42 Loud and Proud LGBTQ Anthems
Art is just a reflection of life, and that includes love and all its incarnations. So it makes sense that artists would write and sing about the love in their lives and their sexual orientations.
There's no one way to define or categorize a song as "LGBTQ." To do so could be counterintuitive to the very idea of what an LGBTQ song usually represents: personal independence, liberation from systemic constraint and an overall sense of freedom.
In the below list of 42 Loud and Proud LGBTQ Anthems, you'll find songs that are related to being LGBTQ. Some were written about partners, others about the struggle to be true to yourself. Some songs weren't necessarily written with any of that in mind but have nonetheless become popular tracks within the LGBTQ community - symbols of liberty and joy.
David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" may be the quintessential ode to androgyny, starting at the top: "You've got your mother in a whirl / She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl." The song was released just a few years after Bowie publicly stated that he was bisexual; though he later walked back his comments, he never shied away from embracing gender fluidity, especially onstage. As "Rebel Rebel" suggests, the clothes you wear are an expression of yourself, no matter what state they are in: "Hot tramp, I love you so!"
2. Elton John, "Elton's Song"
From: The Fox (1981)
"Elton's Song" doesn't reference a gender of any kind, though the song's video depicts a young schoolboy crushing on an older boy. The turn of the '70s into the '80s wasn't an easy time for Elton John, who was not yet out. "Elton's Song" was his way of addressing the idea of unrequited love. "I could imagine the boy that I wanted to be, on the parallel bars, swinging with his tight little outfit on and his bare feet," John recalled to Rolling Stone in 2013. "It was the first gay song that I actually recorded as a homosexual song."
3. Little Richard, "Tutti Frutti"
From: 1955 Single
Little Richard struggled with his sexuality throughout his career, at times openly speaking about being gay, and at others denouncing the community as it pertained to his devout faith. "Tutti Frutti," his first major hit, originally included lyrics referencing homosexuality — "Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don't fit, don't force it / You can grease it, make it easy" — but the words were cleaned up before the song made it to the radio. Little Richard's flamboyant showmanship has also been a beacon for gay artists.
4. ABBA, "Dancing Queen"
From: Arrival (1976)
There's nothing inherently LGBTQ about ABBA's No. 1 hit "Dancing Queen," but the song has been a staple at gay bars and clubs since its release. It's easy to see why "Dancing Queen" was adopted as a gay anthem: The glittery pop and freewheeling attitude still resonate all these years later.
5. Queen, "I Want to Break Free"
From: The Works (1984)
Now hailed as a queer icon, Queen singer Freddie Mercury never publicly addressed his sexuality, though those closest to him were tangentially aware. "I Want to Break Free" is sung from the perspective of an ungendered person who has fallen in love "for real" this time. The music video, which features all four band members in drag, drives home the point of what the song is really about.
6. Melissa Etheridge, "Come to My Window"
From: Yes I Am (1993)
"Come to My Window" was Melissa Etheridge's first hit after publicly coming out. Written on the road while missing her partner, the song subtly addressed Etheridge's identity: "I don’t care what they think / I don’t care what they say / What do they know about this love, anyway?" "The gay community lifted me up and supported me," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2009. "That bridge in the song was taken to an anthem level. It bypassed any meaning I ever put in the song and became part of a mass consciousness. It is still a huge moment when I perform it live."
Like so many characters that populate Lou Reed's songs, "Holly" from his biggest chart hit was based on a real person, Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who appeared in Andy Warhol's films. Woodlawn had left home at 15, literally plucking her eyebrows on the way to New York City. "Candy" is based on another transgender Warhol actress: Candy Darling, who was also the subject of an earlier Reed song - the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says."
8. The Kinks, "Lola"
From: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970)
It's not clear whether "Lola" is transgender or just a person in drag. Either way, the song's writer and singer Ray Davies says it doesn't matter all that much, because Lola is comfortable in their skin: "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls / It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world." "I didn't think the song would be so ahead of its time," Davies reflected to The New York Times in 2020. "But time has proven it so."
"In these days of changing ways / The so-called liberated days / A story comes to mind," Rod Stewart sings at the beginning of "The Killing of Georgie, Part I and II" a song about a real-life gay friend of Stewart's who was murdered. Georgie, cast out by his parents for being gay, takes off for New York City, where he finds solace but ends up brutally killed by a New Jersey gang. "I wasn't on the scene when it happened, so I embellished a bit," Stewart admitted to The Guardian in 2016, adding that the song nevertheless struck a chord with the LGBTQ community. "I've had gay people thank me for the song many, many times."
Rob Halford, who came out in 1998, penned "Raw Deal" two decades earlier, for Judas Priest's 1977 album Sin After Sin. It "was a coming-out song, a vent of my angst as a gay man in the closet," he wrote in his 2020 book, Confess: The Autobiography. "I thought I might have gone too far, and people would pick up on the lyrics and put two and two together. It could open doors for me, or, more likely, slam them shut in my face. Yet ... nothing happened. The band said nothing about the words — they have always had tremendous respect for my lyrics and left them to me – and probably thought I was just telling a story. Nor did critics or fans notice anything. It was a howl of rage that nobody heard."
11. Jobriath, "Take Me I'm Yours"
From: Jobriath (1973)
Britain had Bowie, and America had Jobriath, one of the first openly gay rock artists to be signed to a major label. With a larger-than-life personality and even larger-than-that stage presence, Jobriath came just as quickly as he went. "Take Me I'm Yours" was the lead song from his 1973 self-titled debut; he released only one more album,1974's Creatures of the Street.
12. George Michael, "Freedom! '90"
From: Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (1990)
George Michael kept his sexuality a secret for much of his life, coming out in 1998. Eight years earlier on "Freedom! '90," he had hinted that he was not being entirely true to himself: "There's something deep inside of me / There's someone else I've got to be." Michael was also trying to distance himself from his Wham! days and solidify a solo career.
13. Dusty Springfield, "In Private"
From: Reputation (1990)
In a bold statement for the time, Dusty Springfield acknowledged her attraction to women in a 1970 interview: "I know I'm perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't see why I shouldn't." Her sexuality never dominated her music, but on "In Private," from the Pet Shop Boys-produced Reputation, Springfield alluded to the secretive nature of her relationships: "There's a difference between what you're gonna say in private / You still want my love, we're in this together / And what you're gonna do in public, say you were never in love."
14. David Bowie, "Boys Keep Swinging"
From: Lodger (1979)
"Boys Keep Swinging," which was accompanied by a video featuring Bowie dressed as several female characters, was meant to poke fun at gender rigidity: "When you're a boy, other boys check you out." In 2000, Bowie explained in an interview with Bust magazine that he was "playing on the idea of the colonization of a gender." When asked if thought it was better to be one gender or the other he replied, "That is, in my opinion, an absurd question."
15. Bikini Kill, "Rebel Girl"
From: Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah (1993)
In a broader sense, Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" is an anthem for female solidarity. But it's also a celebration of lesbianism: "When she talks, I hear the revolution / In her kiss, I taste the revolution." "I always liked the older, kind of bitchy girls in my neighborhood, who used to leave me out of things. I wanted to be them, or be like them, or make out with them — I didn't really know," singer Kathleen Hanna told NPR in 2019. "[With 'Rebel Girl'] I was kind of like, 'All of the above.'"
16. Cyndi Lauper, "True Colors"
From: True Colors (1986)
Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" is all about being yourself, even if the world around you doesn't necessarily want you to. When Lauper first heard the demo for the song, she had recently lost a friend to AIDS; she had him in mind when she recorded the track. "I realized it had to be a voice that whispers to you," she told 60 Minutes Australia in 2018. "A voice that's almost childlike so it will speak to the softest, most gentle part of a human being. It's a voice whispering to you, telling you it's going to be OK." (Years later, in 2008, Lauper founded True Colors United, a nonprofit focusing on helping LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness.)
17. Queen, "Don't Stop Me Now"
From: Jazz (1978)
The main point of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" is the feeling of unbridled joy, which, for Freddie Mercury, meant fully embracing his sexuality. "I wanna make a supersonic woman out of you" switches to "I wanna make a supersonic man out of you," with a lot of traveling at the speed of light in between.
18. Diana Ross, "I'm Coming Out"
From: Diana (1980)
Written and produced by Chic masterminds Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, "I'm Coming Out" was inspired by half a dozen Ross impersonators the songwriters spotted at a New York club that was a hub for drag queens and trans women. Rodgers sold the concept to Edwards: "'You know, Diana Ross is revered by the gay community. If we wrote a song called 'I'm Coming Out' for Diana Ross, it would have the same power as James Brown's 'Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud,'" he recalled in 2021. "And next day we met in the studio ... and then from that we built the song."
19. Village People, "Y.M.C.A."
From: Cruisin' (1978)
When Village People, a group that included gay and straight members, released "Y.M.C.A" in 1978, it was often assumed to be a nod to the establishment's reputation as a gay hookup spot. But group co-founder Felipe Rose later said that wasn't the intention; the double entendre just happened to be catchy. "We knew right at the beginning that we had to laugh at ourselves first," he said to HuffPost in 2014. "We had to have some kind of cheeky sense of humor about it. I think if none of that had happened, we probably would have only had five minutes onstage."
20. David Bowie, "Ziggy Stardust"
From: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
David Bowie's glittery, glam-rock persona and flamboyant performance of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, particularly the title song, set a precedent for ambiguous stage behavior. He would occasionally pretend to perform fellatio on Mick Ronson's guitar, which got him kicked off the BBC. It was a groundbreaking move that inspired gay audiences everywhere.
21. The Replacements, "Androgynous"
From: Let It Be (1984)
The first time someone described Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg as "androgynous," he had to look up the words. Then he wrote a song about Dick "wearing a skirt" and Jane "sporting a chain." "They love each other so / Androgynous, closer than you know." The song has been covered by Joan Jett, Laura Jane Grace and Miley Cyrus over the years.
Like Diana Ross, Donna Summer became a gay icon in the late '70s as disco took over the world. Her 1977 single "I Feel Love" dominated dance clubs and influenced an array of artists, including David Bowie, Brian Eno, Blondie and Human League. "Even now," the song's producer and co-writer, Giorgio Moroder, told Pitchfork in 2017, "millions of gay people love Donna, and some say, 'I was liberated by that song.' It is a hymn."
23. Billy Bragg, "Sexuality"
From: Don't Try This at Home (1991)
Co-written by the Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, "Sexuality" is about as sex-positive and anti-homophobic indie rock got in the '90s. In 2021, Bragg updated the lyrics to be inclusive of the trans community, changing "Just because you're gay, I won't turn you away / If you stick around, I'm sure that we can find some common ground" to "Just because you're they, I won't turn you away / If you stick around, I'm sure that we can find the right pronoun."
24. Bronski Beat, "Smalltown Boy"
From: The Age of Consent (`1984)
All the members of the British synth-pop group Bronski Beat were openly gay, and their music often touched on this. "Smalltown Boy," their most popular song, painted a striking portrait of a runaway boy whose sexuality wasn't accepted by his parents. The Age of Consent, the album on which it was included, referred to the age of consent for "homosexual acts" in the U.K. - 21 there but 16 in most other European countries. "We were just three openly gay men writing songs about our lives," co-founder Steve Bronski told Classic Pop in 2019. "A lot of people in our community just happened to relate to our songs, which was amazing."
25. Madonna, "Vogue"
From: I'm Breathless (1990)
Madonna has a long list of songs that could be called LGBTQ anthems, but "Vogue" may be her best. Inspiration comes from "voguing," which originated in Black and Latino LGBTQ communities in Harlem. Although the dance style had been around since the early '60s, Madonna's song and its influential video brought it to the mainstream and cemented her status as an LGBTQ ally.
26. Green Day, "King for a Day"
From: Nimrod (1997)
Billie Joe Armstrong has long been a champion of LGBTQ rights. In 1995, speaking with The Advocate, he came out as bisexual. Two years later, he included "King for a Day" on Green Day's fifth album, Nimrod. The song is about a 4-year-old boy who sneaks into his mother's closet in search of something more feminine to wear: "Sugar and spice and everything nice wasn't made for only girls." The boy's father disapproves and puts him in therapy. "Who put the drag in the drag queen? / Don't knock it until you've tried it."
27. Pet Shop Boys, "Go West"
From: Very (1993)
"Go West" was first recorded by Village People in 1979, but more than a decade later, Pet Shop Boys put their queer spin on it. "I knew that the way Neil [Tennant] would sing it would make it sound hopeless — you've got these inspiring lyrics but it sounds like it is never going to be achieved," Chris Lowe later said. "And that fitted what had happened. When the Village People sung about a gay utopia it seemed for real, but looking back in hindsight it wasn't the utopia they all thought it would be." Pet Shop Boys' version went to No. 2 on the U.K. singles chart and No. 1 on U.S. Dance Club Songs.
28. Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive"
From: Love Tracks (1978)
On its face, Gloria Gaynor's 1978 hit isn't about being gay. But with her over-the-top delivery, and the looming AIDS epidemic, it's easy to see why the song had become an LGBTQ anthem. "As long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive," Gaynor sings. "I've got all my life to live / And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive."
29. The Weather Girls, "It's Raining Men"
From: Success (1983)
Four gay icons - Cher, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Cher - turned down "It's Raining Men" before the Weather Girls received it. The duo, Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, at first thought the song was "too crazy to record," Wash recalled to HuffPost in 2015. The song quickly became a favorite for anyone who's into men ... and anyone who just likes to dance. "It's one of those songs where it's fun for everybody," Wash said.
30. Janet Jackson, "Together Again"
From: The Velvet Rope (1997)
As Jackson noted in the liner notes to 1997's The Velvet Rope, "Together Again" was written in tribute to a friend who died of AIDS. "I caught drama for that, too," Jackson said in 2008. "Before I wrote the song, I told some of the people at the label the concept for the song, and they didn't think it was a good idea. ... 'I don’t think you should do that.' I said, 'Why shouldn’t I?' ... Because whatever, whatever. I thought, 'You know, this is really stupid.' It was in my heart."
31. George Michael, "Jesus to a Child"
From: Older (1996)
"Jesus to a Child" was George Michael's tribute to his late boyfriend Anselmo Feleppa, whom he'd met in 1991. Feleppa died two years later from an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage. In 1996, Michael included this song on his third solo album, Older, but it would be another two years before he publicly came out as gay.
32. Culture Club, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"
From: Kissing to Be Clever (1982)
Even though he didn't come out until later, Boy George had written several songs about his gay relationships, including one he had with Culture Club bandmate Jon Moss. But the group's breakthrough single, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," was, as he later described to The Guardian, about more than that. "Well, not just Jon, it was about all the guys I dated at that time in my life," he said. "I always had these awkward relationships, which only became awkward when other people became involved."
33. Grace Jones, "Pull Up to the Bumper"
From: Nightclubbing (1981)
Grace Jones faced backlash from radio stations for the sexually suggestive lyrics of "Pull Up to the Bumper": "Grease it, spray it / Let me lubricate it." She later said she didn't write the song with the intention that it could be interpreted as a metaphor for gay sex. "I think it means whatever you want it to," she said. Even though the song was banned at some radio stations, it was a huge hit at dance clubs.
34. Carl Bean, "I Was Born This Way"
From: I Was Born This Way (1977)
Before Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" there was Carl Bean's "I Was Born This Way." First recorded in 1975 by Valentino, who took it to No. 1 in the U.K., Carl Bean's version was the bigger hit in the States, especially in gay clubs. Lady Gaga said her hit song was directly inspired by Bean's ode to self-confidence: "You laugh at me and you criticize because I'm happy, carefree and gay."
35. Sylvester, "You Might Me Feel (Mighty Real)"
From: Step II (1978)
Sylvester James Jr., known professionally as Sylvester, was born into a religious family in Los Angeles. "When I was little, I used to dress up, right? And my mother said, 'You can't dress up,'" he told Joan Rivers when he appeared on The Tonight Show in 1986. "'You gotta wear these pants and these shoes. And you have to, like, drink beer and play football.' And I said, 'No I don't!' And she said, 'You're very strange.' And I said, 'That's OK!'" He moved to San Francisco at the age of 22, finding the acceptance that always eluded him. "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" was a hit during the disco era, reaching the charts in the U.S. and U.K.
36. The Psychedelic Furs, "Love My Way"
From: Forever Now (1982)
The Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" was penned specifically for the LGBTQ community, its lyrics confronting homophobia — "There's dust in all their hearts / They just want to steal us all and take us all apart." "It's basically addressed to people who are fucked up about their sexuality," singer Richard Butler told Creem in 1983, "and says, 'Don't worry about it.' It was originally written for gay people."
37. Tom Robinson Band, "Glad to Be Gay"
From: Rising Free (1978)
Penned by the openly bisexual Tom Robinson, "Glad to Be Gay" celebrated queerness while condemning the violence that many members of the community faced in the late '70s. "A lot of heterosexuals don't understand that you grow up being taught to hate and fear homosexuals before you're of an age to know you are one," Robinson once told Q magazine [via Songfacts]. "After all, male homosexual activity was illegal in Britain until 1967."
38. Chaka Kahn, "I'm Every Woman"
From: Chaka (1978)
Chaka Khan's classic "I'm Every Woman" became a gay anthem over the years after finding initial success in the clubs. "I find my gay and lesbian followers to be the most un-fickle of all my followers," she recalled in 2013. "I tell you, when times got a little rough, when I had any rough spots, I could always do some track dates at some gay clubs. I don't know exactly what my appeal is, maybe it's the butch in me, I don't know. I know I'm kind of butchy. That's cool. I love it. I truly embrace that part of myself. Whatever it is, I'm not the kind of person to look gift horses in the mouth. I take it, embrace it, love it, nurture it."
39. Cher, "Believe"
From: Believe (1998)
Cher's 1999 comeback hit "Believe" is one of the most enduring gay anthems of all time, its message of perseverance is universal. "I have a friend," Cher recalled to pridesource.com in 2018, "[makeup artist] Kevyn Aucoin – he's dead now – but he told me when he was young, he was growing up in some place in Louisiana and said how horrible it was to have to hide and be frightened, and he said he loved listening to Cher records. I think that’s a dead giveaway! If you want to hide being gay, do not buy Cher records!"
40. Pete Shelley, "Homosapien"
From: Homosapien (1981)
Former Buzzcocks member Pete Shelley's "Homosapien" doesn't seem outwardly gay, but that didn't stop the BBC from banning the song. Shelley was bisexual, but the main point of "Homosapien" is that despite our differences, we're all just human in the end: "I don't wanna classify you like an animal in the zoo / But it seems good to me to know that you're Homosapien, too."
41. Sleater-Kinney, "One More Hour"
From: Dig Me Out (1997)
Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker were outed in a 1997 Spin article that noted the two women had previously dated ... but neither saw it coming. "I see the importance of visibility and think that it can be corrosive to be hidden," Brownstein told The Advocate later. "But I don't think anybody 'owes' anything." "One More Hour" was written about their breakup: "The dress you wore, the pretty shoes / Are things I left behind for you."
42. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax"
From: Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood started its career by getting banned by the BBC. Their debut single, "Relax," was filled with highly suggestive and homoerotic lyrics. Even though the band protested this at first, in the liner notes to 1984's debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, bassist Mark O'Toole confessed that "everything I say is complete lies. Like, when people ask you what 'Relax' was about. When it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging."