The LGBTQ community is reeling from the news of the death of beloved gay icon Leslie Jordan.
Jordan — an effeminate Southern gay actor who for decades occupied his own special corner of queer culture — died Monday morning in a car accident in Hollywood. His agent said it is suspected that Jordan suffered a medical emergency at the wheel. He was 67.
Condolences for the pioneering Emmy winner poured in, from other actors to drag queens to activists to everyday LGBTQ people, many of whom praised Jordan for never running away from a slap in the face or a double entendre. , unapologetically centering her queerness. in his many roles and public appearances.
The 4-foot-11 scene-stealer first catapulted to fame in the ’90s with cameos as Beverley Leslie, the facetiously queer-coded nemesis of a New York City socialite played by Megan Mullally in “Will & Grace.” Jordan’s character eventually comes out as gay on the show, which itself broke major barriers for its time in its portrayal of gay, albeit mostly white and cisgender, men on network television. .
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2012, Joe Biden, then the vice president, attributed much of the changing attitudes of Americans about the LGBTQ community at the time to the show.
“When things really start to change is when the social culture changes,” Biden said. “I think” Will & Grace’ has probably done more to educate the American public than almost anything anyone has ever done.”
Mullally called Jordan “one of the greats” on Instagram Monday.
Over the years, Jordan, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., has brought his over-the-top queer sensibility into the mainstream on a number of network shows, including the Fox sitcoms “The Cool Kids” and, most recently, “Call Me Kat” . .” Over the course of the pandemic, his viral social media videos, inspired by lockdown fatigue, have found a new, younger audience.
“This summer, I really hit the ‘gram,” she said in a guest appearance hosting “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in December. “For you seniors, that means I’m doing really well on Instagram.”
For many, Jordan was a symbol of the joy of undeniably visible queerness—of reclaiming and rejoicing in long-held stereotypes about the feminine affections of gay men.
“He leaned into his flamboyance,” said Eric Gonzaba, an assistant professor of American studies who specializes in LGBTQ scholarship at California State University, Fullerton.
Jordan was a teenager as the gay rights movement began to pick up steam. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the midst of the Stonewall uprising and the removal of homosexuality by the American Psychological Association from its official list of mental disorders, it was came to terms with his identity as Americans’ ideas about sexuality also began to change.
Then came the AIDS epidemic. Gay men like Jordan, born from 1946 to 1964 and classified as baby boomers, were the hardest hit at the peak of the crisis, from the late 80s and throughout the years 90. In 1995, one tenth of the 1.6 million gay men aged 25 to 44 had died.
Gonzaba called Jordan a representative of a “lost generation”.
“All that talent, fabulousness, and culture we never got to see,” he tweeted. “Imagine over 70,000 Leslie Jordans.”
The AIDS epidemic, and the Reagan administration’s failed response to it, played a role in the rise to prominence of already well-established LGBTQ enclaves, which some call “gayborhoods,” in larger areas urban areas in the 80s and 90s. Those neighborhoods, such as the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City, became ground zero for the struggle for LGBTQ rights and for the coordination of a robust health response in the community to the AIDS crisis.
Socializing among gay men and gay-centric networks, especially in gay neighborhoods, has a myriad of political and social benefits. But some research has shown that it can be associated with an increased risk of drug use. More than two decades ago, Jordan struggled with alcoholism when he was first in Los Angeles, he said in an interview with People magazine in January 2021.
His challenges with substance abuse, he admitted, were directly related to his experience as a gay man in those days.
“I felt it was much easier to be gay when I was pregnant,” he said.
He died more than 20 years sober, a fact that gives comfort to Vic Vela. Vela, who is gay and the host of an award-winning Colorado Public Radio program on addiction, “Back From Broken,” said that while it’s never been easy for anyone to come out, it was particularly difficult in the last decades of the world. last century
“For many gay men of a certain generation, it was really hard to do without alcohol,” he said.
Avoiding anti-LGBTQ discrimination and homophobia remains especially hard for queer people who, like Jordan, are less than straight-present, which can give people incentives to suppress aspects of their identity.
“Open your mouth, and out comes 50 yards of purple chiffon,” Jordan said in another appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September 2021, prompting a roomful of giggles.
In the interview, Jordan talked about playing a straight man in a cameo on DeGeneres’ sitcom, which broke new ground in American culture when DeGeneres’ character came out as gay in 1997. had his doubts that he could succeed. but he joked that he would try to “buch it up”.
In the following years, he did the opposite in most of his roles. It was that outward expression of his queerness that became a shining example for younger generations of LGBTQ people to embrace their own.
In the same interview, DeGeneres thanked Jordan for coming on her show. It was nice to see him, he said as he sat down.
“Thank you,” he said, looking at the audience. “It’s good to be seen.”
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