Judy, Barbara, Diana, Cher, Britney, Ariana. What do these women all have in common?
They’re all queer icons.
But how many of them are actually queer?
Throughout LGBT history, many ‘queer icons’ have been straight. Although these icons might be avid supporters of the LGBT movement and are allies to the community, it is time to question why straight artists are considered gay icons, rather than gay artists being considered queer icons.
Pride events have been criticised for not championing queer artists. In 2019 Manchester Pride was criticised for booking Ariana Grande as the headliner, rather than an LGBT performer. Grande is one of many straight celebs who fall under the label ‘queer icon’ by the LGBT community. Having a straight artist headlining a pride event unfortunately could lead to the event losing its purpose, that is, celebrating the LGBT+ community. After booking Grande, prices to attend Manchester Pride skyrocketed. People might attend solely to see an artist perform, rather than because they support the movement. Pride should be an inclusive space for queer people to celebrate their identities, and that includes supporting queer performers. Rather than celebrate already popular straight artists, the gay community should allow smaller queer artists to perform in order to gain more exposure within the community.
The fetishization of straight white celebrities doesn’t end at the music industry. Two gay icons, Freddie Mercury and Elton John, were recently immortalised in film, in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019). In both films, the flamboyant gay men were portrayed by straight actors, Rami Malek and Taron Egerton. Bohemian Rhapsody in particular was criticised for de-queering Mercury’s life, focusing on his relationship with an ex-girlfriend over his gay relationships. Perhaps if more gay people had been involved in the production of the film, then a greater importance would have been placed on the portrayal of a gay icon on screen. There are many gay actors out there who should have been allowed to portray these gay icons.
It is time for the LGBT community to stop idolizing straight white people as queer icons. Any artist can jump on a stage and wave a rainbow flag. There are plenty of other artists that could be supported instead. Hayley Kiyoko, Adam Lambert, Janelle Monáe, and Troye Silvan are all examples of LGBT artists who authentically speak to the LGBT experience.
I am not saying that queer people shouldn’t support straight celebs. Many of them work tirelessly to support the LGBT community and help to spread a positive message of love and inclusivity with their huge platforms. However, I do think it is time that straight celebrities are no longer seen as queer icons. Nick Jonas shouldn’t be on the cover of OUT magazine just because he’s attractive. Ariana Grande shouldn’t headline Pride events just because she’s an ally.
It is time for queer icons to actually be queer.