• Judy Garland remains one of the most recognised and celebrated gay icons, decades after her death. (Roadside Attractions)
The impact Garland had on her gay fans has never been up for debate. But this year, in the film Judy, Garland's gay fans have finally been recognised for having a strong impact on the singer in return.
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

31 Oct 2019 - 1:52 PM  UPDATED 1 Nov 2019 - 1:07 PM

Judy Garland has long been considered one of the world's most recognised and celebrated gay icons, something that has been reaffirmed this year by Renee Zelwegger's critically acclaimed turn as Garland in Judy.

But what is it about the singer and actress, once dubbed 'the Elvis of homosexuals', that makes her cultural legacy so enduring, particularly for members of the LGBTIQ+ community?

Garland's association with the LGBTIQ+ community can be traced back to an article published in Time magazine in 1967; a review of Garland's performance at the Palace Theatre. In the review, the critic noted that a "disproportionate part of her nightly claque seems to be homosexual" - adding that "[t]he boys in the tight trousers" would "roll their eyes, tear at their hair and practically levitate from their seats" as Garland performed.

This particular review was published at a time when the gay rights movement was reaching boiling point in the United States - only two years before Garland's death in 1969, which some fans believe triggered the Stonewall Riots (though others disagree with this assessment).

But her throngs of gay fans in 1967 didn't come from nowhere. They were the so-called 'Friends of Dorothy (a code gay men sometimes used to identify each other when it was otherwise dangerous to do so); those who had found solace and recognition in Garland's portrayal of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. In a 2007 article, writer Steven Frank mused that Dorothy's journey from Kansas to Oz "mirrored many gay men's desires to escape the black-and-white limitations of small town life ... for big, colourful cities filled with quirky, gender-bending characters who would welcome them."

Frank boiled down Garland's status as a gay icon to "gay men’s willingness to embrace and find value in the kinds of movies and characters that the rest of the public viewed as outsiders or with disgust" - drawing a comparison to the queer community's celebration of Joan Crawford during her late career, when the general public's opinion of her was waning.

Garland continues to be revered in contemporary pop culture, with the name 'Judy' even becoming a term of endearment in queer communities (ie. "You're my best Judy").

As with Crawford, Garland continues to be revered in contemporary pop culture, with the name 'Judy' even becoming a term of endearment in queer communities (ie. "You're my best Judy"), as was depicted earlier this year on RuPaul's Drag Race. Her mannerisms and iconic performances also continue to be frequently referenced in shows like Will & Grace, which, in turn, has been credited with moving the pin forward on gay representation in the mainstream media since premiering in 1998.

Over the years, emerging details of Garland's fraught personal life have only served to further cement her resonance for members of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Garland's own father, Francis Avent Gumm, was gay. Garland's second husband, Vincente Minnelli, the father of Liza, was rumoured to be a closeted bisexual. Her fourth husband, Mark Herron, was gay, too. Then her daughter, Liza Minnelli, a gay icon in her own right, grew up to marry a gay man.

There's no denying that Garland's family tree is a fairly fruity one.

The impact Garland had on her gay fans has never been up for debate. But this year, in the film Judy, Garland's gay fans have finally been recognised for having a strong impact on the singer in return.

Two small characters in the film, the gorgeously named Stan and Dan, are shown waiting for Garland outside a nightclub in London. Lonely, the star invites the pair to join her for dinner.

Later on in the night, Garland finds herself at Stan and Dan's apartment, learning all about the challenges faced by gay people in London at a time where homosexuality meant persecution. They explained to her, through tears, just how much her music had helped them. Although the characters were a fictional addition to the biopic, they represented a very real connection shared between Garland and the LGBTIQ+ community; one anchored in a shared sense of suffering and taste for camp performance.

“Stan and Dan are absolutely a highlight of the film; they bring humour and love and magic,” producer David Livingstone said, reports The Wrap.

“They help us understand Judy’s role as an icon whilst also embodying the love she generated from her fans.”

Director Rupert Goold said the characters symbolised a parallel between the experiences of Garland and marginalised members of the LGBTIQ+ community at the time.

“The gay community weren’t allowed to lead normal lives, and there is an interesting parallel with Garland, who’s trying to find a normal life for herself and her children," he said.

"I spoke to academics who’ve investigated ideas of sexuality through the prism of Garland. For the post-Stonewall generation, ‘Friends of Dorothy’ is a strong affirmative voice against discrimination.”

While the film's subplot may act as something of a history lesson for younger viewers, many don't need reminding, with Garland's status as a gay icon interwoven into our collective understanding and appreciation of gay culture.

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