Pride Month: 25 Memorable LGBTQ Moments in Award Show History
Some are household names. Some are not. All blazed trails for succeeding generations of LGBTQ talent.
LGBTQ artists have been winning entertainment awards as long as there have been entertainment awards. In honor of Pride Month, here are 25 memorable LGBTQ moments from the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys—and a few non-EGOT award shows.
April 13, 1965—Jerry Herman becomes the first LGBTQ songwriter to win a Grammy for song of the year. He wins for the ebullient title song from the Broadway musical, Hello, Dolly!
Feb. 29, 1968—Billy Strayhorn becomes the first LGBTQ recipient of a trustees award from the Recording Academy. Strayhorn was best known for his work with Duke Ellington, with whom he shared the award. Strayhorn had died the previous year at age 51. His compositions include the classics "Take the 'A' Train" and "Lush Life."
April 8, 1975—Angela Morley becomes the first openly transgender Oscar nominee when she is nominated for adapting the song score to The Little Prince. Morley is nominated again in the same category three years later for The Slipper and the Rose—The Story of Cinderella.
Sept. 17, 1978—Soap, the first TV series to feature an openly gay recurring character (Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal) is nominated for an Emmy for best comedy series. The sitcom is also nominated in this category in 1980 and 1981.
Dec. 2, 1979—In the second year of the Kennedy Center Honors, composer Aaron Copland and playwright Tennessee Williams become the first LGBTQ recipients of that honor.
April 9, 1984—Linda Hunt wins an Oscar for best supporting actress for The Year of Living Dangerously. She's the first LGBTQ acting winner (or nominee, for that matter) who is publicly out at the time of her win. Hunt wins for playing a male character, Billy Kwan.
Feb. 28, 1984—Culture Club wins a Grammy for best new artist. The group's flamboyant lead singer, Boy George, accepts the award with a memorable quip: "Thank you America, you’ve got taste, style and you know a good drag queen when you see one." George is the first (more-or-less) openly LGBTQ winner in that category. In 1983, when asked by Joan Rivers, "Do you prefer men or women?" George replied, "Oh both."
Feb. 26, 1985—Leonard Bernstein becomes the first LGBTQ recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy.
March 25, 1985—The Times of Harvey Milk wins an Oscar as best documentary film. It's the first gay-themed film by openly gay filmmakers to win an Oscar. Accepting the award, Richard Schmiechen (who co-produced the film with Robert Epstein) says "I would like to also thank Harvey Milk for his courage, for his pride in being gay, and for his hope that one day we will all live together in a world of mutual respect." In 2009, Sean Penn wins an Oscar for playing the slain gay rights icon in Milk. He begins his speech on an irreverent note: "Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns!"
Jan. 23, 1986—Little Richard, whose gender-bending persona was revolutionary in the straight-laced (pun intended) 1950s, is among the inaugural class inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Feb. 22, 1989—George Michael's Faith wins the Grammy for album of the year. It would have been the first win in this category for an openly LGBTQ artist, but Michael doesn't tell the world that he is gay for another eight years.
Aug. 25, 1991—John Gielgud becomes the first LGBTQ individual to attain EGOT status. (I resisted coining a new acronym, LGBTQEGOT.) He achieves the feat when he wins an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special for Summer's Lease, an episode of PBS' Masterpiece Theatre.
March 30, 1992—For the third consecutive year, the Oscar winner for best song is written or co-written by an LGBTQ songwriter. The streak kicked off in 1990 with "Under the Sea," with lyrics by Howard Ashman, and continued in 1991 with "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)," with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The winner this year is "Beauty and the Beast," again with lyrics by Ashman. But Ashman didn't live to receive his second Oscar. He died of AIDS on March 14, 1991. Accepting his award, his life partner Bill Lauch said, "I'm very happy and very proud to accept this for him. But it is bittersweet. This is the first Academy Award given to someone we've lost to AIDS."
March 29, 1993—Jaye Davidson is nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for The Crying Game. He's the first LGBTQ male actor who is publicly out at time of his nomination.
March 21, 1999—Ian McKellen is nominated for an Oscar for best actor for Gods and Monsters. He's the first LGBTQ actor (male or female) in a leading role who is publicly out at time of his/her nomination. In a 2014 interview with The Advocate, McKellen noted, "I had in the pocket of my tuxedo that night, a speech which began, 'I’m proud to be the first openly gay actor to ever get an Oscar. But alas, it wasn’t my turn. Nor has anyone else since been able to say that. So we’re still waiting for the first openly gay actor to pick up their Oscar." (That's still true today.)
Feb. 23, 2000—Elton John becomes the first openly LBGTQ recipient of a Grammy legend award from the Recording Academy. Elton's pal and occasional touring mate Billy Joel presents the award with a little affectionate ribbing, "Now he is a knight, and in the United Kingdom he should be addressed as Sir Elton, but here in the good ol’ USA his friends can still call him Sharon." That same year, Elton also becomes the first LBGTQ recipient of MusiCares' person of the year award.
Nov. 4, 2001—Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Emmys, twice-delayed because of 9/11 and its aftermath. She finds just the right tone in this razor-sharp line: "What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?" DeGeneres, who came out in 1997, is the first openly LGBTQ host of the show. On Feb. 25, 2007, she becomes the first openly LGBTQ host of the Oscars.
Feb. 25, 2007—Melissa Etheridge wins an Oscar for best original song for "I Need to Wake Up." She wrote the song for the climate change doc, An Inconvenient Truth. Etheridge is the first (and, to date, only) openly lesbian winner in that category. She famously came out with the title of her 1993 album, Yes I Am.
Jan. 31, 2010—Rob Halford becomes the first openly LBGTQ musician to win a Grammy for best metal performance when his band, Judas Priest, wins for a live version of "Dissident Aggressor." Halford came out in 1998.
Jan. 26, 2014—"Same Love," a heartfelt call for marriage equality, is nominated for a Grammy for song of the year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis co-wrote the song with Mary Lambert, who was featured on their hit recording. The song is elaborately staged on the Grammy telecast. Queen Latifah takes the stage to officiate a live marriage ceremony for 33 diverse couples. The spot is capped with an appearance by Madonna, who sings her 1987 smash, "Open Your Heart."
Aug. 25, 2014—Laverne Cox becomes the first openly transgender Emmy nominee in an acting category. She is nominated for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series for her role as Sophia Burset in Orange Is the New Black. Cox is nominated again three years later.
Feb. 8, 2015—Sam Smith wins four Grammys, including record and song of the year for "Stay with Me." In accepting record of the year, the final award of the night, he quips: "I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys!"
Feb. 22, 2015—Neil Patrick Harris becomes the first openly gay man to host the Oscars. The witty and personable Harris has also hosted four Tony and two Emmy telecasts.
Feb. 28, 2016—Anohni is nominated for an Oscar for best original song for writing the lyrics to "Manta Ray." She's the first openly transgender nominee in that category.
Feb. 26, 2017—Moonlight becomes the first LGBTQ-themed film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Accepting the award, after a colossal mix-up in which La La Land was first announced as the winner, producer Adele Romanski said, "I hope…that it's inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home, who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists, helmed by this amazing talent, my friend Barry Jenkins, standing up here on this stage accepting this top honor."