Jordan was an effeminate Southern gay actor who had his own special place in queer culture for many years. He died in a car accident in Hollywood on Monday morning. His agent said that it is likely that Jordan had a health problem while driving. He was 67.
As the day went on, actors, drag queens, activists, and LGBTQ people from all walks of life sent their condolences to the Emmy-winning pioneer. Many of them praised Jordan for never being afraid of a wrist flick or a double entendre and putting his queerness front and center in all of his roles and public appearances.
Was Leslie Jordan Gay?
The 4-foot-11 scene-stealer rose to fame in the 1990s when she made cameos on “Will & Grace” as Beverley Leslie Jordan, the gay-coded enemy of Megan Mullally’s character, a New York City socialite. Jordan’s character eventually comes out as gay on the show, which broke a lot of ground for its time in how it showed gay men on network TV, even though they were mostly white and cisgender.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2012, Joe Biden, who was then vice president, said that the show was a big reason why Americans’ views on LGBTQ people were changing at the time.
Biden said, “When things really start to change is when social culture changes.” “I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate Americans than almost anything else has done so far.”
On Monday, Mullally said of Jordan on Instagram that he is “one of the greats.”
Jordan, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has brought his over-the-top gay sensibilities to a number of networks shows over the years, including “The Cool Kids” and “Call Me Kat,” both on Fox. During the pandemic, his social media videos went viral because people were tired of being locked down. This gave him a new and younger audience.
In December, when he was a guest host on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he said, “I really blew up on ‘the gram’ this summer.” “That means I’m doing really well on Instagram, for you old people.”
Many people saw Jordan as a symbol of the joy of being openly gay, of reclaiming and celebrating long-held stereotypes about how gay men act like women.
Eric Gonzaba, an assistant professor of American studies at California State University, Fullerton who specializes in LGBTQ scholarship and said, “He leaned into his flamboyance.”
Jordan was in high school when the gay rights movement began to grow. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was coming to terms with who he was as the Stonewall uprising and the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders. At the same time, Americans’ ideas about sexuality were also beginning to change.
Then there was a lot of AIDS. Gay baby boomer men like Jordan, who were born between 1946 and 1964, were hit the hardest at the height of the crisis in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. By 1995, 1.6 million gay men between the ages of 25 and 44 had died.
Gonzaba said that Jordan was from a “lost generation.”
“We never got to see all that talent, beauty, and culture,” he wrote on Twitter. “Imagine 70,000+ more Leslie Jordans.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan administration’s failed response to it helped LGBTQ enclaves, which some people called “gayborhoods,” become more visible in larger cities. These areas, like the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City, became the center of the fight for LGBTQ rights and the coordination of a strong health response to the AIDS crisis in the community.
There are many political and social benefits to gay men getting to know each other and forming networks with other gay people, especially in gay neighborhoods. But some research has shown that it can make people more likely to use drugs. Jordan told People magazine in January 2021 that when he first moved to Los Angeles more than 20 years ago, he had trouble with alcoholism.
He admitted that being a gay man in those days had a lot to do with his problems with drugs and alcohol.
“I thought being gay was a lot easier when I was rich,” he said.
He had been sober for more than 20 years when he died, which makes Vic Vela feel better. Vela, who is gay and hosts the award-winning Colorado Public Radio show “Back From Broken” about addiction, said that coming out has never been easy for anyone, but it was especially hard in the last few decades of the 20th century.
“That was really hard for a lot of gay men from a certain generation to do without drinking,” he said.
Anti-LGBTQ discrimination and homophobia are still hard to avoid, especially for queer people like Jordan who look less straight. This can make people want to hide parts of their identity.
In September 2021, Jordan said on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”: “When I open my mouth, 50 yards of purple chiffon come out.” This made everyone in the room laugh.
In the interview, Jordan talked about having to play a straight man in a cameo on Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom. When DeGeneres’ character came out as gay in 1997, it was a big deal in American culture. He wasn’t sure if he could do it, but he joked that he would try to “butch it up.”
In most of his roles in the years after that, he did the exact opposite. It was the way he showed the world that he was gay that showed younger LGBTQ people how to be proud of who they are, too. DeGeneres thanked Jordan for coming on her show in the same interview. As he sat down, she said, “It’s good to see you.” He looked at the crowd and said, “Thank you.” “Being seen is a good thing.”
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.