wrote some of the century’s most homoerotic poems. Elton John chose two straight men – his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin and one of the greatest cellists, the late Rostropovich. Nelson Mandela was chosen by King on the grounds that he is everybody’s icon, gay or straight. She also chose Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a grand slam tennis tournament.

The actor Sir Ian McKellen picked the assassinated San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and the much less well known Cammermeyer, who was discharged as a US army colonel after admitting she was a lesbian.

Chris Smith, the UK’s first out gay politician, chose the brilliant Enigma mathematician Turing, who in all likelihood killed himself in 1954 after he was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality. He was just 41.

Smith’s other choice was Virginia Woolf, who had a passionate affair with Vita Sackville-West.

Toksvig’s own choices include the 19th-century French sculptor Rosa Bonheur, who would probably not have called herself a lesbian but who lived with the same female companion for 50 years, the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and kd lang, “just for being gorgeous”.

Other icons include Young, Princess Diana and Lily Savage, all chosen by the media entrepreneur and peer Waheed Alli. The poet Jackie Kay has included Quentin Crisp and the bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith; the Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill chose poet Maya Angelou and playwright Joe Orton; and Tipping the Velvet writer Sarah Waters named the novelist Townsend Warner as her icon.

Gay Icons, the exhibit, runs from
2 July – 18 October 2009
Wolfson Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE
A fully illustrated book accompanies the exhibition. RRP £25 (hardback)

Tell me, if you were asked to select, who would be/are/were your gay icons?

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Entry filed under: Advocates, Queer. Tags: .

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Evecho’s newsy bits

News, updates and links from the lesbian and publishing ‘verse that interest me, my current projects, keeping up with authors and sharing musings on middle-class life, gourmet adventures and comparisons between East/West perspectives. My opinions will likely be linearly logical and gayly bent, as they tend to be.