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Queen Latifah may not be out, but a Philadelphia LGBT rights group has called her a gay icon

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Queen Latifah may not be out, but a Philadelphia LGBT rights group has called her a gay icon

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'We initially believed she was out of the closet,' says Equality Forum executive director

Queen Latifah might be surprised to learn that she is a gay icon.

The Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based queer organization, recently released its 2013 list of 31 queer icons as part of LGBT History Month. That list includes astronaut Sally Ride, CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper, Holocaust survivor and activist Gad Beck, and Latifah.

But every living icon on the list is openly queer, as per the group's criteria for accepting nominations. Queen Latifah is not.

"When the selection was made, we initially believed she was out of the closet," says Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum.

The group's candidate selection committee went through the nominations, of which there were more than 500, and selected the top 31 icons "for their achievements in their field of endeavour, for their status as a national hero; or for their significant contribution to LGBT civil rights."

Lazin says that this is the "first out of 248" where the icon is still living and hasn't publicly come out of the closet. Some of the dead candidates never made a public declaration about their sexuality, but the group names them as icons just the same, given that they lived in a different era.

It may be the group's first slip-up, but Lazin admits, "It still doesn't excuse the fact that she's not out."

Rumours about Latifah's sexuality have swirled for years, especially after she referred to a crowd at the 2012 Long Beach Pride festival as "her people," according to The Advocate. Latifah, for her part, denied that she came out and has categorically refused to speak about any aspect of her personal life. Interview requests to Latifah's management have yet to be responded to.

Equality Forum says that nominating living icons that are not out of the closet, in this day and age, is a bad precedent. Its team contacts all nominated icons to inform them and ensure that there are no objections to their inclusion on the list, Lazin says. They contacted Latifah's agent. "We didn't hear anything back," he says.

"It's really not our intention to out anybody," he says, adding that Latifah "certainly has not contested that she is not bisexual or lesbian."

Lazin notes that the group waited until this year to choose newsman Cooper, even though his homosexuality has been an open secret for years. Cooper came out in July 2012.

Going forward, the group says it will ensure that every living candidate will meet the group's criteria — even though that was Equality Forum’s policy to begin with.

The group made a special effort to underline diversity in its list this year, which is its eighth. On the list is blues legend Ma Rainey, Japanese-American actor George Takei, Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas and South African activists Zackie Achmat and Simon Nkoli.