06/26/2014 10:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Streisand, Minnelli and Garland: Pop Icons, Gay History

Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland...the divas, the girls, the icons, the legends. Three names for years engrained in Pop culture, but holding a very special place in GLBT culture. Until now?

The gay dating app Jack'd took a survey during this season of Gay Pride (June is Gay Pride Month) about gay icons old and new. The current ones, people like Michael Sams, President Obama, Laverne Cox are not surprises. What was, and what actually set me aback, was the "icons that should be retired" question.

Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland came up as the answers.

And not only did that hurt, but it just seemed wrong.

You see, there may not be a modern gay pride movement if it weren't for one of the divas, and the other two have provided a respite, a shining light, for gay men and women around the world.


First, the history. June 27th, 1969 was the funeral for Judy Garland. She died June 22, 1969. During her life, she had become a gay icon. While she herself was quoted as saying, "I sing for people, all people," when asked about her gay fans, there can be no doubt the gay community sustained her.

The date is important, because that night, at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City several people had either been to the funeral, listened, mourned the death of their icon. And while historians have argued whether or not her death and funeral played any role in the start of the riots, people who were there, people like Sylvia Rivera, feel otherwise.

"I guess Judy Garland's death just really helped us really hit the fan," she stated. Rivera was a GLBT activist and founder of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance who passed away in 2002.

So to hear modern-day gay men during Pride month speak of Garland and how she should be retired as an icon...Garland is part of Pride history; and always will be.

Maybe it's hard for modern-day gays to imagine a time where speaking out for the community carried a large price. Perhaps, as these Jack'd users hop around from gay bar to gay bar it's hard to remember that The Stonewall Inn, where it all started, wasn't even a gay bar; because gay bars weren't allowed, by law. The Stonewall Inn was mob-owned and catered to all the outcasts; drag queens, gay men and butch women, prostitutes, drug abusers, there was safety in number for those on the outside. The bar, like so many others, allegedly made payments to keep the cops at bay; but, at times, that line was crossed.

Perhaps they can't imagine a time when a woman, or a man, could be arrested for not wearing three items of clothing specific to their gender (as decided by the police officer) or a bartender or club could be shut down for letting two people of the same gender dance together. The Dark Ages? The 1960s. And 1970s, like June 24th, 1973 when the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans burned and 32 people died after a MCC service. Reverend Bill Larson of the MCC clung to the bars of one window until he died, and his charred remains were visible to onlookers for hours afterwards. The news barely mentioned the GLBT issue and talk shows made light of it. It was allegedly started by a gay man who had "conversion hysteria." The aftermath was disgraceful.

Speaking of aftermaths, on the morning June 28th, 1969 the drag queens and others in the Village of NYC couldn't have imagined that in a few short years after their uprising there would be GLBT organizations, safe places for the community in New York and other places and some 45 years later there would be world-wide festivals celebrating their uprising.

And along the way, we continued to develop a culture and Garland, Minnelli and Streisand have been a part of the movement since there was one.

Streisand has been a source of light for odd outcasts everywhere for almost six decades. An awkward teenager from a home where her father died and mother remarried a man that wasn't crazy about her; immense talent wrapped in a look that many found quirky. She was a perfectionist, a diva from the start, demanding the most of herself and those around her. She was and is an empowered woman, a strong woman in an industry that frowns upon them, still. GLBT community members could and can relate to her struggle, her life, her art.

As a superstar, she has been a tireless advocate of GLBT rights. Her son, Jason Gould, lives an out, proud life. Streisand is a proud liberal, she reads Congressional briefs regularly, is involved in women's health and heart issues and has tried to foster understanding between people everywhere through music, film, art and knowledge. Her website still maintains "Truth Alerts" and editorials from Streisand about current affairs. She has lobbied for major progressive voices and has never shied away from the GLBT community.


Minnelli was the survivor of the Garland legacy, along with sister Lorna Luft. She made movies like "Cabaret" that became GLBT (and the world's) classics. And like her mother and Streisand she has been an advocate for GLBT rights her entire life.

So to see these three names come up on a list that gay men, from the gay community about what icons should be retired during Pride, and to see their replacements (Iggy Azalea, Solange Knowles, Tom Daley) well, the bar doesn't seem to be very high as to what makes an icon such.

But more importantly, it speaks to how little today's GLBT community members, and, in particular gay men 18-35 who find themselves on Jack'd, know about our history, the history of gay culture in America, and how important these three women have been to it. And not just them: Midler, Ross, Cher, Brice, Tomlin and so many other actors, singers, artists that either started in, gained huge support from or meant a great deal to the GLBT community.

And Garland in particular since her death and funeral occurred on the very eve of the start of the modern GLBT pride movement.

Volumes have been written about why the gay community loves divas and icons, and certainly not every member of it does. And as times change, so will the names. But history will never change and Garland, Streisand and Minnelli are as much a part of gay history as they are pop culture of this century, the last, and future years.

And while they may retire from performing, or have passed on, their place in that history not only should never change, but should never be forgotten, especially during the season of Pride.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this post identified Jack'd as a "gay sex app." The company describes its product as a "gay dating app." This post has been updated accordingly.