26/09/2014 05:01 BST | Updated 26/09/2014 06:59 BST

Tony Blair Is Named As A Gay Icon, A Somewhat Surprised Twitter Reacts

Chris Jackson/PA Wire
File photo dated 17/04/12 of former Prime Minister Tony Blair who has said that the UK and other Western powers should be prepared to commit ground troops to fight against extremists like Islamic State (IS).

Tony Blair has been named one of the top "gay icons" of the past three decades, saying the issue is a "significant part" of his legacy as Prime Minister.

Along with figures including Boy George, Sir Ian McKellen and Barbra Streisand, the former PM has been given the accolade by Gay Times to mark its 30th anniversary and has been featured as a cover star for an electronic version of the magazine.

Blair's period as PM saw the lowering of the homosexual age of consent, bringing it into line with that for straight couples, as well as the introduction of civil partnerships.

Responding to his "gay icon" title, Blair said it is something he is "very proud of. I consider it a significant part of my legacy. I remember Section 28, that was pretty nasty.

"It created a very ugly atmosphere in society - as I was growing up in politics, I disliked the hypocrisy where people had to conceal their own identity. And I saw the pain that they had in their own lives, because they couldn't be who they were."

Nevertheless, Gay Times’ decision to give the award to Blair was met with immediate incredulity.

It comes after Blair was named Philanthropist of the Year for his “tireless charitable work” at the prestigious GQ Awards, an award met with equal disbelief and horror.

As the Islamic State crisis escalates in Syria and Iraq, the timing couldn't have been worse for the former Labour leader, who is often blamed for the violent insurgency gripping the middle east after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The former Labour leader, who earns millions from his consultancy roles and property empire, was handed the accolade at the glamorous ceremony to a "muted" response.

Tony Blair after winning the GQ award for best Philanthropist

But Gay Times Editor Darren Scott said whatever the "realities of his philanthropy and the backlash to his GQ award, his status as an ambassador of gay rights is undeniable."

"Wherever you stand politically, you'd be hard pushed to deny what Tony Blair and his government did for the LGBT community. He definitely helped paved the way, and for that I'm grateful," he said.

"An equal age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, legal recognition for trans people, civil partnerships, banning employers from sacking you because of who you love and making homophobia a hate crime - they were all on Blair's watch."

Blair featured on the cover to the magazine once before in March 1997, when he was still the leader of the opposition, although it was a stylised image rather than a posed shot. He also wrote for the magazine in 2005 in the run up to the General Election of that year.