25/04/2016 15:26 BST | Updated 25/04/2016 15:31 BST

Loud & Proud: Cyndi Lauper On The Gay Icons Who Made Her Feel Less Alone

The 'True Colours' has been a tireless LGBT activist.

HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud, celebrating gay culture in all its forms across the entertainment industry - remembering those pioneers who paved the way, celebrating the breadth of expression we have now, and asking - what is left to be done?

For this series, we’ve asked a series of gay luminaries, and their biggest supporters, to select their most significant moments of gay culture, and explain how it inspired them to break through walls of discrimination, small-mindedness and ignorance.

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Cyndi has been an activist for LGBT rights as long as she has been a star, inspired - she says - by her own sister, as well as her passion for equality

Cyndi Lauper has sold more than 50 million records, but has become just as celebrated for her longtime activism for LGBT rights. Cyndi has always asserted that she became involved in gay rights advocacy, because her sister Ellen is a lesbian, but this is married to her passion for equality, which she has advocated around the world.

Her song 'Above the Clouds' celebrates the memory of Matthew Shepard, a young man beaten to death in Wyoming because he was gay. As a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board, Lauper devoted a concert tour in 2005 to promoting the Foundation's message.

Her True Colors Tour for Human Rights crossed the the United States and Canada in June 2007. One dollar from each ticket went to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for LGBT individuals. In April 2010, Lauper's True Colors Fund launched the Give a Damn campaign, to help get straight people more involved in LGBT rights.

The tireless Cyndi in 2012 started the Forty to None Project after she learned that while 10% of American youth identify themselves as LGBT, up to 40% of American homeless youths do so. She set up the True Colors Residence in New York City for LGBT homeless youths, offering temporary shelter and help getting a new job.

We asked this extraordinary lady where she was first touched by gay culture and how it resonated so deeply with her. 

What is the first gay cultural moment that you can remember?

I'd have to say 'Torch Song Trilogy', written by my friend Harvey Fierstein. In the 1970s, I was a bit of a lost child, and I met a person on the train, a gay man, we were talking, we became friendly, he took me to a club, he took to his home, I met his lover, they made me lentil soup, I was a young teenager and I was fascinated.

My sister is part of the community, anyway. There are times when we clash, but we’re sisters. I look at her and realise that only if all this discussion had come along earlier for her, and for my other friends, it would have been so much easier for them in their lives.

I remember one gay man telling me “It doesn’t matter what the hell happens to us, we’re just crazy anyway” and I thought “I love you, even if they make you feel dirty and useless, because you don’t fit in with what THEY think is morally good." I know a lot of gay and lesbian parents with children who are handicapped who get no help. And they’re kind and good, and stay together their whole lives, just like everyone else.

My other ear was in music, art, fantasy and that’s where I live, the other side, where everyone's equal.

Is there any aspect of improved gay tolerance that, with all your hard work, you can claim credit for? 

I don’t know if I can claim credit. Everybody can create change around them, by changing their mind about someone else, and including people, and also… if you want to change the world, change what’s right around you. My biggest learning experience is with my personal family, my husband, my son and my family. That is the hardest one for me, the most challenging and the most rewarding. That’s where I focus. I know no matter what I do in music, if I’m going to climb to the top of the mountain, I have to have something to say that’s worthwhile.

All the people who came before me helped me through hard times.

Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
Cyndi credits Elton John and his music for making her feel a little less alone as a youngster

Who do you thank for making you feel less alone out there? 

You know who, Elton John is a fricking genius, and I am so grateful that he wrote that song 'Tiny Dancer' that touched my heart and sprinkled a little fairy dust on me that made it possible for me to stand up again at times when I felt crushed.

One time I was at an Elton John concert, he started singing that song and I lit a lighter, only I had to put it out, because I nearly put a woman’s hair on fire in front of me.

I went to his press party, I ended up checking the guests' coats at the door. I'd been on the list as one of his guests, but there was a bit of confusion and I ended up checking the guests' coats at the door. I didn't mind because it was Elton John, and it seemed a tiny way to say thankyou for making me feel so much better about myself. The power of music is a wonderful, unique thing. 

HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud. Over the next fortnight, we’ll be celebrating how gay culture has influenced and, in turn, been embraced by all fields of entertainment, inspiring cinema-goers, TV audiences, music-lovers and wider society with its wit, creativity and power of expression.

Through features, video and blogs, we’ll be championing those brave pioneers who paved the way, exploring the broad range of gay culture in British film, TV and music and asking - what is left to be done? If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, please emailukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you’d like to blog about.

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