Out Magazine recently named their Power List, the 50 most influential people in the LGBT community.
The magazine poses the question: “How to measure a person’s power? In a world in which we have inexpensive tools to reach billions, it may seem that the globe truly is flat, and we’re all on an even playing field. But a few exemplary individuals manage to influence the way others live — either through their public personas, politics, or wealth — and affect cultural and social attitudes.”
So it got me to thinking, what does make one influential? What qualities does a person have to possess in order to make a list? And what about this particular list?
As always, Charles Winters and Demanda Dahling are here. Also joining me: GaySocialites.com‘s resident dapper Kevin Novinski; Associate editor Christopher Dellea; and NYC DJ, artist, writer and fantastical creature Seth Silberman.
So, right this way…
1. Coming in at the top of the list is Tim Cook, the new CEO of Apple. Do you agree with this decision? What makes the CEO of Apple more influential than number 2 (Ellen DeGeneres) and 3 (Peter Thiel)?
CHRISTOPHER: I do not really agree with this decision. Just because you have a ton of money and run a multi-billion dollar company does not make you powerful and influential. Yes it is great for a fellow homosexual who is trying to scrape by bare bones to look up to someone like Tim Cook and see there is hope. But I believe someone like Ellen is more influential because she actually speaks out on gay issues, such as the teenagers who took their lives because of bullying. Speaking out for tolerance and acceptance is much more powerful and influential then running Apple.
SETH: I understand the decision because Apple has such cachet. Still, I’m not exactly sure what anyone on this list has the power to accomplish to affect cultural and social attitudes all by their we’re-here-we’re-queer selves. Shifts in public attitudes, social strictures or laws never come about because of one person, even a terribly charismatic or wonderfully-dressed leader. A single event seems to change things in retrospect, when we create a story to celebrate its so-called singular intervention. Sure, I’d say that Ellen DeGeneres continues to do a lot of indirect LGBT advocacy just by being herself, not just because her character on her TV show once (and about time, lest you forget) declared, “Yep. I’m Gay.” Still, could she change Rick Santorum’s mind? I’m not holding my breath.
DEMANDA: I don’t use Apple products so he doesn’t influence me.
KEVIN: Tim Cook took the number one spot, I believe, due to the influence that Apple itself exerts, not only in the U.S., but abroad as well. Ellen, although very powerful and doing good for the common homo, doesn’t necessarily possess such magical powers beyond our border. I still love her though and cannot thank her enough for pissing off the Christian Right. Peter Thiel? I couldn’t even tell you who the hell he was until I read the article. Sure, the man was involved with the creation of Facebook (eternally damning us all to a life of “likes” and photo comments by total strangers) but did he actually do anything beyond just giving Zuckerberg a wad of cash?
CHARLES: No, I don’t agree with this choice. What has he done for the gay community? Who has he influenced within our community? He’s not even on my radar. For full disclosure, I didn’t even know he was gay. There, I said it.
THOMAS: I don’t really follow business news, so I had to Google him. And I don’t understand what he does for the gay community either. Is it because the gays are using products from a company he CEOs? I just don’t see this as “powerful”.
2. There are some names notably absent from the list, including Rosie O’Donnell, Michelangelo Signorile (Editor-at-Large for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices), Chris Colfer from Glee and Dustin Lance Black (who recently staged a reading of his play which raised millions for charity). Why do you feel these individuals were left off? Do you notice any other names absent from the list that you feel should be included? What about excluded?
CHRISTOPHER: I am absolutely flabbergasted for the exclusion of these three people. Signorile brought a chance for homosexual news to be heard on a national level, Colfer has helped several gay teens through the process of coming out and realizing it is okay to be who they are, and Dustin Lance Black is a genius for what he did with Harvey Milk’s story and Prop 8. Instead they are replaced with people like Cook and other CEOs. Where is Dan Savage for starting the “It Gets Better” project? Instead Out decides to honor Perez Hilton? Where is the logic in this. With the excluded choices, you have four people who are trying to make a difference in the LGBT community. How does spreading gossip about Hollywood make you influential and powerful? Maybe because people are so gullible they believe it? I just do not get it.
SETH: These lists have more to do with who made them than who’s on them or who’s left out. If OUT had assembled a different crew, there’d be a different list. I’d say all the out college professors and teachers across the country have had a rather profoundly powerful affect on the cultural and social changes that we are witnessing right now. The way they support and inspire queer and straight students alike can change people’s perspectives on the roles that sexuality can play in our political, social, historical, aesthetic and everyday lives.
DEMANDA: This list is hogwash. There are many influential people in the LGBT community. This feels like a lot of kiss ass.
KEVIN: I couldn’t tell you the reason why so many influential Mary’s were left off this list. Keep in mind that the article and list itself is also a matter of opinion. Even judging by the comments section, there are surely a lot of queens questioning Out’s judgment.
CHARLES: Out of those listed, I believe Rosie O’Donnell should have certainly been included. Although no one was watching, she became the gay face of the Oprah Winfrey empire this year. She got her chance to go on television and be the big ole lesbian that she is, and I (for one) was influenced. Rosie is also not afraid to stand up for the LGBT community, especially youngsters.
As for some of the other names you’ve pointed out, each of them have their own obvious hold ups. Michelangelo Signorile at the Huffington Post has done a good job as their LGBT Editor-at-Large, but that is a very thank-less job. Chris Colfer from Glee is a great actor, but I hardly find him to be influential as an individual. His Glee character could probably be consider a positive influence for LGBT kids. That, however, is an accomplishment of the show’s writers and producers- not Colfer. Dustin Lance Black’s chances of being a positive influence were diminished when the video of him surfaced in which he was taking it bareback (and allegedly high on crystal meth).
We will be here all night if I go into who shouldn’t have made the list but did, so I won’t even go there.
As I (CHARLES WINTERS) sit here and try to think of others who might have been left off. I (CHARLES WINTERS) am stumped. Not one name comes to the mind of CHARLES WINTERS. I (CHARLES WINTERS) sure hope someone on the staff at CHARLES WINTERS Information ManageMEnt thinks of the person who is at the tip of my tounge! I’d hate to have to eliminate a few people who work for ME and just happen to be on this panel with ME today.
THOMAS: Every list is subjective. This is their choice. I would’ve included Rosie and Signorile (Side note: don’t you just love saying his last name?) because they are influential to me. And we’d all like to think we’re influential, or powerful. And we are in our collective little communities. Whomever makes the list determines what ultimately influences them.
3. The “Most Influential LGBT People in America” has always drawn criticism. For example, Anderson Cooper is listed at number 6 and conservative blogger Matt Drudge is number 16. Neither of these individuals have publicly declared their sexuality. Is it fair to include them on the list?
CHRISTOPHER: If they are going to put people like Cooper and Drudge on the list, they should change the entire name. I am thinking “Most Influential LGBT People and their Allies in America” It makes more sense and also does not lead to one trying to sue for libel. I cannot wait for the time when the media actually allows a person to come out him or herself without outing them beforehand.
SETH: Well, having sat down the aisle from Anderson Cooper and his boyfriend watching a queer movie at the IFC, and from hearing my best friend and ex (full disclosure) tell me stories about Matt Drudge when they knew each other decades ago, I have no problem with either of them being on the list. If the list is about the power to affect cultural and social change — or at the very least complement those changes — then it shouldn’t matter if they’re straight. Oh, just pretend. I know some people do.
DEMANDA: And I was at that movie with you Seth! I question anyone who is significant over a community without actually being a part of it. Just sayin…
KEVIN: I disagree with Out’s listing of Cooper and Drudge mainly due to their closeted sexuality. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that these two need to bust out wearing pink boas (although I would find that extremely fashionable). I just would like to see them accept themselves as who they are and not dodge a question when everyone has accepted them as big pansies.
CHARLES: It seems a little counter productive to include anyone who isn’t “out” of the closet on an the Out 50 most influential. Isn’t “out” the key word here?
THOMAS: I don’t mind them being included. Yes, I understand that if you aren’t out, then you aren’t a part of the community so how can you influence it? But people do. Just because you aren’t publicly homosexual doesn’t mean those who are don’t listen to you.
4. There are no transgender persons on the list. Why do you think this is? Are there any transgender persons you feel are influential within the LGBT community?
CHRISTOPHER: The only thing I can come up with is maybe the mainstream is not ready to accept a transgender person in a position of power. It makes me sad but there is still a lot of trans fear even in the gay community itself. When thinking of influential transgender persons, Chaz Bono comes to mind. He has been so brave to share his story in his documentary and to be a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars” when others were kicking him down. He is a true testament of strength, hope, and courage.
SETH: Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that there are no transgender people on the list. These lists usually assemble only the “safe” people who fight for particular kinds of mainstream acceptance — oh, say, like the right to marry, which too often focuses on forcing homophobic people to “accept our love” than on asserting our rights as citizens, if you ask me. There are lots of transmen and transwomen who work to improve all of our rights that should be guaranteed by The Constitution. One to include would be Lauren Scott, who’s running for the Nevada State Assembly. If elected, she’d be the US’ first transgender state legislator. No: RuPaul doesn’t count.
DEMANDA: I was wondering this also. I don’t know. But I also can’t think of a transgender person who is mainstream enough to make this list. It seems to be a lot of business and political folk, and though transgender persons are making strides, it just hasn’t settled in just yet. Though Chaz Bono is doing wonders by putting a face to the fight.
KEVIN: Again, I couldn’t explain as to why there are no transgender people on this list although my vote would definitely go to Amanda Lepore and/or Justin Vivian Bond. Not only are the two well-dressed, they certainly have influence beyond New York City.
CHARLES: I’m not shocked that Out Magazine didn’t choose anyone who is transgender. That publication has never really been very inclusive of the people who fit into that category.
Sure there are transgender people who influence others. Look at Chaz Bono and Candis Cayne or even Dina Delicious and our own Kenyatta Khan on a smaller scale.
THOMAS: I agree with Charles; it hasn’t been very inclusive. That being said, I think more visibility will lead to a more inclusive list. Again, it all depends on who makes it. Amanda Lepore would’ve made my personal list. Anyone who exudes the “I bought this body, I’m showing it off” is influential on my life.
5. What do you feel makes a person influential in the LGBT community? What are YOUR requirements?
CHRISTOPHER: I feel what makes a person influential in the LGBT community is someone who has a lot of passion and drive to better situations for those less fortunate. They should be vocal while also giving into consideration others ideas and opinions. A willingness to make change into something great for the community.
SETH: I think influence should include the inspiration to see the world anew and the perspiration required to get it to approach that vision. I doubt you’re going to find those qualities in someone who’s too busy trying to become famous. Ruling and changing the world rarely take place at the same time.
DEMANDA: One who educates others, and shows a real sway over the culture and political advancements. This can be radical or not, as many radical people have had influence. But be passionate, driven and stay in touch.
KEVIN: For someone in the LGBT community to become influential I feel they must hold some sort of sway over society and culture whether at home or abroad. If someone is only known within their hometown then I do not believe they would make such a list.
CHARLES: Those who influence me are the ones who aren’t afraid to stand up for LGBT rights. They are the ones who use their ability to influence others in a positive way. At the same time, those who have the potential to influence others are looked at very closely and need to understand that every move they make might influence someone, positively or negatively. That’s where most of them fuck up.
THOMAS: Relevance. Influence and power is ever changing, so to be influential, you must be relevant.
6. If you could put together your own list, who would you personally pick as the three most influential people in the LGBT community? Why?
CHRISTOPHER: 1. Dan Savage for the “It Gets Better” Project. He influenced several people to get in front of a camera and tell LGBT youth it is okay to be who you are.
2. Davey Wavey. If you watch this youtube superstar, he is always talking to his “blog buddies” about how special they are. He is also very honest and that is a quality I respect in a person.
3. Charles Winters/Thomas Bistritz. Both have greatly influenced me because of their hard work and dedication to GaySocialites.com. If I ever want to run a company or become an editor, I know who to ask for some excellent advice!
SETH: I don’t like lists like this because they’re ultimately about celebrity. The best influence is that which seems like its just the way you see the world. Really, it’s because someone, some people, some art, some words have so profoundly changed your understanding of yourself in the world that you can’t remember not seeing things just as you are now — until the next leap of vision.
DEMANDA: We are all influential and powerful. Every list is different. Personally, Paul Duffy, the CEO or Pernod Ricard (makers of wine spirits!) is the most influential person in my world.
KEVIN: Keep in mind that my own personal list of influential people from the LGBT community would almost have nothing to do with Out’s own beliefs. But, then again I’m very one-sided with what I like and want to see happen within the community.
CHARLES: That’s a hard question, but a good one! I’m not sure in what order they would fall, but my top three would include :
-Ellen Degeneres, not just because she uses her platform and widespread reach to address issues of LGBT concern; but also because Ellen demonstrates how easy it should be for an LGBT American to mix with the mainstream.
-New York City Council Speaker and Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn, because she has put a whole new face on politics in the city and stands the chance of doing so nationally. Although Ms. Quinn goes to bat for the LGBT community, she has also earned the respect of all those whom she represents as a solid leader and someone who is willing to fight for what is right on a broad scale.
-And lastly, I’d have to put myself. It’s my freakin’ list, and I’m a conceited bastard. Plus, no one else is going to include me… so I better do it myself.
I have one quick question: Who the hell picked Out Magazine’s Top 100? Didn’t they fire their entire staff? I’m just saying…
THOMAS: I really don’t know who I would select. And I know that feels like a cop out, but it’s true. I’d make a list every couple months, as I think that would probably be better. But I also don’t really have the patience, or interest, to do that. So I won’t.
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Thank you so much to everyone who contributed! I think it’s interesting to think about power and influence. It raises a lot of questions about the society we live in and what sorts of qualities we deem acceptable. It’s good to question those who makes decisions about who falls onto what list. Keep us all thinking.
In the end though, I think we’re all pretty powerful.