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K.D. Lang, Le Meridien Hotel, London by Jill Furmanovsky, 1992
© Jill Furmanovsky

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When you visit the Gay Icons exhibition you can fill in a card to tell us who has been an inspiration in your life. Selected entries will be displayed within the exhibition and all the completed cards will be entered into a monthly prize draw to win a signed copy of the Gay Icons catalogue, signed by Sandi Toksvig.

Please see a selection of visitors' responses below.

Who has been an inspiration in your life and why?

Barbara Streisand
What is it about Barbara Streisand that drew me to her as a young boy of 12 or 13 living in Newcastle? Before I even knew what ‘gay' was I was listening to Barbara's records and loving her movies. Strong, sassy, loud, larger than life, amazing looking and that voice. There will always be a place in my heart for her- my first gay icon!

My son
Because he fights heroin and a rare blood disease called Porpyria. He is one of the smartest and most talented artists I have ever met. He inspires me to think about being gay, about his life, about my own. He lets me know that every second counts. Thank you James.

Alasdair Cameron
Academic, raconteur, gossiper and bon viveur. Alasdair teased and loved and encouraged his students, unashamedly gay- he showed that you could come out, make art, change the world and still go for tea and cakes.
Anon

Ellen Degeneres ran a feature on her talk show. It was about a primary school boy who had tried to give another boy a Valentine. He was killed because of this. Ellen's words were blunt, and she looked into the perpetrator's eyes when she said, '[He] is not a second-class citizen… I am not a second-class citizen.' Those words made me stronger.

Ian Roberts
Being tough and great at his profession in Australian Rugby League showed gay men could be at home in rugged, antipodean masculinity as much as any straight man. His openness about being gay makes him even tougher.

Martin Luther King
Risked death knowingly, to speak for freedom

Stephen Fry
For showing people that intelligence and knowledge should be shared, not used to put up barriers between people- and for his campaigning to de-stigmatise mental illness.

Christopher Isherwood
His 'third person' autobiography Christopher and his kind was an inspiration to me when I encountered it as an adolescent, coming to terms with my own feelings and experiences. I have loved his novels and short stories ever since.

Audrey Hepburn
Because she changes my life in every aspect. Her class, her beauty, her sweetness, her way to treat people are a big inspiration. She watches the world with love's eyes for everything and every creature. Thanks to her and her movies, the world seems a little bit better and more colourful. Walk with the knowledge that you're never alone! She taught me this.

Author and artist Tove Jansson (the creator of the Moomin characters etc) for her love for freedom, wisdom and understanding the fragile components that define us all.

My teacher Susan Clark- her 'Speaking with confidence' class (a local authority class in Wolverhampton) Susan has introduced me to so many different poets- encouraged me to stand up in class and recite. Something I haven't done since I left school! Also to enter poetry festivals where I have had some success- winning 2 cups on different occasions. I am 78 years old. Thank you, Susan.

My family
Supporting and encouraging my decision to move to the UK, for being as loving and supportive of me after I came out and encouraging me to pursue my dreams.?

Stephen Fry
Who, according to my father, proves that if you are too intelligent you become gay! But to me, he showed that a gay person could make it to the top and be respected for their own talents!

Queen Victoria
She was strong, she was powerful, she was the boss, she did what she wanted to do. Move over Elizabeth I, Victoria ruled for so much longer, through so much change, and for most of it… on her own.

A friend of mine, who lives in Morocco. I've never met him, but I owe him so much! I remember the day we chatted together. It was a month before Christmas, and I was dazed with my hidden sexuality. He was the first person with whom I came out. And at that moment, he told me the same! But his life is harder than mine. I'm free and openly gay, whereas his parents sent him to an asylum… but he keeps on smiling and struggles every day for his own freedom.

Christopher Isherwood
His magical writing, in such novels as Down there on a visit and Berlin stories offer an intimate inside look at gay life in the wild and free pre-Nazi Berlin and German scene.

Barack Obama
For re-igniting my belief in the power of humanity, to break down its barriers and re-define its identity. The tears of joy on the faces of black-Americans who for generations had experienced subjugation was a powerful image that I will never forget. He is a constant reminder to stay true to yourself and your heritage, and always believe in who you are and what you can offer the world no matter what anyone might tell you!

My mother and family
Not famous, not rich, and certainly not gay! However, through everything that being/becoming gay throws at you in modern society, they have supported my every move without failure. To my mother and family- my heroes/icons!

Alexander the Great and Hephaestian
When I read what he and his young lover did- as a young man I knew I could conquer the world in my own way too! Albeit a work in progress…

Vivienne Westwood
Crude, lude and perfectly rude, she embodies Britain as far as I'm concerned. Unashamedly avant-garde and ridiculous she is my inspiration for 'Bugger it- why NOT?!' She makes me proud of my so-called embarrassments, they make me who I am!

My 'dads'
Because they've been there for me in the good and bad times. My gay dad adopted me from Ukraine in 1999 and changed me and will still change me. :)

Ivri Lider
Israeli pop star, openly gay, inspired the young to come out and not fear society pressure. Recently appeared in a mass rally in Tel Aviv following a shooting in a gay youth centre where two died and ten were injured.

Lisa Edelstein
An icon of mine not only because of her acting abilities but also because of her fight to get HIV/Aids talked about. Her musical Positive Me which she wrote to get the word out about Aids, because so many of her friends were dying, is a huge inspiration to me.

Dana International
The woman who took us (Israel) to win the Eurovision and show the whole world that transsexuals can be gorgeous. By becoming a mainstream pop icon in Israel in the 90's, she did what campaigns, petitions and hesitant cinema couldn't- make ‘gay' a non-insulting word in Hebrew.

Bette Davis
For personifying an indomitable strength of will and character that transcended her gender and the expectations of the society she lived in.

John Dugdal
American photographer, originally worked for Martha Stewart, suffered near blindness through Aids-related illness. Went on to create serene, haunting photos of friends, lovers, landscapes and still lives, with only a fraction of his eye sight left- And using only turn of the century techniques. Photos are in the permanent collection of the MoMA, NYC.

David Bowie
At a time in my youth when any notion of femininity was not one frowned upon, but open to ridicule and school bullying, along came David Bowie. He was both masculine and camp at the same time, was not afraid to wear makeup and extravagant clothing, even posing in a dress for The man who sold the world. Yet at school he was an icon, admired and cool to the ‘macho' boys. The same boys that teased and hurt me because of my sexuality. David Bowie gave me some strength and power and most importantly made me feel good about myself and proud of who I am.

My son- Michael
Able to cope with adolescence, sexual confusion, uncertainty and genetic susceptibility to depression, followed by academic success! His parents had it easy!

Peter, in Canada
An HIV positive man, who shared this with the media and thus made himself a target in a small Canadian city. A brave leader, who has worked on behalf of gay and for HIV positive people for many years despite a conservative government, significant stigma and increased criminalization of HIV positive people.

Matthew Shephard has been an inspiration to me because he was such a strong boy and wasn't afraid of what people could do to him because of how he was gay. When he died, murdered for being gay, he re-opened lots of doors for LGBT people to take a stand for what they believe in. Rest in peace.

David Bowie
…in who's songs and creativity I found a window into another world, that turned the one I was growing up in on its head, and confirmed what I suspected, that it was one big lie, that soon I could be away from it, somehow.

My brother Patrick
Who taught me…without saying one word... that another person's sexuality is frankly none of my business!

Oscar Wilde
Courageous, fallible, stylish, and a wonderful wit.

President Barack Obama
He continues to inspire me and make me proud to be an African-American. Period.

My mother
A woman who reared six children, and migrated from South America to the UK. She dealt with prejudice and racism and afforded me to be the man which I am today.

Ludwig van Beethoven
He is a great composer, his wild and compassionate music helps me over difficult moments and brings joy to my life.

Freddy Mercury
Now there was a guy who could do camp. Amazing ability to get people to accept him for what he was. Died so young. Sadly missed.

Chris is my inspiration, my lover, my soul-mate, my Civil Partner. He showed me that you don't have to be a queen to be gay. He showed me what love really means. He nursed me through cancer. He loves me for me- warts and all.

Archbishop Reverend Tutu
Like Gene Robinson, he showed that underlying all religion should be love and acceptance for all people regardless of race, sexuality, sex, colour etc. A true inspiration to all.

Christopher Isherwood
A man who wrote and lived as if it were the easiest thing in the world, when actually for most of the time, it was the most difficult.

Matt Bellamy (Muse)
For me, he was the first person who dragged me into the world of art. When I started to listen to his band, instantly all the most important things in my life came up to light. I started to discover my own soul, my own gift. He taught me how to think, how to create. Now I'm growing up a singer and songwriter, and hopefully someday an artist. And the best thing about him- he's not afraid to choose what he wants, to think, to doubt rules, opinions and customs. He's not ideal. But he shows us that people should develop. And we do.

Barbara - my grandmother
Coming out was the hardest thing and most honest action I have undertaken. Coming out- being myself- made the world a more vivid world. My grandmother's response was 'She's still my granddaughter.' She showed me that the most conservative generations can be the most accepting. She taught me that the world can still be a surprising and supportive place. She was a real inspiration, a hardy farmer's daughter with an uncompromising love for her family, no matter who you love. I miss her.

Bishop Gene Robinson
He has shown that faith and homosexuality can be reconciled and echoes the theme of the entire Bible where God chooses those rejected by the world to be an example of love.

Oscar Wilde and Edmund White
Wilde was the first gay icon I had ever heard of, let alone read. From the age of mid teens I admired his courage and was saddened by the way the world treated him. White's The Boys Own Story filled me with the strength to be who I am and not fear my sexuality. Both authors have made me cry. Both have helped me to be who I am honestly.

Portia de Rossi
Defied the stereotype that lesbians are masculine, ugly and unsuccessful. Hearing that she came out when I was 12 inspired me to accept my own sexuality, and acknowledge that the stereotypes I have been surrounded with in my conservative town are false.

Jake Shears (vocalist of the Scissor Sisters)
He never let others or the music industry run his life, love or experiences. He challenged the views of others and never stopped doing what he loved the most: to sing, to dance, to love. He helped me know that you should never be stopped because of who you are and what you do, it can all be achieved and I strive for it every day.

Jonathan Larson
Jonathan who wrote the musical RENT has remained an inspiration to me. The show so unabashedly telling the varying stories of several gay characters was the first exposure I and many people I know, had to a loving, accepting celebratory depiction of gay characters- but more importantly- all kinds of love. Gay or straight, the resounding messages of love and acceptance in No day but today are universally inspiring. In so many situations throughout my life I have found hope in Larson's words and songs. Sadly he never lived to see the impact his masterpiece would have.

Dusty Springfield
Music is my passion. Knowing that such a fantastic singer was gay made my world a little easier.

Lilian 1919-2002. From a very early age I realised that she was always going to be important in my life. Her capacity for hard work and fair treatment of others was unfailing. A sense of humour and wicked ‘wink' always raised a smile. A devoted mother, wife, sister, Grandmother and Great Grandmother to my children. She inspired me to pull my children in close and nurture them dearly. She would have been so very proud to see our achievements and I believe she made a huge difference to our lives. They were richer for having her.

Sir Michael Caine
As a boy I grew up watching his films, loving his characters, for the ordinary yet complex people they were. Growing older I read more about him and learning the history of his childhood love of cinema and the constant pursuit he made to live his dream of starring in the pictures he loved so much. I love his down to earth nature and his compassion. He is the epitome of the working class boy made good; a man not afraid to chase his dream; a legend and an icon of his time; and an actor that always lights up my world whenever I watch one of his films (old or new). To Michael Caine- long may he live and act!

Harvey Milk
For being a fighter and opening the doors of freedom for LGTB people!!

My mother, Kim
She is simply the strongest and most inspirational woman I know. I grew up watching my mom work 14+ hour days, just to give us the best life possible- as she was a single parent. She was always supportive, in my brother and my decisions. In 2000, she came out of the closet, much to our Baptist family's dismay. The backlash she received was astonishing and disturbing. But she kept trucking along, finding her niche as a medical intuitive and finding an amazing life partner, Cindy. But I believe it is her supportiveness and love that tops all. She is the first one with open arms, the first to wipe away your tears and tell you it will be all right. I am blessed to be her daughter and know that without her I wouldn't be half the woman I am today.

Klaus Wowereit
Because he did for gays in Germany what Harvey Milk did for those in the U.S. When he ran for Lord Mayor of the city of Berlin eight years ago, he announced publicly, 'Ich bin schul, und das ist auch gut so.' (I am gay, and that's fine/good), thus pre-empting the yellow press that were preparing for scandalous reports. He won the election, and '…und das ist auch gut so' is now a common idiomatic expression in German.

Alison Bechdel (US American comic strip artist and graphic novelist) For 20 years, her weekly comic strip Dykes to watch out for documented the trials, tribulations and joys of the 'lesbian community' (whatever that is), showing us all that being gay can be smart, funny, literary, heartbreaking. And just being, full stop. Her autobiographical graphical novel Fun Home is surely the new classic coming out story for angsty, literary women the world over.

My daughter Lisa who at the age of 18 came out after years of isolation, bullying by her peers and teachers and total confusion of trying to understand why she lived in a world that rejected her! She is now 36, has a lovely partner (now married) and hopefully will live happily ever after!

Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver
This character from Armistead Maupin's classic Tales of the City series is an iconic gay man. As readers watch Mouse's often troubled relationships, they realize that open homosexuality can be healthy and happy. Also, for me Mary Ann and Mona- two straight women who are close to Mouse- are an acknowledgement of my place in the gay community.

Harvey Milk
At a time when gays started demanding civil rights, Harvey was the promise of real change. His assassination underlined how far we still had to go but brought us together.

Shelly, my stepdaughter
She has been openly gay for the last 20 years. She has taught me that beliefs and principles are far more important than what others may choose to think. She legally (in California) married her partner in 2008 and is a successful individual in all she attempts, always giving 100% of who she really is and doing what she believes in doing.

Grace Jones
When I was coming to terms with my bisexuality, Grace was the perfect demon for me. Absolutely alien, musical, unlike anything else and undeniably queer, if not in her sexuality then in everything else. Slave To The Rhythm was my secret sacred text back when I still felt unable to leave the closet.

My icon is anyone who dares to be true to themselves- gay or straight. Those who blaze their own path despite what others may think or say, let us praise them all for their courage.

George Michael
His tender and heartfelt lyrics and personal content of his songs have touched my soul and heart. Although he took his time in coming ‘out' we all knew he was one of us. May his timeless music live on.

My father
Kind, caring, compassionate, non-judgemental, tolerant, patient, wise, unselfish and hard-working. Taught me to look for the good that is within each of us, to always show respect for others, and never to judge others harshly. He was my rock when I was a little girl, and as an adult I have tried- and failed- to be like him. Both my husbands looked up to him and his grandchildren thought he was immensely wise and knowledgeable.

Martin Luther King
The strength and courage of this man is astonishing and I used to be fearful of feeling a passion like that. But this man shows how the caution towards other people's judgement is insignificant in comparison with one's beliefs. I am no longer scared to feel or express what I feel despite opposition from others. He is an incredible and strong man.

My Uncle Ray
For defining freedom in thought and action, for me- a straight man- by coming out in the 60's.

Virginia Woolf
For being the subtle background voice to my nineteen-year-old self, newly arrived in London without money or direction, but with a fever for writing and sharing my experiences with another female. For eloquently showing my straight friends the texture of homosexual love, and for imprinting the wonder of this city at times when I had been close to forgetting.

Karen Carpenter
Often overlooked as a ‘gay icon' when thinking of the usual pantheon of 1970s queer popular cultural stars, she continues to inspire, soothe and motivate. Despite the tragedy of her death at 32, the struggle of her life was belied by her talent, her dignity and that unique, inimitable instrument- her contralto. An icon for all!

My daughter Jenny who had her struggles when she was young and now truly knows who she is. She has quietly educated the safely marries couples of suburbia who find gay people a puzzle. We all find her inspiring as she goes for what she wants and has a lot of fun along the way. She has given a lot of people the understanding of how important it is to be yourself and that being gay is not a choice, or something to be ashamed of.