The Wizard of Oz has been a iconic movie for gay men since it was released. Judy Garland starred in the film and connections between Garland and LGBT people include the slang term Friend of Dorothy. In gay slang, a “Friend of Dorothy” (occasionally abbreviated FOD) is a term for a gay man.The phrase dates back to at least World War II, when homosexual acts were illegal in the United States. Stating that, or asking if, someone was a “friend of Dorothy” was a euphemism used for discussing sexual orientation without others knowing its meaning. A similar term “friend of Mrs. King” (i.e. Queen) was used in England, mostly in the first half of the 20th century.
Conventional wisdom is that Garland’s death and funeral, in June 1969, helped inspire the Stonewall riots, the flashpoint of the modern Gay Liberation movement. However, some observers of the riots contend that most of those involved “were not the type to moon over Judy Garland records or attend her concerts at Carnegie Hall. They were more preoccupied with where they were going to sleep and where their next meal would come from.” There was certainly an awareness and appreciation of Garland among Stonewall Inn patrons. Because the bar had no liquor license, it was passed off as a bottle club and patrons were required to sign in. Many used pseudonyms and “Judy Garland” was among the most popular. Regardless of the truth of the matter, the Garland/Stonewall connection has persisted and has been fictionalized in Stonewall, Nigel Finch’s feature film about the events leading up to the riots. Lead character Bostonia is shown watching Garland’s funeral on television and mourning, and later refusing to silence a jukebox playing a Garland song during a police raid, declaring “Judy stays.”
Time magazine would summarize decades later:
The uprising was inspirited by a potent cocktail of pent-up rage (raids of gay bars were brutal and routine), overwrought emotions (hours earlier, thousands had wept at the funeral of Judy Garland) and drugs. As a 17-year-old cross-dresser was being led into the paddy wagon and got a shove from a cop, she fought back. [She] hit the cop and was so stoned, she didn’t know what she was doing—or didn’t care.
Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft points to the connection with pride, saying that her mother was a “huge, huge advocate of human rights” and that Garland would have found the rioting appropriate.
The phrase “Friend of Dorothy” likely derives from Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz and became a code phrase gay people used to identify each other. Dorothy’s journey from Kansas to Oz mirrored many gay men’s desires to escape the black-and-white limitations of small town life…for big, colorful cities filled with quirky, gender-bending characters who would welcome them.
Another possible origin is that the term is derived from Road To Oz (1909), a sequel to the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book introduces readers to Polychrome who, upon meeting Dorothy’s traveling companions, exclaims “You have some queer friends, Dorothy” and she replies “The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends.” More commonly it is stated that “Friend of Dorothy” refers to the film The Wizard of Oz because Judy Garland, who starred as the main character Dorothy, is a gay icon.
In the film, Dorothy immediately accepts those who are different, including the Cowardly Lion. The Lion identifies himself through song as a “sissy” and exhibits stereotypically “gay” (or at least effeminate) mannerisms. The Lion offers a coded example of Garland meeting and accepting a gay man without question. In the film, Dorothy is accepting of those who are different. For example the “gentle lion” living a lie, “I’m afraid there’s no denyin’, I’m just a dandy lion.” Dandy has long been slang for an effeminate man or one preoccupied with fashion, such as Yankee Doodle Dandy, who “stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.” A macaroni was a man who returned from the Grand tour with overaffected Italian mannerisms often portrayed as effeminate and wearing makeup.
I find this little fact hilarious, though it is also quite tragic in terms of understanding the American military attitudes and understanding of gay men. In the early 1980s, the Naval Investigative Service was investigating homosexuality in the Chicago area. Agents discovered that gay men sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” Unaware of the historical meaning of the term, the NIS believed that a woman named Dorothy was at the center of a massive ring of homosexual military personnel. The NIS launched an enormous hunt for Dorothy, hoping to find her and convince her to reveal the names of gay service members. Of course, they never found Dorothy.
Starting in the late 1980s, on several cruise lines, gay and lesbian passengers began approaching ship staff, asking them to publicize gatherings in the daily cruise activity list. As the cruise lines were hesitant to announce such things so blatantly in their daily publications, they would list the gathering as a “Meeting of the Friends of Dorothy”. The use of this phrase likely comes from the cruise directors who were also familiar with and using the “Friends of Bill W.” phrase in their programs to tell members of Alcoholics Anonymous that there were support group meetings on the trip. Such meetings have expanded in popularity and frequency over the years. Now, many cruise lines will have multiple “FOD” events, sometimes as many as one each night.
Another connection is the rainbow flag, symbol of the LGBT communities which may have been inspired, in part, by Garland’s song “Over the Rainbow.” Garland’s performance of this song has been described as “the sound of the closet,” speaking to gay men whose image “they presented in their own public lives was often at odds with a truer sense of self that mainstream society would not condone.”