Being flamboyant or feisty is recommended. Raw sex appeal helps too.But a big personality coupled with a public battle with drink or drugs is probably the most reliable way to win gay fans -“ especially if you succumb to your demons.

Such would seem to be the conclusion of a new photographic exhibition of international gay icons that opened in Sydney last week.

Thirty-seven famous faces feature in Icons Of The Gay Community, an eye-catching and sometimes controversial collection of celebrity portraits first seen in London last year.

The show is a collaboration between photography agency Getty Images and British entrepreneur Ivan Massow, who polled about 30,000 members of Jake, his professional gay online network, to see who cut it as a community legend.

It was actually Getty that approached me to do it, the former chair of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts told Sydney Star Observer.

Jake members voted for their icons of choice from a selection of hundreds of Getty photographs, but could not include reasons for their decision. Each celebrity featured in one image only, and the poll threw up some interesting results, Massow said.

It was a slightly older demographic and a very professional demographic, he said of voters, who were predominantly British gay men.

That’s why I was quite shocked. Some people came much higher up the list than I had anticipated -“ like the ever-flamboyant Miss Piggy, who scored very high, Massow said.

Divas who have stuck it out despite misfortune such as Liza Minnelli also made the cut, as did those who lost their struggles: Marilyn Monroe, Maria Callas and perennial gay favourite Judy Garland are all featured.

But the greatest acclaim belonged to chameleonic modern-day star Madonna, pictured, who was named number one gay icon in the survey. Australia’s own pop phenomenon Kylie Minogue also rated highly.

She was right up there, I’m afraid, high culture devotee Massow said. I’m a little bit embarrassed about that. I wanted everyone to vote for Tchaikovsky.

Not that over-the-top female entertainers monopolised voters’ affection.

Oscar Wilde drew the fourth highest vote, although his image isn’t included in the exhibition’s scaled-down Sydney run.

Many of the other high-scoring men, like David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Richard Gere, no doubt won votes for pure sex appeal.

Other male gay icons, such as late Queen singer Freddie Mercury, had a different significance.

In the UK he really took the brunt of HIV/AIDS prejudice, Massow said.

As Freddie Mercury was dying, priests in England were saying that AIDS was God’s retribution and that was perfectly acceptable language.

So he’s not just an icon from a music perspective. He was almost a martyr really.

Icons Of The Gay Community is on until 6 March in The Attic bar at The ArtHouse Hotel, 275 Pitt St, Sydney.

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