The Most Important LGBT Icons in Australia

Photo of Tom Smith
24 November 2017

For a country that was so unfashionably late to the marriage equality party until this month’s resounding ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage, Australia sure does love its gay icons. And these are the dozen Australians — gay, straight, or wherever they sit in between — that hold a particularly important place among the nation’s LGBT community.

Kylie Minogue

British tabloid The Sun named Kylie the world’s greatest ever gay icon in 2007, nearly 20 years after troupes of drag queens first started performing her music in Sydney bars way back when she was still just Charlene on Neighbours. That huge international LGBT following has led to several famous performances at the Sydney Mardi Gras, as well as this legendary quote: “Gay icons usually have some tragedy in their lives, but I’ve only had tragic haircuts and outfits”.

Kylie Minogue performing at the Mardi Gras | © Eva Rinaldi/Wikimedia Commons

Ian Roberts

The rugby league hardman was arguably Australia’s toughest sportsman before he came out as gay — and there was no argument about it after his ground-breaking announcement in 1995. Roberts remains the only professional Australian team-sport athlete to come out to the public while still competing, and has remained in the spotlight post-retirement with a Hollywood acting career and a respected public voice on LGBT issues.

Magda Szubanski

Magda became one of the country’s favourite comic actors thanks to her performance as Sharon Strzelecki in the beloved Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim, but she’ll be remembered for the far more serious role she played in this year’s marriage equality postal survey. Out since Valentine’s Day 2012, Szubanski was the public face of the ‘yes’ vote, lending her trusted personality to the enormously successful campaign.

Magda Szubanski at a marriage equality rally | © Australian Progressive/Wikimedia Commons

Alex Greenwich

Magda might have been the highest-profile advocate for marriage equality, but her good friend Alex was the driving force behind the scenes. A key figure in the fight for same-sex marriage in Australia since he married his German partner Victor Hoeld in Argentina five years ago, the young independent politician is a tireless campaigner for fairness and equality for LGBTI communities.

Ruby Rose

The Twittersphere shared one universal reaction when the spectacularly tattooed genderfluid actor debuted on cult Netflix series Orange Is the New Black in 2015: “she turned me gay”. Ruby made a name for herself as an MTV presenter before turning her hand to modelling and acting, and of course, becoming responsible for millions of people’s sexual awakening.

Ruby Rose | © Eva Rinaldi/Wikimedia Commons

Peter Allen

This boy from the bush has been described as the man who “gave Australia the permission to be camp. He dragged us out of a dim, buttoned-up Englishness and took us on a permanent summer holiday”. The ex-Mr Liza Minelli came out as gay in the 1970s and lived with partner Gregory Connell until they both died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1984 and 1992 respectively — and his legacy was immortalised by Hugh Jackman’s 2003 Broadway musical The Boy from Oz.

Cate McGregor

This is a woman who boasts one hell of a CV. High-ranking member of the Australian Defence Force, respected cricket commentator, and — since she decided to transition to womanhood in 2012 — Australia’s highest profile transgender person. Born Malcolm McGregor in 1956, Cate went public as transgender in 2013 — and in doing so, became the highest ranking transgender military officer anywhere in the world.

Ian Thorpe

Much like the other athletic Ian on this list, Australia’s most decorated Olympian was already beloved by the public for his achievements in the sporting arena — but when the five-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer came out in 2014, he earned a new set of fans in the LGBT community. After years of publicly denying his sexuality, Thorpe described the relief he felt when he made the announcement: “I don’t want people to feel the same way I did… and I hope this makes it easier for others now, and even if you’ve held it in for years, it feels easier to get it out”.

Ian Thorpe | © Doha Stadium Plus Qatar/Wikimedia Commons

Portia de Rossi

How could we possibly leave Mrs Ellen DeGeneres off this list? Known as Amanda Lee Rogers back when she was growing up in rural Victoria, Portia cracked Hollywood with her role in Ally McBeal and later Arrested Development, and her profile has skyrocketed as one half of perhaps the most famous same-sex couple on the face of the earth.

Molly Meldrum

When Molly suffered a life-threatening fall from a ladder in 2011, Australia held its breath for a bona fide national treasure, one of the country’s first openly gay TV stars. The 74-year-old has thankfully returned to health, giving the entertainment industry — as well as the Australian public at large, particularly LGBT people — a renewed appreciation for the legendary music personality.

Molly Meldrum | © Eva Rinaldi/Wikimedia Commons

Andreja Pejic

Andreja became the first transgender model to appear on the front cover of Vogue in May 2015… not bad for someone who was discovered working at a Melbourne McDonald’s as a 16-year-old. Bosnian-born Pejic modelled as both a man and a woman before undergoing sex reassignment surgery in 2014, giving the public an intimate insight into her journey. “I want to share my story with the world because I think I have a social responsibility… I hope that by being open about this, it becomes less of an issue.”

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The final entry on this list is an inanimate object — but, hey, who said a bus couldn’t be a gay icon? After all, the iconic lavender tour bus was the vehicle — both literally and figuratively — that introduced mainstream Australian audiences to LGBT characters in the classic 1994 film of the same name, ferrying two drag queens and a transgender woman through the Australian outback on a road trip for the ages.

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