The LGBTQ movement only recently gained ground during the 21st century as a prominent platform for sexual freedom. Being gay has been stigmatized for centuries, and even today, coming out is a daunting undertaking.
If you think coming out to friends and family is hard, imagine what it must be like to have it broadcast over social media to millions of people. Famous musicians, celebrities, and other public figures have had to deal with backlash, hate, acceptance, and praise for disclosing their homosexuality.
This article explores 20 of the greatest and the most famous gay male singers whose artistic expression changed the world for the better. Let’s get started.
1. Elton John
Born in a London suburb, Elton John is one of the most famous and influential rock musicians of the ’70s. Even in a career of over six decades, his popularity has not waned.
Since his start, he has collected 5 Grammys, 5 Brit Awards, 2 Academy Awards, and 2 Golden Globes, not to mention inductions into the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also achieved knighthood for both his musical contributions and his charity projects in support of the LGBTQ community.
In an interview, John came out as bisexual in the mid-1970s and married Renate Blauel in 1984. After four years, the two divorced, and John has since been openly gay, telling Rolling Stone in 1992 that he was “comfortable” with it. John is currently married to David Furnish, and both have two sons.
2. Freddie Mercury
Known for his incredible vocal range and epic stage presence, Freddie Mercury is most famous as the lead singer for the award-winning band Queen, releasing world-famous hits like “We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
At the time of his fame, being gay or bisexual was frowned upon. This might have been hard on Mercury, who had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin but also dated men. Even after he and Austin split, he would refer to her as the love of his life.
Still, throughout his career, it is known Mercury had a few male relationships. He would not name his sexuality despite this and his AIDS diagnosis in 1987. Sadly, he succumbed to complications from the illness in 1991.
3. Ricky Martin
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ricky Martin is known endearingly as the King of Latin Pop. He has garnered worldwide acclaim, selling over 70 million albums worldwide, and won over 200 awards during his career, including 2 Grammys, 5 MTV Music Awards, and countless Billboard Topper Awards.
Before Martin came out in 2010, he had been dating women; one was the tennis player Gabriela Sabatini. At that time, he felt that being Latino and openly gay was difficult, especially since his popularity was soaring.
Currently, Martin has four children and is married to artist Jwan Yosef, whom he has been with since 2016. He has created the Ricky Mountain Foundation to fight against human trafficking.
4. Boy George
Born in England as George Alan O’Dowd, Boy George came into fame as the lead singer of the band Culture Club, whose unique music combines R&B and Reggae. His most famous songs with the group are “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.”
Boy George is the jack of all artistic trades, famous not only for his musicianship and songwriting but also for his fashion design, photography, and producing careers.
His creatively androgynous style led to the question of his sexuality. Initially stating he was bisexual, Boy George came out as gay in his autobiography Take It Like a Man. At the moment, the singer is not involved with anyone.
5. Barry Manilow
Having over six decades of making music, it can be said that Barry Manilow is one of the greatest singers to ever live. With romantic ballads like “I Write the Songs,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and “Somewhere Down the Road,” he has made many female fans swoon since the 1960s.
Thus it was difficult for the singer to come out as gay; he didn’t want to alienate his many female fans. Though he married Susan Deixler, a high school sweetheart, in 1964, he had the marriage annulled the following year.
After this, Manilow largely kept his relationship with Garry Kief, TV executive, quiet. When same-sex marriage was legalized in California in 2013, the two married the next year and have been together since.
6. Michael Stipe
Growing up as an army brat in a family full of Christian ministers, Michael Stipe was certainly the black sheep, and thankfully so, as he is one of the most influential singers and songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s.
Stipe is the co-founder of the alternative rock band R.E.M. His iconic voice and highly political, environmental, and controversial lyrics have garnered one of the largest, most diverse fan bases in history.
The singer has not truly come out as gay. Despite having been in long-term relationships with men, he describes himself simply as queer. Though not much is known about his previous partners, photographer Thomas Dozol is Stipe’s current significant other.
7. Frank Ocean
California-born and New Orleans-bred Frank Ocean is a rapper, songwriter, and singer who got his start as a ghostwriter for famous pop and hip-hop artists like John Legend, Brandy, Beyoncé, and Justin Bieber.
A mixtape he self-released in 2011 launched his career as one of the most successful artists of the 21st century, with 2 Grammys, a Platinum album, and Time Magazine’s designation as one of the most influential people in the world.
As his coming out in 2012, Ocean posted on Tumblr about falling in love with a man when he was 19. Though he was uncertain of what would happen after his confession, many celebrities publicly came forward to support the young singer.
8. George Michael
Born in London, George Michael was a British singer, songwriter, and MTV influencer whose popularity during the ’80s and ’90s as part of the pop duo Wham! was unparalleled. As a solo artist, he gave the world “Careless Whisper,” “Faith,” and “One More Try.”
When he was younger, Michael identified as bisexual. However, after falling in love with a man, he acknowledged to himself that he was gay, though he only officially came out in 1998.
Michael was known to have three serious relationships before his passing on Christmas morning of 2016. Michael’s third partner, celebrity hairstylist Fadi Fawaz, found him dead in his bed. The findings were due to heart disease.
9. Lil Nas X
Country rap singer Montero Lamar Hill, best known as Lil Nas X, made a name for himself with his 2019 single “Old Town Road,” featuring country icon Billy Ray Cyrus. The song topped multiple charts worldwide, including in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.
At the end of Pride Month in 2019, just soon after the singer released his EP C7osure, he tweeted hints regarding his sexual orientation. The lyrics to the title track of the EP also hinted at this, and in an interview on BBC Breakfast soon after his tweets, Lil Nas X officially announced he was gay.
Lil Nas X has had some homophobic backlash when he came out, mostly from the hip-hop and rap community, but many fans and other celebrities have been supportive.
10. Rob Halford
Born in Sutton, England, Rob Halford is one of the most influential metal singers of all time, fronting the world-famous heavy metal band Judas Priest. A formidable and iconic showman, Halford earned the title of Metal God for his incredible voice.
His creative clothing style also got the singer attention. He was the first to don leather and studs as his stage costume, which has since become a well-known statement in metal garb.
In an MTV interview in 1998, Halford announced his sexuality. Though he felt relieved at finally coming out, he feared the backlash and negative reactions. However, his bandmates and fans were very supportive.
Halford is now married to Thomas Pence, an ex-Marine. They’ve been together for over 25 years.
11. Lance Bass
American music artist Lance Bass is most widely known for being the bass singer of the boy band sensation NSYNC. They’re the group who gave us the #1 single “It’s Gonna Be Me” in 2000.
When NSYNC disbanded in 2002, Bass formed Free Lance Entertainment, a music management company. This venture did not fare well, though, and the company soon closed.
Following several gossip and snapshots of the singer in gay bars, Bass’s sexual orientation was announced in an exclusive story in People magazine in 2006. Soon after, the Human Rights Campaign awarded Bass the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award.
12. Clay Aiken
Born in North Carolina, Clay Aiken got his break as a beloved soft rock and pop vocalist and contestant on the second season of American Idol. While he came in second place, he received the exposure and fanfare necessary to launch a successful career both as a musician and a politician.
Following Idol, Aiken’s debut album achieved multi-Platinum status, and he then went on to release six more albums, collectively selling 5 million copies. Afterward, he changed course from music to politics, first as a UNICEF ambassador and currently as a Democratic congress candidate for his home state.
In an interview with People magazine in 2008, soon after the birth of his son, Aiken let the American public he was gay, though many already had their suspicions.
13. Adam Lambert
Another American Idol runner-up, Adam Lambert, is a California-bred pop-rock singer and songwriter whose amazing vocal range eventually led to him joining legendary rock band Queen on their international tours, the latest being the 2019–2022 Rhapsody Tour.
It was during his time with American Idol that Lambert was exposed as gay on the internet, which he then confirmed in an interview with Rolling Stone. After winning second, there were concerns the announcement might have affected his standing on the show.
Throughout his career, Lambert has been an outspoken supporter and philanthropist for LGBTQ and human rights, using his fame and financial success to create the Feel Something Foundation.
Related: Check out our list of famous singers from American Idol here.
14. Kele Okereke
At the start of his career, British singer-songwriter, pianist, and guitarist Kele Okereke played music secretly, hiding his passion from disapproving parents.
He helped found the famous Indie band Bloc Party while studying literature at Kings College in London, completing three years of his degree before dropping out when the band released its second hit album.
Okereke has also released four solo albums and came out as gay in 2010. He has revealed the hit Bloc Party song “I Still Remember” draws its homoerotic lyrical plotlines from Okereke’s personal life experiences.
15. Darren Hayes
Born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, Darren Hayes is the lead singer and showman of the great pop-rock duo Savage Garden. The duo are behind the #1 hits “Truly Madly Deeply” and “I Knew I Loved You.”
He quit Savage Garden in 2001 and went on to have a fruitful career as a solo artist, recording and producing multiple albums, singles, and collaborations.
Hayes came out in the early 2000s. His single “Let’s Try Being in Love,” written for longtime husband, Richard Cullen, was a retroactive “coming out” song that the singer proclaims he never got the chance to announce during the height of his career.
16. Jonathan Knight
As one of the members of boy band sensation New Kids on the Block, Jonathan Knight was wildly popular during the ’80s and ’90s. The group sold 80 million records and embarked on various world tours before disbanding in 1994.
Upon the band’s breakup, Jonathan Knight took to a low-profile life as a real estate investor, although he did get back together with his bandmates to release a final album. He has also participated in various reality TV shows, including the HGTV show Farmhouse Fixer.
Without Knight’s consent, an ex-boyfriend outed him as gay in 2009. Before this, however, Knight was already open about his sexual orientation, so the announcement did not come as a surprise to most people. The singer is currently married to his long-time partner, Harley Rodriguez.
17. Rufus Wainwright
Born in a family of singers (his sister) and musicians (his parents), it’s no surprise that Rufus Wainwright became a singer-songwriter and composer. He’s known to have recorded many soundtracks for films, including Moulin Rouge!, Shrek, Brokeback Mountain, and many more.
Aside from indie pop music, Wainwright wrote the classical operas, Prima Donna and Hadrian. The first debuted in 2009 and won a Dora Mavor Moore Award, while the second came out in 2018 at the Canadian Opera Company.
While still a teenager, Wainwright, and his parents knew he was gay. Though they never talk about it, the singer is open about his sexuality. He’s now married to Jörn Weisbrodt, a German arts administrator whom he has been with since 2005.
18. Mark Feehily
Born in Siglo, Ireland, Mark Feehily has sung, song-written, and performed in various boy bands since he was a teen. His first boy band endeavor was with IOU, which he and bandmate Shane Filan broke off to create the world-famous boy band Westlife.
Westlife’s countless hits reached #1 hits on multiple occasions over their decade-long reign in UK’s charts, including “Swear It Again” and “Uptown Girl.” When the band split, Feehily had a modest solo career before reuniting with Westlife in 2018 and releasing another album the following year.
Feehily had known his sexual orientation since he was a teen, and he announced this in 2005 during an interview with The Sun. He’s currently engaged to Cailean O’Neill and has a daughter through surrogacy.
19. Billy Porter
Broadway star, actor, and singer-songwriter Billy Porter grew up in Pittsburgh. He attended a performing arts high school before majoring in drama at Carnegie Mellon and subsequently earning a post-graduate certificate in screenwriting from UCLA.
His studies paid off in a wildly successful acting career in Broadway musicals, a Tony Award, and a Grammy for the best musical album. Porter left the stage for a solo singing career and gave us the dance hits “Love Yourself” and “Children.”
Like Feehily, Porter knew he was gay when he was a teen and came out at 16. While Obama was still president, he and his long-time partner, Adam Smith, tied the knot. As of 2022, Porter and Smith are still together.
Born Michael Holbrook Penniman, British singer Mika brought to us the pop rock #1 hit single “Grace Kelly” from his Life in Cartoon Motion album, which also topped the UK Albums Chart and won him a Best British Breakthrough Brit Award.
Music aside, Mika is the face of many fashion endorsements in Europe. He has designed his own line of clothing for the retailer JBC as well as watches for the company Swatch.
In 2012, Mika revealed in an interview with Instinct magazine that he was gay. He’s currently involved with film-maker Andreas Dermanis.
Summing Up Our List Of Gay Men Singers
While being gay in show business hasn’t always been an accepted and applauded phenomenon, the above are some of the most renowned male singers that have overcome adversity and achieved total stardom for their artistic contributions.
Moreover, while some have only come out recently, many of them were brave pioneers of gay identity and gay rights. This helped push others still closeted to be more open about their sexuality.
Regardless of when they came out or their role as gay activists, these singers are all artistic geniuses whose music and vocal stylings have graced our ears and pulled at our heartstrings.