Before Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and yes, even Madonna. Judy Garland was and always will be the greatest gay icon of our time. Garland led the way for gay men through the darkness for over 50 years. Her pain, her joy, and her talent were there for the taking and everyone felt it.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10th. 1922, Ms. Garland was renowned for her contralto vocals and attained international stardom that continued throughout a career spanning more than 40 years as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist, and on concert stages
Garland herself had numerous gay friends from the beginning of her Hollywood career. She 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 60’s 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-discovery through both the good and the bad that led full circle to self-acceptance.
Unfortunately today because of the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of almost a generation of gay men of the era le’ Garland who worshiped her, Judy runs the risk of becoming a gay culture memory
The message of The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s 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 and always will.