LGBTQ Icons: A World With Less Rules
Updated: Aug 28
By Ritika Jain
The fashion industry as we know it today is full of diverse cultural influences, many stemming from the LGBTQ community. During pre-modern era fashion, audiences were met with pale, white, cisgendered faces on the runway and in magazines. Time has ceded many cultural icons, both in music and film, that are breakthroughs in the industry. People like Billy Porter, Laverne Cox, and Janelle Monae are dubbed as pioneers in fashion and LGBTQ advocacy. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge these icons and their everlasting contributions.
Billy Porter, Broadway star, activist, and playwright is known for stunning red carpets with his otherworldly looks. Memorable occasions include the 2019 Met Gala, where Porter entered on a litter wearing a metallic jumpsuit with a golden headpiece and a gold feathery cape. At the 2020 Grammys, he donned a blue crystal fitted jumpsuit accompanied by a motorized hat with dangling silver fringes. Porter consistently challenges notions of masculinity in his fashion, wearing gowns, capes, frills, and shimmery makeup. His style and energy have not only made a lasting impact at events, but on the big screen as well. Through his performance in FX’s “Pose,” he became the first openly gay Black man to be nominated and win in a lead category at the Emmys. He also snagged Grammy and Tony Awards for his performance in Broadway’s “Kinky Boots''. And, to honor his allegiance to the LGBTQ community, Porter was given the GLAAD Media Vito Russo Award. His imprint on American culture only leaves us wondering what his next steps are going to be.
The Orange is the New Black star is a notable force in fashion. As a trans woman, Cox embraces her identity and isn’t afraid to make a statement with her fashion. She’s worn bold and feminine gowns at events, like the black sheer high neck lace gown she wore at the “Charlie’s Angels” premiere last year, which outlined her curves and skin. The rainbow clutch she wore to last year’s Emmys held a stronger message: “Oct. 8, Title VII, Supreme Court”. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex, which the Trump administration is seeking to violate. Cox brought Chase Strangio as her date, who was fighting an anti-discrimination case at the time, on behalf of her client who came out as transgender in 2013 and was subsequently fired. Cox used the art of fashion to symbolize her fight for human rights.
“A lot of people aren’t talking about this case, and it has implications for the LGBT community. But it has implications for women and anyone who doesn’t conform to someone else’s idea of how you should be...a man or woman or neither!”, Cox said on the red carpet.
Cox is one of the leading voices in the trans community. She brought the movement to the light with her 2014 Time Magazine Cover, “The Transgender Tipping Point,” highlighting the experience that not only herself, but many others undertake. She also became the first openly trans woman to win a Daytime Emmy for her docu-series, “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word,” paving the way for more trans folk to attain public recognition.
Annie Clark, who goes by the name St. Vincent, is a queer musician that has branded herself in alternative rock, bringing an element of creativity to her style as well. She can be considered one of the most stylish performers, sporting tight, cut-out, latex bodysuits with her hair either slicked back or curly and tousled. The Grammy-winner said she grew up loving fashion, a tool she used to blend into her rock star persona and defy gender norms. Her eccentric electro-pop music bleeds into her everyday fashion, interchanging fashion and music as any good artist does. You can check out her stylistic evolution here.
Musician and actor Janelle Monae has a knack for thinking outside the box artistically. Her outfits reflect camp and androgynous clothing, mix and matching different styles and redefining how to wear a suit. Monae is known for her signature black-and-white suits, but is also one to experiment over the years. Her 2019 Met Gala look will forever remain in the books: a custom-made Christian Siriano dress split into halves, one side black and white while the other featuring a depiction of an eye with a bright pink bottom. She accessorized it with a black and white sleeve on her left arm and a pile of hats resting on her head. Monae showed up to 2018 BET Awards in a rainbow ruffled gown, celebrating her queerness. Other looks of hers include variations of suits and look-cut dresses. Monae serves as a trendsetter who is always several steps ahead of the fashion industry. Her exploration in fashion is also evident in the music videos for her critically acclaimed album, “Dirty Computer.” Monae joins Porter in the growing list of performers who continuously question gender tropes and blur the lines between femininity and masculinity.
These are only a handful of LGBTQ icons that have taken risks in their fashion and performance style, breaking down restrictions in the industry and allowing it to become more freeform. It’s also important to acknowledge that three out of the four people on this list are black women and men who have paved the way for the LGBTQ community to have the rights and recognition they have today. By reflecting on their experiences and celebrating their distinctive traits, they have turned heads and opened the fashion world to endless possibilities.
Ritika Jain is an editorial writer who focuses on all things fashion, pop culture, and important social events. Follow her on Instagram.