Even if he didn't want to be.
His stage name might have included the "little" moniker but when it came to personality Little Richard born Richard Wayne Penniman was a giant. Over the course of his career, he earned prestigious nicknames like "The Originator" and "The Architect Of Rock and Roll". I'd like to add "Black Gay Icon" to the list even if it's with an asterisk.
Little Richard oscillated between acceptance of his sexuality and internalized homophobia throughout his entire life. His father kicked him out at the age of 15 because of his effeminate mannerism. After that, he was picked up by vice cops in Macon for lewd and lascivious behavior. Even though so much of this was evidence of the time and place (rural Georgia in the 1950s) it's not hard to see how Little Richard's sexuality would continue to be a complicated subject despite his fame, wealth, and living into the modern gay pride movement.
The "Tooty Fruity" singer was deeply conflicted and journalists knew it. That's why you can find an assortment of quotes from Little Richard embracing and denouncing LGBT lifestyles.
1982: God gave me the victory. I'm not gay now, but, you know, I was gay all my life. I believe I was one of the first gay people to come out. But God let me know that he made Adam be with Eve, not Steve. So I gave my heart to Christ." (On Dave Letterman) 1984: Called homosexuality "unnatural" and "contagious" In October 2017, Penniman again denounced homosexuality in an interview with Three Angels Broadcasting Network, calling homosexual and transgender identity "unnatural affection" that goes against "the way God wants you to live"
Pro-Gay: In 2007, Mojo Magazine called Penniman "bisexual". In 1995, Penniman told Penthouse that he always knew he was gay, saying "I've been gay all my life"
It's the uniqueness of his journey of self-acceptance that makes me want to include him among a growing list of black, gay Americans like James Baldwin, Sylvester, Bayard Rustin, & Audre Lorde whose contributions are often overlooked or minimized because of their dual identities. Little Richard stands out from those black gay folk heroes and heroines to me in the way that he provides a more intimate image of a narrative whose greatness doesn't rely on getting "it" right. All black gay men don't come out, land great jobs, form power couples, and adopt two kids. All black gay men don't get "it" right. Their stories don't need to be told.