Was Freddie Mercury gay? The debate may never end

Freddie Mercury magazine cover
Photo: Shutterstock

Freddie Mercury’s influence on music and culture is undeniable. Known for his electrifying performances and unparalleled vocal range, Mercury catapulted Queen to international stardom, making them one of the most iconic bands in rock history.

Yet, despite his public persona, Mercury’s personal life, particularly his sexuality, remained shrouded in mystery and speculation. We will explore Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, shedding light on his relationships and the impact he had on the LGBTQ+ community.

Freddie Mercury’s early years

Born in Zanzibar in 1946, Farrokh Bulsara, later known as Freddie Mercury, moved to England in his teens. He formed Queen in 1971 at the age of 25. His charisma, musical talent, and flamboyant stage presence helped Queen achieve global success, and the band released numerous hit songs throughout the ’70s, including “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

However, Mercury’s personal life, especially his sexuality, became a subject of public fascination.

The debate on his sexuality

Freddie Mercury’s sexuality was a complex and often misunderstood aspect of his life. Despite his flamboyant stage persona and relationships with both men and women, Mercury never publicly labeled his sexuality.

Mercury had significant relationships with both men and women. In the early 1970s, he had a long-term relationship with Mary Austin, whom he met through guitarist Brian May. Despite ending their romantic relationship after Mercury disclosed his sexuality to Austin in 1976, they remained close friends, with Mercury often referring to her as his only true friend.

“All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible,” Mercury once said. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” Mercury later became godfather to her eldest son, Richard, when she remarried.

By the mid-1970s, Mercury began an affair with David Minns, an American record executive. This relationship marked the beginning of Mercury’s relationships with men, including an intense love relationship with German restaurateur Winfried “Winnie” Kirchberger — he wore a silver wedding ring that Kirchberger gave him and also lived in his Munich apartment.

Mercury also had a long-term relationship with Irish-born hairdresser Jim Hutton, whom Mercury referred to as his husband.

Despite his relationships with both men and women, Mercury maintained a coy relationship with his sexuality and the press.

When asked about his sexuality by the New Musical Express in December 1974, Mercury replied, “Let’s put it this way: there were times when I was young and green. It’s a thing schoolboys go through. I’ve had my share of schoolboy pranks. I’m not going to elaborate further.”

Though Mercury never came out in the press, many writers still noted his “camp,” “flamboyant,” “theatrical,” and “tart” public performances, all using dog-whistle words to hint at the rocker’s queer sexuality. To duck rumors of gayness, Mercury reportedly distanced himself from Hutton while in public. Mercury also never publicly aligned himself with any LGBTQ+ social causes.

Freddie Mercury’s relationship with Fred Hutton

Hutton was an Irish-born barber who met Mercury at a gay nightclub in 1983. In his memoir, Hutton wrote that he turned down the famous singer when he first met him and also said that he slept with Mercury without knowing who he was. When Mercury later informed him of his full name and identity as a rock star, Hutton says he still didn’t really know who he was.

Though Hutton claims that he wasn’t starstruck by Mercury, he admitted that “tears welled up and the hairs on my neck stood on end” when he saw Mercury “up there controlling that crowd” at Mercury’s iconic 1985 Live Aid performance.

According to Hutton, the two men were very different: “Freddie was sensitive, shy, had terrible mood swings, and wanted his own way,” Hutton said. “I’m quiet and don’t have much of a character… unless you pour a few gallons of beer down me.”

Hutton moved into Mercury’s £4 million mansion two years after the men first met, but Hutton never joined Mercury on his world tours. He did however help care for Mercury during the last six or seven years before Mercury died of AIDS-related illness on Nov. 24, 1991. Mercury wore a gold wedding band that Hutton gave him in 1986 and was reportedly cremated while still wearing it.

Hutton, who was also diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1990, later published a 1994 memoir about their relationship entitled Mercury and Me.

Of their relationship, Hutton said, “Freddie was slight and not the sort of man I found attractive. When he got the urge for sex, there was no stopping him. I wanted to give him a black eye a few times. But we gave each other love. We didn’t have fisticuffs, just verbal fights. Then he’d give me the silent treatment – the last time it lasted over a week.”

“The night before Valentine’s Day, we had a big fight — I don’t know why — and he was giving me the silent treatment,” Hutton added. “I got him three dozen blue moon roses. I took them to him in bed where he was with his cup of tea and two doughnuts — one for him and one for his cat, Delilah. He just grunted.”

Hutton died on Jan. 1, 2010 from lung cancer (just three days before his 61st birthday).

Freddie Mercury and HIV/AIDS

July 13, 1985; London, UK; Queen front-man Freddie Mercury during the Live Aid concert. Mandatory Credit: PA Images/Sipa USA via USA TODAY NETWORK
PA Images/Sipa USA via IMAGN Queen front-man Freddie Mercury during the 1985 Live Aid concert.

Freddie Mercury’s battle with HIV/AIDS was a significant part of his later life and raised further questions about his sexuality. Though he was diagnosed in 1987, he reportedly first exhibited symptoms of the virus in 1982 and secretly visited a New York doctor for treatment, keeping his diagnosis private for many years. Mercury chose not to become a public figure for the disease, fearing the stigma and not wanting to be seen as a “poster boy” for AIDS.

In October 1986, two British tabloids —  News of the World and The Sun — reported that Mercury was HIV-positive. Mercury denied the reports, saying that he had tested negative and was “perfectly fit and healthy.” His hiding made sense considering the extreme anti-HIV stigma at the time, as citizens and politicians ostracized and vilified HIV-positive individuals as unhealthy, promiscuous threats to public safety.

In May 1991, Rudi Dolezal directed the music video director of the band’s song “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” In the video, Mercury looked very thin. Dolezal later said, “AIDS was never a topic [between me and the band]. We never discussed it. He didn’t want to talk about it. Most of the people didn’t even 100% know if he had it, apart from the band and a few people in the inner circle. He always said, ‘I don’t want to put any burden on other people by telling them my tragedy.'”

Mercury’s health status became public just days before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia on November 24, 1991.

The day after his death, the band’s manager, Jim Beach, released the following statement on Mercury’s behalf: “Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”

Despite his initial reticence, Mercury’s death brought significant attention to the AIDS epidemic, highlighting the need for increased awareness and research.

A trailblazer for LGBTQ+ visibility

The discussion on whether Freddie Mercury was gay, bisexual, or something else entirely may never have a definitive answer. What remains clear is that Mercury’s life and career had a lasting impact on the music industry and LGBTQ+ representation.

By living his truth in a time of significant stigma, Mercury paved the way for future generations to celebrate their identities more openly. Mercury’s story is a reminder of the importance of understanding and accepting the diverse spectrum of human sexuality.

His refusal to fit into a binary definition of sexuality challenged societal norms and provided visibility to the complexities of life as an LGBTQ+ person.

Subscribe to the LGBTQ Nation newsletter for all the latest updates, news, and events related to the LGBTQ+ community.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

The 20 inspiring LGBTQ+ documentaries show queerness in bold living color

Previous article

This new dating app will use facial recognition technology to exclude trans women

Next article