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James Dean was an early lesbian icon who, along with Marlon Brando, influenced the butch look and self-image in the 1950s and after.

Some of the main qualities of a gay icon often include glamour, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and androgyny in presentation.

Such icons can be of any sexual orientation or gender; if LGBT, they can be out or not.

The definition of what it means to be a "gay icon" has come under criticism in recent years for a lack of substance.

Paul Flynn of The Guardian wrote, "The concept of gay icon is a cheap ticket...[and] the idea of gay iconography itself is currently replaceable with the idea of popularity and the ability to carry a strong, identifiable, signature look." Author Michael Thomas Ford depicts a similar attitude in his work of fiction Last Summer.

He also wrote lesbian-themed fiction under the pseudonym Laurajean Ermayne.

Actor Finn Wolfhard has been called a lesbian icon for his performance in Stranger Things.Although most gay icons have given their support to LGBT social movements, some have expressed opposition, advocating against a perceived "homosexual agenda".Historically, icons were typically elevated to such status because their sexual orientation remains a topic of debate among historians.Gay icons may be homosexual or heterosexual, out or in the closet, male or female.The women most commonly portrayed by drag queens are usually gay icons.Modern gay icons in entertainment include film stars and musicians, most of whom have strong, distinctive personalities, and many of whom died young or under tragic circumstances.

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