For members of the LGBTQ community, it can be tough to find representations and role models for ourselves in the media even today. If you were growing up queer in the '90s, though, finding positive representations of queer people in TV, books, music, or movies was definitely no easy feat. That's a big part of the reason that so many of the queer icons we had as kids and teenagers are basically inter-generational; LGBTQ people older and younger than us share some of the idols, especially if they're still producing work or are active in LGBTQ politics.
It's also fair to point out that we might idolize "queer idols" we do not identify as queer, but are openly LGBTQ allies. On the flip side, we have to be careful not to assume anyone's sexual orientation or gender identity until they share it with us. As is always the case with an idol or role model, it's important to keep in mind that sometimes people say or do problematic things, and it's OK to call that out or to weigh it equally when talking about their activism or shared perspective.
If you were a young LGBTQ-identified person who grew up in the '90s, I'm willing to bet you idolized at least some of the people on this list — and maybe even still do today!
1. David Bowie
This feels painful to write, given his passing in 2016, but it's inarguable that David Bowie has been an idol for queer people so long as he'd been creating music.
2. Ellen Degeneres
Many of us still know and love Ellen today. In fact, given the popularity of her show, it's easy to forget that her coming out as a lesbian was ever a big deal, but it definitely was. Ellen totally paved a path for queer women in media and comedy to come out.
3. George Michael
This one is also super bittersweet given his recent passing, but George Michael was openly gay and so proud of it. His bravery in coming out and refusing to hide himself inspired generations, including those of us who grew up in the '90s.
While Madonna does not openly identify as queer, she is a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights and is super sex positive. Her music is an anthem of queer spaces across the country for a reason.
5. Willow From 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
Alyson Hannigan is still making awesome stuff today, but for many queer women, we most know and love her from her days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Willow, where she portrayed a strong, independent young woman who also had some notable same-sex relationships on screen.
6. Will And Jack Of 'Will & Grace'
While many of the cast of Will & Grace have since said they regret perpetuating stereotypes in their roles, it's still fair to say that Will and Jack both gave voice to a lot of gay people in the '90s.
Prince has long been a queer icon, particularly because of his early and steadfast embrace of gender fluidity and varied gender expression. While Prince himself was reticent to label his sexual orientation, he definitely laid serious groundwork for gender fluidity and expression.
8. Dan Savage
Dan Savage is openly gay, sex-positive, and gives relationship advice. He was like the sometimes cringe-inducing health teacher we all needed in school.
9. The Cast Of 'The L Word'
Similar to Will & Grace, this show definitely had some problematic parts. Still, the queer ladies of The L Word definitely told a generation of queer people they, too, could have a glamorous and drama-filled life on the West Coast.
10. Susan And Carol In 'Friends'
They get married on the show! They raise Ben together! Yay, queer couples that are happy and functional!
11. The Cast of 'But I'm A Cheerleader'
This cult classic came out in 1999 and seriously changed the lives of a huge number of queer youth who saw it. It's a campy take on a serious subject, but the overall message of acceptance is something that still feels necessary even today.