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Priyanka Chopra is India’s global female gay icon

Through an interview with Indo-Canadian entertainment journalist Daniel Pillai we explore why the LGBTQ community has embraced Chopra.

Suparna Thombare

"Who says gay men don’t love women? We worship them, as long as they’re famous, talented, and have some kind of aesthetic that reaches out to our inner diva,” wrote writer Michael Musto in an article on his favourite female gay icons of all time in 2014. While Cher and Madonna remain the all-time favourites within the gay community, Musto also mentioned Lady Gaga and Beyonce as the current female gay icons. 

In a recent interview, Indo-Canadian entertainment journalist, Daniel Pillai, who is an openly gay role model for many in the Indian community in Canada, professed the same kind of love for Priyanka Chopra. He confessed that his dream was to be PC’s gay best friend! 

“The gays love you. I don’t know if somebody’s ever said this to you... but there are some female gay icons out there... and the gays just love you,” said Pillai to Chopra during his interview on his YouTube show, Date with Daniel.  

“A gay icon is a celebrity or public figure who is embraced by the gay community. To reach gay icon status, one has to be able to relate to us through flamboyance, strength, triumph over adversity, glamour and even androgyny.” - Deron Dalton, pop culture journalist. 

Chopra does fit the attributes of a female gay icon — talented, versatile, a gay rights advocate, fashion risk taker, strong, vocal, funny, unapologetic, hot and glamorous. It’s really not surprising then that she is emerging as this global female gay icon from India. She has been a topic of discussion on American pop culture forum atrl.net as the ‘quintessential female gay icon’ for many years now. 

The actress, singer, producer and philanthropist has worn many hats over the years and achieved great success. Her talent and versatility are celebrated by gays. Her grace and skills in dance numbers like 'Desi Girl', 'Ram Chahe Leela', 'Asalaam E Ishqum' and 'Pinga' are popular.

She has played many empowered and powerful characters throughout her career influencing those from the LGBTQ community — from the sexy Sonia Mehra in Aitraaz, the ambitious Meghna Mathur in Fashion and the firebrand Sweety in Kaminey to a powerful boxer Mary Kom, the dignified Kashibai in Bajirao Mastani and the ass-kicking Alex Parrish in Quantico. In fact, many from the gay and lesbian community on social media have hoped that Chopra's Parrish would have a lesbian encounter at some point. The show supports the LGBTQ community and has portrayed several gay characters. One of them is also turning out to be a close friend to Chopra's onscreen character in the second season. 

The Indian community in the West does feel great about having a female gay icon in mainstream American entertainment who they can idolise. During the same interview Pillai told Chopra how she has inspired many young boys and how they try to emulate her style. “There are many on my Instagram who follow me... young boys who are coming to terms with their sexuality and they say things like 'Oh I play around with my eyeliner because I am inspired by some of Priyanka's looks or I am inspired by some of the characters that she has played. Everyone talks about how you have inspired young boys and girls... what do you feel about being an inspiration to this community?" asked Pillai, who grew up idolising Madhuri Dixit.

"I'm really grateful for the support I've got from the gay community. Absolutely! And I hope to keep inspiring... though I didn't really know I was inspiring," said Chopra in response.

As she becomes a major influence on American and global pop culture, Queen Pri, as she is fondly called on the sets of Quantico and certain sections of the American media, has not only become a huge role model for brown girls around the world, but has also influenced the gay community. Chopra has often spoken about being flawed and the importance of embracing your flaws, which resonates with many youngsters from the LGBTQ community. The actress has also been an advocate of diversity and spoken about why people should not be put into boxes of colour, religion, gender and sexuality.

Apart from supporting some great causes like children’s education, gender equality and feminism, Chopra has also been vocal about gay rights, even before it became fashionable to speak about gay rights in India.

If you rewind to 2008, two of Chopra's films, Fashion and Dostana, were gay-centred and Chopra did not shy away from speaking openly about her views. “I'm very pro-gay rights and I've always have been. I think we're all entitled to our own opinions on issues, but we don't have the right to tell others how to live their lives. Focus on your own personal life rather than everyone else's," she had said in 2009. 

Back then she had also said she was open to playing a lesbian character. “Why not? I would definitely play a lesbian provided the film has a good script and the role did not exploit gays for entertainment like many films do,” she said. At that point, it was a big thing for a mainstream female star to say. 

When the Supreme Court set the decision of the High Court to decriminalise homosexuality aside, Chopra slammed the decision. "Every individual has his or her own sexual preferences. We live in a democratic country and everyone should be free to choose who they want to be with," she had said.

In 2015, in an interview to Barkha Dutt, Priyanka once again said that she will always lend her voice in the fight for gay rights. "It’s a fight and its a long fight. We need to be ready for it. I’m pro gay rights. I am pro rights. I am pro choice. I am pro democracy. I am pro humanity.”

Her vocal support has won her many brownie points with the LGBTQ community over the years. And with her continued success, Chopra has not only become India’s most famous export, but also a global female gay icon from India. 

Here’s decoding Priyanka Chopra — the female gay icon, in an interview with Daniel Pillai:

In your recent interview with Priyanka Chopra, you told her that the gays love her. She does seem to have a huge following in the LGBT community...
Absolutely! I think the LGBTQ community has embraced Priyanka like other communities have and it's a wonderful thing.

What is it about Priyanka Chopra that makes her appealing to gays?
I can only speak from my own personal feelings on this matter and I am sure that many other gay men out there would agree — women are aspirational and inspiring figures for us ‹as gay men. For me, Priyanka Chopra is one such person. Her class, dignity and grace are qualities that I admire and it's her hard work and determination to be the very best at what she does that I find appealing. Wrapped up in all of that is my own identification with femininity and well, in many ways, Priyanka is the woman I wish I was.

What are the films, roles and songs of Priyanka that are most loved?
I don't think I can answer this on behalf of the entire LGBTQ population which admires Priyanka, but for me her most recent work in Bajirao Mastani is amazing. Also, her work in films like Yakeen, Gunday and Fashion are also great examples of her most loved work.

You also spoke about young boys who are coming to terms with their sexuality being influenced and inspired by PC. Could you elaborate? And could you also add why you think they are inspired by her?
When I was growing up, I admired Madhuri Dixit and I wanted to become her when I grew up. As a child, I identified with femininity and its various associations whether it was in fashion, dance, make-up or simply through the presence of class and grace — Madhuri Dixit was all of this for me. So I think for a lot of gay males, young, adolescent or mature, Priyanka Chopra is one such figure. As female role models, we ascribe our own hopes, dreams and desires to them so I think for gay men the reasons will differ. 

You also said you are inspired by her. How has she inspired you?
The most inspirational quality to Priyanka Chopra is her relentless goal to be the best at anything she does, and to reach the pinnacle of success doing it. I don't think anyone out there will deny her professionalism, her work ethic, her determination and her drive. As a journalist who has been able to interview her in different phases of her career, it's inspirational to see her climb more ladders year after year. If she fails, she gets back up and moves on and climbs a new ladder. This is the reason for her success right now, and it will be the reason for many more successes in the future. 

What do you think of Priyanka Chopra as a style icon?
Absolutely! I think anyone in her position has access to a lot more wardrobe items than the average person. She's always been able to make fashion statements in whatever she wears and she is a risk taker. I would love to see her wear some traditional Indian attire soon on a red carpet and wow all of Hollywood.

What are your favourite characters of Priyanka, personally?
In terms of characters, my favourites are Meghna Mathur from Fashion, Jhilmil from Barfi! and Kashibai from Bajirao Mastani. 

What do you think is Priyanka’s influence on pop culture in the North America right now?
Right now, for me, Priyanka represents a person of today. She is cultured, she is driven, she is empowered, she is determined and she is talented. She just "happens" to be from India. I think the minute we focus on ethnicity and gender we limit an individual to only those things and the trajectory it's attached to — past, present and future. That's not to say she isn't proving that women can do it all and that as an Indian she is just as capable than anyone else. However, I think her appeal is across all genders, identities and cultures, she is a universal figure. 

Would you say she’s one of the most popular Indian female stars amongst the Indian gay community in US and Canada right now?
There are a lot of females that are aspirational and inspirational to gay male communities around the world. But I will be honest, Madhuri Dixit and her iconic dance numbers hold a special place in the hearts of many gay men in the US and Canada. I think today, Priyanka Chopra is one such woman that inspires us. 

Do you think we really need an Indian star who is a global gay icon? If so, why?
Absolutely, this is a must and in my opinion, we need someone who is not just Indian, but South Asian. Someone who can represent all South Asian communities across the globe. But most importantly, this person must be from the LGBTQ community and isn't afraid to stand up and be that figure. Right now there isn't any one such person anywhere in the world who proudly stands up for their sexuality openly on an international scale. We do not have any one such face as there are in the West, but I think this will change soon. In addition to that, having Indian celebrities open up about their sexualities is very important given the existence of Section 377, but I also understand why that is a difficult decision for a person to make. Sexuality in India and in South Asian communities is very, very complex but I am confident we can work through these issues. 

What has your interactions with Priyanka been like through the years?
‹Each time I meet Priyanka, she is so sweet. Despite all the great things she has achieved throughout the years, she is always kind and easy to talk to. No matter her level of success, she has always been the same.

Watch Daniel Pillai's interview with Priyanka Chopra here: