In the week that Freddie Mercury would have been celebrating his 70th birthday, we take a look at how the Queen front-man acted as an inspiration for the LGBT community
Speaking to the New Musical Express in 1974, Freddie Mercury responded to a question about his sexuality with:
“I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear!”
The singer’s simile summarises much about himself; he had bags of personality, an out-there imagination, and was bisexual and proud of it.
But this was more than just a quirky answer or a proud outburst however. It was a thoroughly brave statement.
This was 1974: still very much the dark ages with regards to treatment of the LGBT community.
It was only 7 years after the legalisation of homosexuality, and still decades before an equal age of consent was passed.
Mercury helped to open the conversation about being a member of the LGBT community through responses like this, as well as by his refusal to feel the need to come out and justify his sexuality.
‘Right now, the media is gay obsessed’
Mercury’s on stage cross-dressing and overt campness paved the way for many modern stars, such as American Idol runner up Adam Lambert, who has since toured with Queen and stepped into the iconic singer’s shoes.
Lambert cited the pop legend as one of his inspirations during an interview with the Guardian in 2015:
“Bowie and Queen were what I dug into, the way they performed, the androgyny, the theatrical, campy persona.”
The Mercury stand-in also highlighted the changes in how the media treats LGBT performers:
“Back then, it was almost like people didn’t want to hear it, and they certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Right now, the US media is gay obsessed.”
It is apparent this week more than most just how ‘gay obsessed’ the western media is.
In the same week that Nicholas Chamberlain became the first openly gay English bishop after a newspaper “threatened” to expose his sexuality, Labour politician Keith Vas was hounded by certain sectors of the media over reports that he had engaged in sexual activity with male prostitutes.
The two stories demonstrate how far we still have to go with regards to the treatment of LGBT individuals.
But it is undeniable that Mercury’s role in bringing ‘queerness’ into the public eye has played a major part in helping the public become more accepting of those of a different sexuality.
‘His legacy is not defined by HIV’
On November 23, 1991, Mercury publicly revealed that he was living with HIV, confirming rumours that had been cruelly circulated by a tabloid campaign. A day later he would die from bronchopneumonia, brought on by the disease.
How Mercury lived in his final days as someone suffering with HIV became inspirational for people living with the disease today.
In his studio in Montreux on Lake Geneva six months before his death, Mercury continued to record with Queen.
During an interview with the Telegraph, assistant engineer Justin Shirley-Smith, who was present at the session, suggested the mood was far from sombre:
“This is hard to explain to people, but it wasn’t sad, it was very happy. He was one of the funniest people I ever encountered. I was laughing most of the time. Freddie was saying [about the disease] ‘I’m not going to think about it, I’m going to do this’”
Kat Smithson, policy and campaigns manager at National AIDS Trust, believes that Mercury is still an inspiration to people living with HIV, as he didn’t let the disease define him:
“His legacy is not defined by HIV, and nor should it be, and we would like to think this reminds people that a person living with HIV is much more than those three letters.”
Smithson also highlights the fundraising legacy that Mercury’s decision to disclose his HIV status had:
“I think that the loss of Freddie Mercury inspired more people to take action, and did shine a bit of light on the deep scar HIV left on a community of people but which was shrouded in silence and stigma. This can be seen in part by the fundraising legacy after his untimely death which was led by people who loved him.”
However, Smithson suggests that much still has to be done if the stigma surrounding HIV is to be reduced:
“We now know much more about HIV now and the treatment we have is truly incredible, but unfortunately public knowledge and attitudes have not kept pace… 16% of people incorrectly thought HIV could be passed on by kissing…One in five people living with HIV has experienced verbal harassment or threats in the past year.
“Half experienced feelings of blame, shame and guilt.”
Birthday celebrations on Lake Geneva
This week, Mercury would have turned 70, and many Queen fans gathered in numbers in Montreux, Switzerland where Mercury recorded his final Queen songs to mark the occasion.
Jacky Smith, the head of the Official International Queen Fan Club, described the scenes in Montreux:
“The atmosphere…was quite amazing. There were many Freddie 1986 Magic Tour yellow jackets – of course.
“Everyone was just ‘in the spirit’ and having a ball.
“Once the party was all over, hundreds of people simply strolled down to the lake, and continued the party at the foot of Freddie’s statue.”
“The order of dress was yellow – his favourite colour… funnily enough there were people dressed as daffodils.”
Main Image: Getty