Forget Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and yes, even Madonna. Judy Garland was and always will be greatest gay icon of our time. She has led the way for gay men through the darkness for some 40 years. Her pain, her joy, her talent, was there for the taking and everyone felt it.
But unfortunately today because of the holocaust that was the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of almost a generation of gay men today Judy Garland runs the risk of becoming a gay culture memory.
The Advocate referred to Garland as the “Elvis of homosexuals.”
Garland herself had numerous gay friends from the beginning of her Hollywood career, Garland liked to visit gay bars with openly gay friends Roger Edens and George Cukor, to the chagrin of her handlers at MGM. But Judy’s true connection with gay men was rooted in her ability to overcome the inner conflict, instability and loneliness that defined her life even during stardom. Judy’s necessity to maintain a “stage presence” at all times despite her inner turmoil led to a severe prescription drug addiction and eventually her tragic death. Gay men of the homophobic 50s and 60s identified with the dichotomy of her life as they too had to hide behind walls of perceived strength.
Garland’s journey to personal acceptance as the young Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz resonated throughout the gay community. Despite intense fear, confusion and a series of trials, Judy as Dorothy finally made it “home” by realizing that she possessed all of the heart, strength and courage needed to find the true happiness that lived within. Gay men of the past and today also embarked on adventures of self-discover through both the good and the bad that led full circle to self-acceptance.
The message of The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s personal courage and strength is credited with giving many gay men the strength to come out and live their lives despite adversity. Thus came the expression “Friend of Dorothy,”
Happy Birthday Judy.
We still love you.