10 iconic popstars who broke LGBT boundaries

6 June 2023, 15:39 | Updated: 8 June 2023, 13:22

Here are 10 trailblazing artists that have made the LGBTQ+ community more visible in the world through their music.
Here are 10 trailblazing artists that have made the LGBTQ+ community more visible in the world through their music. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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The LGBTQ+ community is now more visible than ever, especially within the music and entertainment industries.

The advent of social media over the past decade or so has definitely helped to boost the level of representation of LGBTQ+ people in media industries, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Of course, there are still plenty of barriers that people face when announcing their true selves to the world. The progress that the community has made in terms of acceptance though is still immensely significant.

There have been many times that trailblazing icons of music have often broken down these barriers under the scrutiny of the spotlight and paved the way for the public perception to shift and help the LGBTQ+ community to embrace their identities and follow in their footsteps.

To celebrate Pride month, here’s a list of 10 popstars that broke LGBTQ+ boundaries throughout their careers.

1. George Michael

George Michael - Outside (Official Video)

International sex symbol and the object of many women's desires, George Michael risked it all when announcing to a CNN interviewer that he was gay in 1998.

The announcement came a week after he was arrested for a "lewd" act in Beverly Hills, to which George proudly declared he didn't "feel any shame."

"I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don't feel any shame whatsoever" George said at the time.

With his sexuality now under the media microscope, George beat the papers to the chase by referencing the incident in his lauded video for 'Outside', the first single from his greatest hits album.

2. Freddie Mercury

Queen - I Want To Break Free (Official Video)

Freddie Mercury's sexuality was known to his Queen bandmates for many years prior to it being public knowledge, and in many ways that gave him license to express his true self under the guise of being a flamboyant rock star.

'I Want To Break Free' for instance was incredibly playful and suggestive, going right under the noses of the unassuming general public as an anthem for gay identity with the band all famously cross-dressing in the music video.

Much of Freddie's lyricism was a thinly veiled confession of his sexuality, with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' since being considered his first true expression of his identity in a world of macho rock music.

He often evaded questions about his sexuality from the press, wanting to avoid being pigeon-holed, though when asked if he was "bent" by the NME in 1974 he playfully answered: “I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear!”

3. Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert performs 'Whole Lotta Love' on American Idol

The American Idol singer would eventually step into Freddie's shoes, but Adam Lambert had already made huge strides for the LGBTQ+ community before touring with Queen.

Despite coming second in the finale of the 2009 series, Lambert would wait until after before revealing his sexuality.

"I don't think it should be a surprise for anyone to hear I'm gay" he told Rolling Stone magazine, which wasn't received too kindly by his Glambert Fan Club.

Still, that didn't stop Lambert from becoming the first openly gay artist to hit Number One on the Billboard charts with his second album Trespassing.

4. Village People

Village People - YMCA OFFICIAL Music Video 1978

In the 1970s, Village People crossed into the mainstream charts and became one of the most recognisable disco-pop groups in contemporary music.

It was likely due to their playful, fun take on gender roles, being a group of openly gay men dressed in outfits that skewed stereotypical American masculinity.

'In The Navy' and 'Macho Man' became huge hits, but neither endure more than 'Y.M.C.A.', the perennial gay disco hit.

The global chart-topper put gay culture firmly on the map, and has since been regarded as one of the greatest dance songs of all time.

5. Elton John

Elton John Breaks Down 14 Looks From 1968 to Now | Life in Looks | Vogue

Let's face it, Sir Elton John has always been a bit of a diva. But he's also been one of the biggest and most visible advocates for LGBTQ rights in music history.

Initially coming out as bisexual in 1976 to Rolling Stone magazine, it damaged his reputation somewhat with one intolerant fan responding to the interview saying that "the effect is shattering."

The backlash wouldn’t deter Elton from being himself and being a proud, openly gay man however, doubling down on his flamboyant outfits and campness.

In 1992 he declared he was "quite comfortable being gay”, and only a year later found the love of his life in David Furnish.

6. Cher

Cher and Chaz Bono have an incredible relationship, despite the singer admitted to finding her son's transition difficult at first.
Cher and Chaz Bono have an incredible relationship, despite the singer admitted to finding her son's transition difficult at first. Picture: Cher/Instagram

Despite not being LGBTQ herself, Cher has forever been a gay icon because of her outspoken nature and glamorous style.

But her credentials were truly put to the test when her son Chaz Bono revealed he was transgender, a moment she initially found "very difficult" at first.

Since announcing his transition, Chaz has been one of the trans community's most significant members and his mum has supported him fully ever since after deciding to live his truth.

Cher also teamed up with fellow LGBTQ icon Donatella Versace for a 'Chersace' Pride collection with all of the proceeds going to the inclusive charity Gender Spectrum.

7. Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin on Coming Out to the World | The Oprah Winfrey Show | Oprah Winfrey Network

Ricky Martin was 'Livin' Da Vida Loca' as a global superstar and Latin heartthrob after he burst into the US charts in 1999.

A year later, suspicions over his sexuality were addressed in an interview with Barbara Walters, but it wasn't until 2010 that he fully declared he was a gay man.

Putting the rumours to rest, Ricky proudly wrote on his website: "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am."

In a recent interview, he said he would have come out "a long time ago" if he knew the reaction was going to be so incredibly positive.

8. Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper - True Colors (Official HD Video)

Cyndi Lauper has had close ties with the LGBTQ community for almost her entire life, and has been an advocate for LGBTQ rights throughout her career.

Her 1986 single 'True Colours' became a standard for the gay community due to the message of being true to yourself in the face of adversity.

She said the song resonated with her personally, due to the recent death of her friend Gregory Natal from AIDS/HIV.

Since then she co-founded the True Colors Foundation to help eradicate LGBTQ youth homelessness, and embarked on her 2007 True Colours Tour to promote LGBTQ rights in the US.

9. k.d. lang

k.d. lang - Constant Craving (Official Music Video) | Warner Vault

Country pop star k.d. lang was one of the most prominent cross-over stars in American music during the late 80s and early 90s.

She won numerous Grammy Awards for her work, including a duet with crooning country legend Roy Orbison in 1989.

But in 1992 she came out as gay, and faced torrid abuse from the country music community, being banned from radio stations and even being picketed outside the 1993 Grammy Awards by religious zealots.

That didn't halt her success however, as she went on even more Grammys, including a duet with legendary crooner Tony Bennett in 2004.

10. Boy George

1984: Classic BOY GEORGE interview | Wogan | Classic TV Interview | BBC Archive

Culture Club became a cultural phenomenon here in the UK and over in the US almost immediately after the release of 'Karma Chameleon' in 1984.

Their unique blend of soul, pop, reggae, and new wave aesthetics made them one of the most influential groups of the decade.

The band's influence can also be traced to outspoken lead singer Boy George's unashamed advocacy for his culture and his community within the media spotlight and public domain.

"We haven't compromised on the way he look, the way we think about things," Boy George told Terry Wogan in a classic early interview.

He's forever remained true to himself, storming the US charts with "some real English eccentricity", and in turn becoming one of the most prominent and widely adored LGBTQ icons.