the famous

When Good Gay Icons Go Bad: Debunking + Spelunking 5 Anti-Gay Scandals


You love them. You adore them. And in the words of your 17-year-old self defending the posters on your walls, no one really ever “gets you” like they do. But sometimes, for the men and women we’ve come to revere—even the most vocal champions of the LGBT cause—things can get a little…weird. Did he really just say that? Is she really working with him? He stuck it where? (Well, perhaps not that last one.)

Nobody’s perfect, least of all gay icons. But here are five random acts of counter-progression that had us briefly strung out.

And remember: We still love you all.


WHO: Donna Summer
WHAT: Alleged anti-gay remarks

THE LEGEND: Ah, the classic urban legend. In the 1980s, rumors swirled that the Queen of Disco made some nasty remarks about the gays—namely, that AIDS was God’s way of punishing the community. The gossip current was so strong that in 1991, New York magazine matter-of-factly cited these alleged quotes as the truth in an article leading to death threats and hate mail sent directly to Summer.

THE TRUTH: According to an 1999 Gay Times article, the rumor came to be after a concert in 1983, when the “Love To Love You Baby” singer allowed the audience to stick around after the show for a Q&A session. After happily agreeing to pray for, and eventually hugging an audience member with AIDS, a defensive fan began debating with Summer regarding the hypocrisy of her support for the gay community meshing with her newfound Christianity, enraging both the audience and the singer until she burst out with something along the lines of, “It was because of the reckless lifestyle AIDS was in the gay community to begin with.”

THE REACTION: Summer, who fervently denies ever having said anything of that nature, decided to sue New York to the tune of $50 million after editors refused to retract the story. The case was settled outside of court and the controversy was never heard from again—well, except for a small mention in almost every article written about her ever since.


WHO: Janet Jackson
WHAT: Duet with noted homophobe Beenie Man

THE LEGEND: In 2002, outspoken gay rights supporter Janet Jackson teamed up with Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man for a duet called “Feel It Boy.” Beenie Man, now a long forgotten artist, sparked worldwide criticism for his lyrics, which featured a blunt distaste for homosexuality, including such gems as “I’m a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays” and “hang chi chi gal wid a long piece of rope [Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope].” He even once issued a non-apologetic apology to anyone offended by his music–but not for his message. As a result of this collaboration, British gay rights group Outrage! (which functions as the HRC’s bitchy, alarmist step-sister) demanded a boycott of the single, an apology from Janet, and an apology from the BBC for broadcasting his music in the first place.

THE RETRACTION: Upon learning of Beenie Man’s controversial body of work, Ms. Jackson immediately issued an apology via Genre magazine: “If I had known that, I would not have worked with him…It’s shocking to me. We’re on the same label, so I should have known. But at the same time, I wish someone from the company would have told me, knowing how…I feel about the gay community.”

THE DEJA VU: Two years later in 2004, Jackson wound up in the studio with Elephant Man–another Jamaican dancehall artist with an equally hate-filled back catalog (“Queers must be killed!”). As it turned out, both collaborations found Jackson at her creative worst, and it’s unlikely she’ll be venturing into the genre ever again.


WHO: Elton John
WHAT: Ambiguous Prop 8 stance

THE LEGEND: After the narrow passage of Proposition 8 delivered a severe blow to the marriage equality movement in California, the legendary performer and increasingly bitchy Sir Elton John was interviewed by USA Today, where he said: “I don’t want to be married. I’m very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership. The word marriage, I think, puts a lot of people off. You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships.”

THE REACTION: Young and old gays alike grew increasingly dissatisfied with that obnoxious, ostentatious Brit.

THE REALITY: I don’t imagine Elton actually comprehends the fact that he’s still missing out on approximately 1,100 benefits without the word “marriage” hanging over his union to “husband” (civil-partner?), David Furnish. But he’s rich enough not to have to care about such things.


WHO: Madonna
WHAT: Unfortunate snarkiness

THE LEGEND: During a brief interview with Entertainment Tonight fixture Mark Steines, Madonna chastised the host for wearing a vintage Madonna tee. “I can’t be seen with you dressed like that,” she told him. Asked why, she responded, “You’re a cowboy from the waist down, and you’re gay from the waist up. It’s a little bit weird.” The two began giggling off the “insult” as Steines flips classic clip of Madge from ’84 while at exclaiming in disbelief, “You just called me gay!”

THE REALITY: I understand—‘twas but a mere mortal sitting there pestering you with pedestrian questions rather than placing rose petals betwixt your toes and applying the ageless lotion. An easy target, yes. But still, what’s with the hostility, Madge? We know you don’t like looking backward, but without our community’s embrace of that wedding dress or the Gaultier cone-bra, you’d be absolutely nowhere.

THE RETRACTION: The release of 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor.


WHO: Jason Donovan
WHAT: Abusing the judicial system to prove his non-gayness

THE LEGEND: For Yanks unfamiliar, Jason Donovan is (was?) a popular Australian singer and former flame/co-star/duet-partner of that other-other-gay-icon across the pond, Kylie Minogue. Somewhere between his turn on stage in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and recording songs with the “Your Disco Needs You” chanteuse, Donavan was pegged as a HOMO in 1991 by British rag The Face. Outraged, he took to the courts to prove himself a full-fledged lady lover in a 1992 libel suit. He won—judicially speaking—though it would result in harsh criticism from the media and gay rights organizations for years to come.

THE (NON) RETRACTION: As of 2007, Donavan still backs his decision to save face—by taking down The Face, that is. In an interview with the Guardian, Donavan noted, “I don’t regret it…I don’t think I ever really understood, totally, what I was getting myself into. If I had my time again, maybe I’d have done it differently. But I did it and you live with it and you get on with it.”

THE AFTERMATH: Aside from a shaky music career and a cameo on—you guessed it—Kylie Minogue’s one-off variety show in 2007, Donavan played a lead role in the 2009 London staging of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Justice served, I suppose.

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