Punk rock. Disco. Folk. Just as the community is all-inclusive, the songs that shaped it span across several genres. While new gay artists and empowering anthems pop up daily, it’s important to honor the tried-and-true classics.
It’s worth noting that it’s impossible to create a list like this without breaking a few hearts (sorry, Kylie fans), but these staples deserve heavy rotation during pride month and beyond.
Don’t miss the accompanying Spotify playlist at the end of this article for a last-minute soundtrack for your own pride parties.
1. Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out”
Fun fact: this track was penned with Miss Ross’ gay fans in mind. Songwriter Nile Rodgers was inspired after counting three Diana Ross drag impersonators during a night out at a New York City club.
2. George Michael – “Freedom! ‘90”
A decade prior to coming out, the singer winked at his sexuality with the lyric, “There’s something deep inside of me / There’s someone else I’ve got to be.” The song’s iconic video featured the era’s biggest supermodels – Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford – lip syncing the song.
3. Cher – “Believe”
The pop icon didn’t just reinvent her sound with this massive smash; she pioneered the use of Auto-Tune in pop music and, 35 years into her career, became the oldest female solo artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
4. Sylvester – “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”
The gender-bending disco diva refused to allow his AIDS diagnosis to damper his flamboyant spirit; he planned his own funeral, insisting on an open-casket funeral where he was dressed in a red kimono.
5. Grace Jones – “Pull Up To The Bumper”
While high-energy classics like Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Someone” and CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” see heavy rotation among gay clubs, Grace Jones’ laid back staple out-queers them all, with eyebrow-raising lyrics: “Pull up to my bumper baby / In your long black limousine / Pull up to my bumper baby / And drive it in between.”
6. Ani DiFranco – “In Or Out”
“I’ve got more than one membership / More than one club / And I owe my life to people that I love,” Ani brags on this acoustic bisexual manifesto.
7. Judy Garland – “Over the Rainbow”
The timeless ballad has been memorably covered by a motley crew of cherished singers: Liza Minnelli, Celine Dion, P!nk, Patti Labelle, Rufus Wainwright, Katharine McPhee and, most recently, Ariana Grande.
8. Meshell Ndegeocello – “Leviticus: Faggot”
The bisexual, neo-soul singer’s 1996 track tells the story of a “sweet lil’ boy just a little too sweet” for his parents’ approval. Its controversial music video follows a young man kicked out of his house for being gay and ultimately taking his life.
9. Bronski Beat – “Smalltown Boy”
The British synth-pop trio regularly explored their sexuality throughout their catalog (all three members were openly gay). This track, a global hit in 1984, recounts the heartbreaking story of a young man fleeing his hometown after being “pushed around and kicked around.”
10. Madonna – “Vogue”
This playlist could just as easily been a 20-song sampling from The Queen of Pop’s catalog, but it’s this song, which was inspired by NYC’s underground queer ballroom scene. The song, which was originally planned as a b-side, is credited with reviving the disco genre a decade after its commercial death and pushing house music into the mainstream.
11. Scissor Sisters – “Take Your Mama”
Not sure how to come out to your mother? Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears offers up sage advice on this playful, honky-tonk flavored jam: “We’ll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne / We’ll let the good times all roll out.”
12. Lou Reed – “Walk On the Wild Side”
The Velvet Underground frontman had a major radio hit with this 1972 tale of NYC personalities, despite its taboo themes of male prostitution and transsexualism. The characters described on the muted track are a who’s who of Andy Warhol’s inner circle.
13. RuPaul – “Supermodel (You Better Work)”
Close to two decades before queens sashayed onto audiences’ television screens in the form of Drag Race, Mama Ru commanded attention with her first major label single in 1992, hitting number 45 on the Billboard chart.
14. Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful”
Not only was its music video praised for its raw portrayal of queer people, but the empowering ballad was penned by out-and-proud singer-songwriter Linda Perry.
15. Cyndi Lauper – “True Colors”
Though the song wasn’t originally written for her, Cyndi resonated with the lyrics because of the recent death of a close friend due to AIDS. In years since, she channeled her energy into co-founding True Colors United, an organization that focuses on the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth.
16. Bikini Kill – “Rebel Girl”
“When she walks, the revolution’s coming / In her kiss, I taste the revolution,” snarls Kathleen Hanna. The punk rockers were pioneers of the early ’90s feminist riot grrrl movement.
17. k.d. lang – “Constant Craving”
As if this song wasn’t gay enough, the Glee rendition was a duet between the show’s resident lesbian, Santana (Naya Rivera), and guest star Idina Menzel.
18. Gloria Gaynor – “I Am What I Am”
While “I Will Survive” seems like the obvious choice for a Gaynor classic, “I Am What I Am” has gayer origins: the song, penned by out composer Jerry Herman, was written as the finale performance to close out the uber-gay Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles.
19. Lady Gaga – “Born This Way”
This track may be less than ten years old, but it became a gay classic upon arrival. Debuting at the top of charts across the world, the song is straightforward in its intention to empower the LGBTQ community: “No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born to survive,” the superstar commands.
20. Carl Bean – “I Was Born This Way”
Nearly a decade before Lady Gaga was born, Carl Bean released a song with a similar title to Mother Mother’s signature hit. And like her smash record, Bean’s 1977 track (which was previously recorded by fellow Motown recording artist Valentino) was forthright in its gay lyricism: “I’m happy / I’m careful / I’m gay,” the cheery-voiced singer proclaims over a disco beat.
Listen to and follow the playlist below.