Magazine News & Features What makes a gay icon? By Richard Patrick | @IncrediblyRich Change has always been at the heart of the gay rights movement whether it’s political, societal or personal. But as the push for equality skips tentatively down the path of progression, subtle shifts are occurring in the blueprints of LGBT culture. With young gay people growing up with an equal age of consent, protection against workplace discrimination and the ability to marry one another, their role in society is bound to be significantly different from those who came before them. As such, their selection of heroes, role models and icons could be changing too. Every generation has a different set of criteria for what it means to be a gay icon but the common denominator seems to be an ability to overcome adversity. Historically, this accolade was bestowed upon the female starlets of Hollywood’s golden age with Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford being pushed to the very top of the homo hierarchy. These women had accomplished what gay men always dreamed of; they defied all expectations and achieved recognition just for being themselves. At a time when gay people were systematically repressed by all aspects of society, these glamorous women embodied both the struggle and the ultimate goal. But as views on homosexuality slowly shifted in the right direction, tragic glamour no longer fitted the mould and Hollywood’s finest were gradually dethroned in favour of the strong, independent pop princess. Artists like Cher and Madonna set the template with their unapologetic sexuality and willingness to challenge authority, gaining legions of loyal fans by embracing the very community that helped them on the way to stardom. Almost every diva since has followed this guaranteed path to success, but the latest crop are taking things a step further by using their status as gay icons to actively campaign for real social change. Lady Gaga has become the de facto spokesperson for every queer kid in the universe and is consistently vocal in her passion for equality. Even younger artists like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato are politically provocative when it comes to supporting gay rights, with Cyrus sporting an equal marriage tattoo and Lovato covering her otherwise-naked male dancers with Vladimir Putin masks in solidarity for her gay Russian fan base. This new breed of icon is no longer a mere representation of our inner struggle; they are passionately aligning themselves with their gay fans and personally championing our cause right on the front line. But with so many musicians, actors and reality stars vying for that coveted icon status (a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page lists almost every celebrity on the planet) a new generation of inspiring role models are emerging from within our own community to become heroes in their own right. Michael Sam recently became the first openly gay player to be drafted to the NFL and gave this momentous event even more heart by kissing his boyfriend on national television. Ellen Page also gave a rousing speech earlier this year in which she professed a personal responsibility to improve the lives of others just by being herself, while stars such as Matt Bomer, Tom Daley and Jim Parsons have all embraced the casual approach to coming out. These people are not setting out to change the world through vociferous political activism; they are just being authentic, open and honest in the hope that others will be inspired to do the same. They may not see themselves as role models, but many young people will undoubtedly see them as such. While the historical canon of gay icons will always be worshipped and new generations are sure to discover the joys of Judy and Joan, it would seem that we are gradually expanding the criteria for admission into the rainbow hall of fame. In an age where gay people want to be respected for their differences and to speak openly without fear of mockery, judgement or harassment, it makes perfect sense that our icons have become those people who proudly put this into action every day. This shift could perhaps reflect a change in our own internal dialogue; by gaining confidence in what it means to be gay and securing our place in the modern world, we are more willing to crown ourselves as heroes instead of those who speak out on our behalf. As we develop our voice and encourage others to do the same, we are becoming the very role models we once aspired to be. Be your own role model We all need role models. Some of us look to parents, some of us look to family. Some will look to a pop star, football player or the diva who lives next door. Either way we all need someone to help us through our day to day life. But if you find it difficult to look up to someone, well there’s always yourself. Here’s our little guide to becoming your own role model. 1. Be yourself – Easier said than done but once you figure out who you are as a person and start to love yourself (yeah cheesy – but it’s true) then you are on the path to happiness. 2. Make a list – Think about all the things you would want in a role model. Maybe to be better at sport, better at dating, more confident talking to men. Second, think of all the ways you can get there and start planning how you can do it. 3. Have a goal in life – It’s too easy to just float from weekend to weekend without making much stride in life. Everyone wants to leave their mark on this planet. What do you really want to do in your short stay here? 4. Don’t let little things affect you – People suck, and not in a good way. To use an internet term, “haters gonna hate”, but it’s true. You can’t manage people and lots will want to bring you down to their level. Let them hate and just keep true to who you are. 5. Smile – yep, just smile – As adults we don’t smile or laugh as much as we should. Smiling lets out endorphins in the brain that make us feel better about ourselves. So, smile! 6. Be your best – Having an ‘I can’t do this’ attitude will not help anything. Step outside your comfort zone and push yourself to better yourself. 7. Surround yourself with true friends – If your friends aren’t pushing you to be a better person, if they are not supporting you in new relationships, if they are not telling you how fucking fantastic you are then you need to ditch them immediately. True friends will push you to be a better person. 8. And finally – to quote RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Can we get an amen? SUPPORT Sometimes we all need a little push to guide us in the right direction. If you need a helping hand here are some support services that can help you: London Friend – provides counselling and support for LGB&T people living in London. Visit www.londonfriend.org.uk. The London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard – helpline open daily 10am – 11pm. Call 0300 330 0630. For more support links, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/prevention-support-services.