Queer fans mourn Leslie Jordan, symbol of a 'lost generation' of gay men

Queer fans mourn Leslie Jordan, symbol of a ‘lost generation’ of gay men

The LGBTQ community is in shock at the news of the death of beloved gay icon Leslie Jordan.

Jordan – an effeminate gay actor from the South who for decades occupied his own special corner of queer culture – died Monday morning in a car accident in Hollywood. His agent said it was suspected that Jordan suffered a medical emergency while driving. He was 67 years old.

Condolences poured in for the Emmy-winning trailblazer as the day wore on, from fellow actors to drag queens to activists to everyday LGBTQ people, many of whom praised Jordan for never shy away from a flick of the wrist or a double meaning, centering his shameless homosexuality in his many roles and public appearances.

The 4-foot-11 scene-stealer was first catapulted into the ’90s with cameos as Beverley Leslie, the facetiously coded nemesis of a New York socialite played by Megan Mullally in “Will & Grace”. Jordan’s character ends up appearing as gay on the show, which itself broke major barriers for its time in its portrayal of gay, albeit predominantly white and cisgender, men on network television.

In a 2012 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” then-Vice President Joe Biden attributed much of Americans’ changing attitudes toward 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 American audiences than almost anything anyone has done to date.”

Mullally called Jordan “one of the greatest” on Instagram on Monday.

Over the years, Jordan, a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has brought his exaggerated queer sensibilities into the mainstream on a number of network shows, including the Fox sitcoms “The Cool Kids” and, most recently, “Call Me Kat.” During the pandemic, his viral social media videos, inspired by lockdown fatigue, have found him a new and younger audience.

“This summer, I really blew up on ‘the gram,'” he said during a guest appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in December. “For you old people, that means I’m doing really well on Instagram.”

For many, Jordan was a symbol of the unmistakably visible joy of homosexuality – of reclaiming and rejoicing in long-held stereotypes about the female affects of gay men.

“He leaned into his flamboyance,” said Eric Gonzaba, assistant professor of American studies specializing in LGBTQ scholarship at California State University, Fullerton.

Jordan was a teenager when the gay rights movement was beginning to gain momentum. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, amid the Stonewall Uprising and the removal of homosexuality by the American Psychological Association from its official list of mental disorders, he came to terms with his identity as the ideas of Americans on sexuality were also beginning to change.

Then came the AIDS epidemic. Gay people like Jordan, born between 1946 and 1964 and classified as baby boomers, were hardest hit during the height of the crisis, starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s. In 1995, one-tenth of the 1.6 million gay men between the ages of 25 and 44 had died.

Gonzaba called Jordan a representative of a “lost generation”.

“All this talent, this fabulousness and this culture that we have never seen”, he tweeted. “Imagine over 70,000 more Leslie Jordans.”

The AIDS epidemic, and the failed Reagan administration response, played a role in the rise of already entrenched LGBTQ enclaves, which some called “gay neighborhoods,” in major urban areas. 80s and 90s. These neighborhoods, like the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City has become the starting point for fighting for LGBTQ rights and coordinating a strong community health response to the AIDS crisis.

Socializing among gay men and gay-centric networks, especially in gay neighborhoods, has myriad political and social benefits. But some research has shown that it may be associated with an increased risk of drug use. More than two decades ago, Jordan struggled with alcoholism when he first lived in Los Angeles, he said in a January 2021 interview with People magazine.

His substance abuse issues, he admitted, were directly related to his experience as a gay man at that time.

“I felt it was a lot easier to be gay when I was loaded,” he said.

He died after more than 20 years of sobriety, a fact that comforts Vic Vela. Vela, a gay man and host of Colorado Public Radio’s award-winning drug addiction show, “Back From Broken,” said that while coming out has never been easy for anyone, it was particularly difficult in the last decades of the last century.

“For a lot of gay people of a certain generation, it was really hard to go without alcohol,” he said.

Avoiding anti-LGBTQ discrimination and homophobia remains particularly difficult for queer people who, like Jordan, present themselves less directly, which can lead people to suppress aspects of their identity.

“I open my mouth and 50 yards of purple chiffon comes out,” Jordan said during another appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September 2021, prompting a room full of laughter.

In the interview, Jordan talked about having to play a straight man in a cameo on the DeGeneres sitcom, which broke new ground in American culture when DeGeneres’ character came out as gay in 1997. He doubted he could. get there, but he joked that he would try to “butcher it”.

In the years that followed, he did the exact opposite in most of his roles. It is this outward expression of one’s homosexuality that has become a shining example for younger generations of LGBTQ people to embrace as well.

In the same interview, DeGeneres thanked Jordan for coming on her show. It was good to see him, she said as he sat down.

“Thank you,” he said, looking at the audience. “It’s good to be seen.”

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