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 went on, from fellow actors to drag queens to activists to regular LGBTQ folks, many of whom rented Jordan for never being afraid of a flick of the wrist or a double meaning, unabashedly centering his 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 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2012, then-Vice President Joe Biden attributed much of Americans’ changing attitudes at the time toward the LGBTQ community 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 in a appearance guest host “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. Homosexuals like Jordan, born from 1946 to 1964 and classified as baby boomers, were hit the hardest at the height of the crisis, from the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. In 1995, A tenth of the 1.6 million homosexuals 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 Reagan administration response failed to her, played a role in the rise of already well-established LGBTQ enclaves, which some have called “gay neighborhoodsin large urban areas in the 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 a few to research has shown that it may be associated with an increased risk of drug use. More than two decades ago, Jordan battled alcoholism when he was first living in Los Angeles, he said in a interview with People magazine in January 2021.
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 an award-winning Colorado Public Radio addiction show, “Back from brokensaid that while coming out has never been easy for anyone, it has been 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 muslin comes out,” Jordan said in another appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September 2021, causing 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.”