The National Portrait Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition in July highlighting famous figures that have inspired the gay community.

Members of a select panel of openly-gay public figures, including Sir Elton John, Sir Ian McKellen and Billie Jean King, were each given the opportunity to choose six personal heroes for inclusion – people who inspired them to achieve, or rather to live, as they have.

A statement from the National Portrait Gallery said, “Those that were chosen are not necessarily gay themselves, but have served as an inspiration”.

Surprise icons include Nelson Mandela, Russian cellist Rostropovich and activist Peter Tatchell; showing that the common thread between the panel’s choices is bravery.

“Typical” gay icons, such as Kylie Minogue, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli and Barbara Streisand, were snubbed off the list in favour of a list of more politically commendable candidates.

“What I hope this exhibition will do is to give courage to those people who still struggle with their sexuality. It might make people feel better about themselves and it might make other people rethink their perceptions of gay life,” said writer and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig, who chaired the panel.

The full list of the 60 icons will only be revealed closer to the opening, but it does include the artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney, the civil rights campaigner Harvey Milk, the writers Quentin Crisp, Joe Orton and Walt Whitman, musicians like Tchaikovsky, K.D. Lang, Will Young and the Village People, the entertainers Ellen DeGeneres, Kenneth Williams and Lily Savage, and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Their stories will be illustrated by 60 photographic portraits including works by Andy Warhol, Linda McCartney, Lord Snowdon, Polly Borland, Fergus Greer, Terry O’Neill and Cecil Beaton.

The exhibition opens on July 2 and ends on October 18.

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