bow down

PHOTOS: 25 fabulous women who’ve earned their “gay icon” status

We’re quick to throw around the word “iconic” these days — talk to any gay person under the age of 25, and you’re sure to hear it in every other sentence. But what does it actually take to be an icon, let alone a gay icon? As these ladies prove, it takes a mix of talent, advocacy, and a genuine love for the queer community.

A true gay icon has to do more than just be a diva (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). All of the women on this list have created legendary pieces of queer media, from camp classic films to fashion-forward looks to enduring hits in the club. But it’s their support for the queer community outside of their work that sets them apart and makes them worthy of icon status.

Now, prepare to bow down and take a look at these 25 gay icons who’ve earned their title…

Lady Gaga

What has Gaga not done for queer folks? She’s been a loud and proud advocate in both her music and her activism, from her iconic gay anthem “Born This Way” to her rallying against the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.


Queen Bey’s latest album Renaissance rocked the world last summer with its ballroom-inspired house beats, and she made sure to thank the queer community “​​for your love, and for inventing the genre” in her Grammys acceptance speech for Best Dance/Electronic Album.


Madonna was in the trenches with LGBTQ+ people back in the ‘80s, when she was one of few celebrities raising awareness of the AIDS crisis. That was only the beginning of her decades-long allyship.


She’s Cher, bitch. From making countless hits for us to dance to in the club, to supporting her transgender son Chaz Bono’s journey with sexuality and gender, Cher’s proven her gay icon status is something we can believe in.

Elizabeth Taylor

The iconic actress was among the loudest celebrity advocates during the AIDS crisis. In 2000, she received the GLAAD Vanguard Award, famously saying in her acceptance speech, “There is no Gay agenda; it’s a human agenda. Why shouldn’t gay people be able to live as open and freely as everybody else?”

Liza Minelli

Minelli is synonymous with musical theater, and she’s always used her incredible talent for good: at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1994, Minelli paid tribute to the victims of the AIDS crisis with a touching performance of “The Day After That.”

Kylie Minogue

Minogue has been a hitmaker since the ‘80s, and her iconicness is still going strong in 2023, with sleeper hit single “Padam Padam” taking over gay clubs and Minogue herself giving surprise performances at queer events like New York’s Horse Meat Disco.

Barbra Streisand

Legendary “Funny Girl” Streisand has used her musical career to speak out against bigotry: her 2018 album Walls featured a pro-LGBTQ+ anthem, “Love’s Never Wrong,” along with a message to the queer community to get to the polls for that year’s midterm elections.


Beyond making hit after hit, Rihanna has staked her claim in the lingerie space with her brand, Savage X Fenty. The brand’s runway shows are famously inclusive of queer models of all shapes and sizes, including queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and plenty of other queer celebrities.


The singer has kept her own sexuality ambiguous — who needs labels, anyway? — but has always stood up for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2016, she earned the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. “My message today is don’t be afraid to speak up against any injustice you experience,” she said in her acceptance speech. “Don’t let people scare or shame you into changing the things about you that make you unique.”


The “Everybody’s Gay” singer is, of course, a fierce ally to the queer community. Amid ongoing anti-drag legislation across America, Lizzo brought drag queens out at her April concert in Nashville, Tennessee, effortlessly mixing music and advocacy.

Keke Palmer

Actress, singer, and all-around superstar Palmer was honored with the Vanguard Award at this year’s Los Angeles LGBT Center Gala. “There is no greater masterpiece than living your truth,” she said at the event. Palmer is queer herself, along with providing us all prime meme material: we will forever be “sorry to this man.”

Kacey Musgraves

Musgraves’ music has included messages of equality since the start of her country career. Her breakout hit “Follow Your Arrow” encouraged listeners to “kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into,” and the hopeful ballad “Rainbow” off her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour carries that message forward.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Beyond delivering pop perfection on her albums Emotion and The Loneliest Time, Jepsen has always stood for queer equality. In 2013, she pulled out of a concert for the Boy Scouts of America in protest of their ban on openly gay scouts and troop leaders.

Maren Morris

The country music industry is famously unfriendly to queerness, but that hasn’t stopped Morris from standing up for queer rights. At a March event benefiting the Tennessee Equality Project, she took the stage with drag queens and dared authorities to “f*cking arrest” her.

Charli XCX

Her electro-pop beats naturally resonate with queer listeners, but Charli tangibly supports queer folks too. She’s collabed with innumerable queer artists, including Troye Sivan, Kim Petras, and Big Freedia. And at meet-and-greets, she’s become infamous for signing queer memorabilia, from poppers to douches.

Cyndi Lauper

One of the biggest hitmakers of the ‘80s, Lauper is also a legendary advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. In 2008, she co-founded True Colors United, a nonprofit combating homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth.

Diana Ross

One of Ross’ biggest hits, “I’m Coming Out,” has been an LGBTQ+ anthem since its groundbreaking release in 1980. In 2021, songwriter Nile Rodgers confirmed the song was inspired by seeing drag queens impersonating Ross in a New York City Club.

Dolly Parton

Genuinely, how could you not love Dolly Parton? The country legend has always stood up for queer folks, from her 1991 song “Family” (which includes the lyric, “Some are preachers, some are gay / Some are addicts, drunks and strays / But not a one is turned away, when it’s family”) to encouraging Christian homophobes to be less judgmental (“We are all God’s children. We are all who we are and we should be allowed to be who we are,” she said in a 2016 interview with Larry King). 

Miley Cyrus

Cyrus is queer herself, and it shows in her songwriting and her advocacy. In 2014, Cryus donated $500,000 to The Foundation For AIDS Research and founded the Happy Hippies Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations.


Despite not being gay herself, P!nk has long been known as an “honorary lesbian” for her androgynous style. Her 2006 song “Dear Mr. President” openly criticized the Bush administration, including the lyric, “And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”

Janet Jackson

Jackson’s 1997 album The Velvet Rope featured several songs in celebration of the queer community: “Free Xone,” which explicitly spoke out against homophobia; “Together Again,” a dance track dedicated to those lost to the AIDS crisis; and a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night,” which Jackson sang with the original pronouns unchanged.

Patti LaBelle

LaBelle’s positive attitude toward the queer community is anything but new. Back in 1987, LaBelle became a spokeswoman for the National Minority AIDS Council, partnering on its “Live Long Sugar” campaign, aimed at providing sexual health education to people of color living with HIV and AIDS.

Bette Midler

Midler got her start performing in bathhouses — no, seriously — and she’s maintained her gay icon status ever since. She was performing at Pride celebrations as early as the ‘70s, and we’re grateful to call her a friend to the queer community.

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  • powersthatbe

    All queens who light a way, in a way that can never be repaid. Thank you all. May many more follow your examples (and hopefully some more straight men too).

    • m

      Up vote to your comment

    • blf49


    • dbmcvey


    • G-Man

      Totally agree!

  • Man About Town

    Yo Judela: Liza’s last name is spelled Minnelli!

  • Paris in Santiago

    If we can add Princess Diana on the list, that will be nice. She did her part for us and she had an impact on the world as to how people with AIDS must be supported.

    • Jack Meoff

      Absolutely! The only member of the current royal family to do anything meaningful aside from Queen Liz.

  • Jim

    Sorry being female singer doesn’t make you a gay icon

    • Jim

      So true

  • frapachino

    One cannot be an icon if they support and promote morbid obesity!

    • ScottOnEarth

      What does George Santos have to do with this?

    • Kangol2

      Being an icon has nothing to do with body size but perhaps you shouldn’t talk about your heroes Chris Christie and Don the Con that way!

    • dbmcvey

      Frap? What’s wrong with you?


      @frapachino, you suck and not in the good way!!!


      frap, does anyone support your morbid, hateful ignorance?

    • abfab

      Frappy is an angry old man and dull as dishwater.

  • ScottOnEarth

    This is a great example of the ridiculous over-use of the word “icon.” No, not everyone who ever recorded a song is an icon. No offense to any of the women on this list but, Lizzo, seriously? She’s been on the scene for about a minute and has hardly stood the test time. And Kesha? No. If you’re *really* looking to acknowledge gay icons who have stood by us for many, many years, you may want to include Nancy Pelosi and the incredible Mariah Carey (I can’t believe you left her off this list!).

    • Marcio Claesen

      Exactly. To be an “icon” you need to stand the test of time. It’s kind of ridiculous to put Liz Taylor and Barbra Streisand on the same level as Lizzo, Charlie XCX and Kesha. I’m not a fan of Mariah, but definitely, she has stood the test of time and is a gay icon. Katy Perry, with 15 years of international career, is much more a gay icon than Kesha, Lizzo and Charlie XCX. And Britney and Christina, where are they?

  • blf49

    What defines and icon most? Too many factors to even… So don’t even.

    Rather than quibble about women I don’t know, please consider adding two entertainers:

    La Lupone. How could we leave Pattia Lupone out? I’d vote to include her merely for her clips with Randy Rainbow during the Trump years. IMHO, Patti Lupone is a major ally, and effective supporter.

    Kristin Chenowith is my other suggestion, although some of her actions might be beyond (Mormon Tabernacle Choir gig). But like Jepson, she has moved from a traditional conservative Christian childhood to a position of open support.

    There are others as well, but I wonder if their reach is broad enough. Every single person who suppports us deserves thanks. Even if they are not perfect.

  • Diplomat

    Liz Taylor’s legacy of support is still physically in effect today with Amfar still in place. She really got down and dirty in her fight to help gay people on all levels. Love the hell out of her for that. Along with her internal desire to assist makind any way she could, I’m sure Rock was a big inspiration.

  • Diplomat

    Liz Taylor’s legacy of support is still physically in effect today with Amfar still in place. She really got down and dirty in her fight to help gay people on all levels. Love the hell out of her for that. Along with her natural maternal desire to assist mankind in any way she could, I’m sure Rock was a big inspiration.

    • Jim

      LIZ is/was a icon. period

  • cuteguy

    No JLo , no list

    • powersthatbe

      Sozzles but Jenny from the Block, as much as I love her, has a patchy record when it comes to supporting her gays.


    I am a fan of eight of them. I could not care less about the rest of them.

  • Joshooeerr

    Somebody has no clue what “icon” even means.


    not just Miss Ross, but THE SUPREMES. those gowns, the big hair, the music and they loved their gay fans.


      i’ll second that, misterjett!!!

    • abfab

      You can’t hurry love!

    • Jim

      shout out to Mary & Flo with an honourable mention to Cindy

  • eeebee333

    Bette Midler performed in one bathhouse, not “bathhouses”. And it wasn’t really how she got her start. She’d already been on Broadway for a few years.

    • dbmcvey

      It’s where she got her start as a solo entertainer and where she developed her style and irreverent humor. She didn’t do that in Fiddler on the Roof.

  • FreddieW

    You have dead women on the list, so I guess you’ve never heard of Dusty Springfield.

    And where are Annie Lennox, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kate McKinnon? You really think Miley Cyrus edges out any of those ladies?

  • Jim

    Yes not all these women are “gay ” icons, but it is nice that the list isn’t just current icons but the historical ones.
    Too often the young turks who make up these lists don’t know anything about what has occurred before their birth.

  • monty clift

    Beyoncé a gay icon? She just recently performed in one of the most homophobic countries in the world and had nothing to say about their anti-gay laws. How about giving credit to the real activists that are actually making a difference and not these half-baked, money-grubbing pop stars.

    • abfab

      Yes, she performed in the Untied States.

    • monty clift

      There is a little old, decrepit bridge somewhere with your name on it, GOPfab.

  • xanadude

    Uh, hello? Glaring omission: Olivia Newton-John! She was a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, and a majority of her hardcore fans are gay.

    • KJ

      Right? The first positive thing I ever heard about queer folk was from Olivia Newton-John in the 70s. Sure didn’t hear it at church! Add that that her efforts regarding care of the earth.

      There are many wonderful women in this list, but I’ve always been drawn to the ones who gave a damn about others. I was very glad in 2017 that I got to tell Olivia that she was my diva before I knew I was supposed to have one. Rest in peace, Olivia.

  • Glynn

    Gloria Gaynor – look she even has gay in her name – But, she is what she is, and she will survive this list omission.

    • abfab

      Oh, she performed in the United States?

    • abfab

      Dear Glynn….ignore my reply…it was meant for Monty, the bigot above, not you.

  • Davy

    Beyoncé?? Really ??! There’s a big difference between SUPPORTING our culture and stealing from and/or pandering to it for sales. SIGH

  • Claytonisahobo

    I agree that many of these ladies are indeed gay Icons, however alot of them have not been around long enough to deserve the label ICON. IMy Gawd Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful woman.

    • Jim

      Yes her beauty and allure are incomparable

  • Ozzerino

    RE: Liza Minnelli: “It’s M I double N then E double L I you double up the N that’s “n” not nou then E double the L end it with an I that’s the way you say Minnelli.” (Actually even these Liza With a Z lyrics I got off the Internet originally had Minnelli misspelled.

  • Rueerty

    Where’s Marilyn Monroe??*

Comments are closed.