What makes Cyndi Lauper a gay icon?

Throughout her life and career, Cyndi Lauper has been a vocal ally for the LGBTQ+ community, earning her the adoration of many.

Cyndi Lauper sitting on top of a convertible car at a gay Pride parade. She wears an elaborate silver head piece, and holds a rainbow flag up in the air.
Image: Bastique via Wikimedia Commons

In his latest pop-culture feature for GCN, David Ferguson outlines why Cyndi Lauper is a certified gay icon.

What makes a gay icon? I suppose this can be largely up to debate and can include such attributes as having a large LGBTQ+ fan base and being openly supportive of that fanbase. I suppose, for me, it comes down to my own axiom: I don’t know necessarily what makes a gay icon but I know one when I see one.

In this piece, I’ll be making the argument for one of my favourite artists: Cyndi Lauper.

Now, in some cases, this will be like preaching to the choir but there may be some younger readers who are unfamiliar with her work, both on and off stage. Also, I think it is nice to laud true allyship where we see it.

It may be hard for younger readers to understand how famous Cyndi Lauper was in the early ’80s. Her debut album, She’s So Unusual, arrived in late 1983 and resulted in four top five hits including the iconic ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and ‘Time After Time’.

Her music videos, remarkable voice and unique sense of style, with various hair colours and eccentric clothing, found her fame on the blossoming MTV. She won the inaugural Best Female Video prize at the 1984 VMAs for ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, which is recognised as one of the greatest of the era.

Lauper is credited with changing the lyrics to the hit, as she considered the original “misogynistic”. US-based writer Sheila Moeschen says the song introduced “a nation of women to a new kind of female role model, one that celebrated difference and encouraged playfulness in self-expression”.

Lauper wrote in her memoir: “I specifically spoke up for women’s rights. In the beginning no one really came out and said they were a feminist. I did.”

On a side note, as a wrestling fan, I need to mention that an argument can be made that Lauper helped the first Wrestlemania succeed. The connection started with wrestling manager Lou Albano starring in her videos (he plays her dad in ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’). This all led to the “Rock and wrestling” connection and Lauper appeared on WWF TV and the Wrestlemania event itself.

The LGBTQ+ community could have connected just on that unique sense of style and the philosophy of ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, but a deeper connection came with her second album True Colors (1986).

Lauper took the title song, written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, and, according to Steinberg, “completely dismantled that sort of traditional arrangement and came up with something that was breath-taking and stark.” The song’s theme has made it a popular anthem amongst the LGBTQ+ community and Lauper has said that it resonated with her as she had recently lost her friend Gregory Natal to HIV/AIDS.

Lauper provided music and lyrics for the LGBTQ+- themed Kinky Boots musical, winning a Tony Award for her contribution. It tells the story of the (sorry for the pun) seemingly straight-laced Charlie Price, who inherits a shoe factory and forms an unlikely partnership with drag queen Lola to produce a line of high-heeled boots and save his factory from closure. Charlie and Lola discover that they are not as different as they originally believed. Lauper won a Tony Award for her contribution.

Additionally, Lauper’s elder sister, Ellen, who she cites as a role model, is a lesbian and this, along with her passion for equality, has led her to campaign for LGBTQ+ rights. She has been a supporter throughout her career and has performed at several Pride events.

Cyndi Lauper’s song ‘Above The Clouds’ celebrates the memory of Matthew Shephard, a gay student who was murdered in the US, and she is a board member of the Matthew Shephard Foundation.

Furthermore, after discovering that 40% of homeless youth in America identify as LGBTQ+, she started True Colors United (TCU) to help address the issue. She also set up the True Colors Residence in New York City for LGBTQ+ youths which offers temporary shelter and job seeking advice. The TCU also started a Give A Damn campaign to get straight people involved in LGBTQ+ issues.

When President Joe Biden signed the Respect For Marriage Act, which recognises same-sex marriages, into law, Lauper performed ‘True Colors’ for the event. In 2022, she launched the Girls Just Want To Have Fundamental Rights Fund, whose aim is “fighting for the right to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

Cyndi Lauper consequently has a large LGBTQ+ fanbase who she definitely supports, and she is probably my favourite gay icon. Now if I can just get her to do a Dublin show…

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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