Rest in power: 11 LGBTQ+ celebs, allies and icons we lost in 2023
Some of our greatest LGBTQ+ celebs, change-makers and allies died in 2023 – people such as singer Tina Turner, adult-actor Sophie Anderson, and TV legend Paul O’Grady.
But they left behind fantastic legacies, filled with moving music, creativity, joyous laughter and lasting memories for the LGBTQ+ community.
As another year draws to a close, we a look back at the lives and careers of 11 famous LGBTQ+ celebs and allies we lost in 2023.
Known as the queen of rock ‘n’ roll, Turner was a powerhouse singer, song-writer and actor. She died on 24 May at the age of 83, after a long illness, at her home in Küsnacht, near the Swiss capital Zurich.
Turner was known for her electric stage presence and hits including “Proud Mary”, “Nutbush City Limits” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. She also provided the title song for the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye. She appeared opposite Mel Gibson in 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
LGBTQ+ fans worldwide mourned after the Irish singer – best known for “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which shot to number one worldwide when released in 1990 – died in July. She was 56.
O’Connor was renowned for her pure voice and exceptional song-writing that evoked her powerful views on politics, philosophy and spirituality. She was an outspoken activist who campaigned for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, victims of child sexual abuse and the anti-racism movement.
The much-loved presenter and comedian, who broke on to the scene with his drag act persona Lily Savage, died “unexpectedly but peacefully” in March at the age of 67.
O’Grady became a national icon in the 80s and 90s as the cheeky drag queen, appearing on TV shows such as The Big Breakfast, Blankety Blank and, eventually, The Lily Savage Show. Outside drag, O’Grady fought tirelessly against homophobia and was an unflinching trans ally.
He also was an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for more than 10 years. After his death, the animal shelter charity announced it would name a state-of-the-art clinic facility after the star, as well as spend funds raised in O’Grady’s honour to help their animals in need of treatment.
The celeb and LGBTQ+ advocate, who was one half of the iconic duo Cock Destroyers, died aged 36 on 4 December – just two weeks after her boyfriend, the former Crystal Palace footballer Oliver Spedding.
Adult-film star Anderson is remembered for championing sex positivity with her boisterous camp persona, her loving spirit, her work with HIV and Aids charities and her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.
Cock Destroyer collaborator Rebecca Moore said she would remember the “crazy time” she had with Anderson “that was unique” to the duo while Drag Race UK‘s Divina de Campo described the star as a “genuinely sweet soul”.
Xtravaganza, the star of the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, trans advocate and ballroom legend, died in August at the age of 62. Just a year earlier, it was revealed that she had been battling stage-four lung cancer.
House of Xtravaganza, one of the original houses of New York’s ballroom community, where she had been a house mother, paid tribute to the star’s “openness and bravery”, living in her authenticity that “helped pave the way for others [and] leaving an enduring legacy of acceptance and love”.
Jesús Ociel Baena
Mexico’s first openly non-binary court magistrate and prominent LGBTQ+ activist was found dead in their home along in November. Baena had been a member of the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes’ Electoral Tribunal for more than a year before their death.
They told CNN en Español that the historic achievement meant a lot because they wanted to “send the message that the LGBTQ population can access these spaces, that there is a possibility”.
Thousands gathered in the heart of Mexico City with lit candles and banners with photos of Baena to demand justice for the influential figure after they were found alongside the body of their partner, Dorian Daniel Nieves.
Silver, a well-known UK trans comedian who performed at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, is also among the LGBTQ+ celebs we lost in the past 12 months. The stand-up died while living in Thailand at the age of 35, and the hospital where she reportedly worked remembered her as someone who helped “so many people make their dreams come true”.
She made headlines in 2019 when she was told to leave the women’s changing rooms of department store Dorothy Perkins, and told PinkNews she received a “sickening” level of hatred after talking about the incident.
The San Francisco drag performer, who was a pillar of the city’s LGBTQ+ community, was found dead in April, while visiting London. She was 54.
Thousands gathered in San Fran’s famous Castro Theatre in May for a special farewell. There was a moment of silence in honour of Heklina before hundreds of attendees began laughing, a homage to the drag queen’s legendary and infectious laughter that brightened up her shows.
The 90s and early 00s gay adult-film star died at his home in November, according to his friend Jeff Yarbrough.
Hightower, who was 57, appeared in dozens of adult films and amassed a huge fan base in the US. He also had a deep love of dogs and did a “lot of volunteering”, with Yarbrough remembering how his friend once “sold Christmas trees for a pug rescue”.
Thomas, a gay model and influencer died in March at the age 35.
He was the founder and director of art consulting agency One Popsicle, was a renowned entrepreneur, gained more than 122,000 followers on Instagram and enjoyed being a “proud dog dad”, according to his profile.
Celebrities took to the comments section of Thomas’ last post to grieve. Drag Race star Sasha Colby wrote: “Rest in love”, while writer Evan Ross Katz commented: “Heartbroken.”
His brother, Skylar Ray Thomas, said: “Jeff struggled with addiction and mental-health challenges, which ultimately led to his tragic passing.”
The legendary performer – who previously held the Guinness World Record for being the world’s oldest working drag queen – died at the age of 92 in March.
She was also the proud owner and operator of club Darcelle XV Showplace, a Portland mainstay that boasts the longest continually running drag show on the USA’s West Coast.
In July, the Oregon city announced it would pay homage to Darvelle XV by naming a public square after the beloved drag performer and LGBTQ+ advocate.
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