It was a surprise to learn, in the early hours of Sunday morning, that I was 37th on the Independent on Sunday’s annual Rainbow List, which champions those the paper believes to be the most influential LGBT people in the UK. Ok, so it wasn’t entirely a shock as I’d been included in last year’s Pink List, the predecessor to the newly named, and hopefully more diverse list, but it was certainly a surprise to have moved up rather than down, or out.
I can’t deny that being included is highly flattering, and it’s lovely to feel that the work you do has such an impact that people wish to acknowledge it. Naturally that work isn’t just a solo project, but the collective output of a fantastic team of staff and volunteers here at London Friend who really should be being applauded for the very real difference they make to hundreds of LGBT lives each year through our support services. I hope that whilst the Rainbow List acknowledges me they can also feel very much a part of this honour.
Of course such lists always provoke much discussion. Are they needed? Are they relevant? Are they elitist? You can probably answer ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ to all of those, but they’re certainly not without their benefit. This year’s Rainbow List number three, Christian broadcaster and musician Vicky Beeching argued eloquently on Sunday morning’s Sky News how such a list adds to the visibility of LGBT people, which in turn adds to the confidence of those who have not come out to consider doing so. You can, of course, make a compelling argument that we shouldn’t need to be singled out by our sexual orientation or gender identity, but you can make an even more compelling one for the need to improve the visibility of LGBT people in public life which means one will continue to trump the other until we achieve a more equal balance.
The discussion around the list too prompts us to consider the diversity within our own communities. Just a few years ago lists like these tended to be dominated by the (mostly) male flamboyant celebrities whom the nation had deemed the acceptable face of gayness. The Independent has chosen – wisely – to shunt some of these perennial stars onto a National Treasures list, kind of a back-slapping lifetime achievement club, and instead focus more on more unsung campaigners for LGBT equality with a healthy dose of charity workers, journalists, bloggers and activists amid the more well-known names the list needs as a hook.
The diversification of the list is most noticeable in the top 10 with 7 of the entrants being female, at least two publicly women of faith. Trans people too feature far more prominently now, with a 50% increase since 2013’s Pink List, and a deliberate rebranding to reduce the stereotyping of the former Pink epithet. Perhaps it’s this that is most impressive, quietly heralding the greater integration of trans people and their issues into a truly diverse LGB and T population. I’m sure that the increasing trans representation has helped more trans people find the confidence to speak up, to campaign, and achieve greater visibility, just as the early years of the Pink List helped lesbian, gay & bisexual people to.
For me, whilst being on the list will bring me some jokey bragging rights with my colleagues who also feature (many from the National LGB & T Partnership through which we collectively engage with Government, the NHS and Public Health England), as well the gentle ribbing of my friends, ultimately the best outcome is to boost and highlight the work we all do to advance LGB and trans equality, the pieces of the jigsaw that we each coordinate. Already at work the conversation is more energised and the pride in what we do is increased with this recognition and that of our National Diversity Award earlier this year. Behind the discussions of the merits of this list there’s a network of highly committed individuals and organisations, a wealth of volunteers and unsung heroes, who all deserve a moment to be thanked for what they contribute. They’re the ones who populate my own Rainbow List, and this one runs to many more than just 101.