The Rainbow List 2015: Relevant or Redundant?

Image credits: cmrnrb via Creative Commons

Cara Delevigne (no. 8). Image credits: cmrnrb via Creative Commons

On Saturday The Independent released their annual Rainbow 101 list, a compendium of the most ‘influential’ LGBTI figures in Britain today. 1st place was awarded to transgender actor Riley Carter Millington, who earlier this year landed the role of Kyle in Eastenders. The Independent wrote that his decision to join the cast of the soap represented a ‘landmark cultural moment’ and had the potential to change lives in improving the recognition of trans people in the media.

The Independent first published The Rainbow List in 2000, and this year’s notes the huge social and attitudinal changes that have occurred since its debut in the introduction to this edition. Remarking that influence is ‘no longer synonymous with being famous and out’, it claims that the 2015 list reflects this cultural shift.  The panel of 9 judges, which included columnist Paris Lees and  MP Ben Bradshaw, promised a list of ‘pioneers’, of influential people who have brought about positive change to attitudes at a grassroots level, particularly within communities that have traditionally been unwelcoming to LGBTI individuals. The Independent also claims that this year’s list is the most diverse and inclusive in its history, noting the inclusion of three intersex activists in the list’s top 5.

Looking down the list, it is clear that the judges have tried to strike a balance between recognising both grassroots activists and LGBTI ‘celebrities’. There is a sprinkling of familiar names (Cara Delevingne, Owen Jones, Ruth Davidson etc.) but also a focus on those who have made an impact outside of the media spotlight. Intersex UK co-directors Dawn Rachel Vago and Holly Greenberry are commended at no.5 for their campaign to end unnecessary genital surgery on intersex children. Wayne Dhesi, founder of a website which encourages LGBTI individuals to share their coming out stories, is featured at no.15. And Campbell X, hailed as ‘one of the leading film-makers of contemporary British queer cinema’ is also rewarded with a top 50 position. This concentration on grassroots change should be commended, as the list offers a unique space to recognise and congratulate the work of individuals who have made significant contributions to LGBTI equality outside of the public eye.

However The Independent’s claim that the list has moved past the link between being ‘famous and out’ and being ‘influential’ appears a little flimsy under close scrutiny. The inclusion of Cara Delevingne (at a bewilderingly high no.8) for simply being open about having a girlfriend is somewhat confusing given the judges’ intent to reward grassroots activism; likewise for Tom Daley (no.55).

This inconsistency raises the question of the relevance and purpose of The Rainbow List in 2015. Should the list commend the positive exposure which is brought about by LGBTI celebrities coming out? Or should the list focus on shedding light on the often underappreciated contributions of activists within communities? Perhaps to address these two kinds of impact within the same list constitutes an impractical conflation of distinct types of influence.

Regardless, the fact that the list is provoking these questions is positive in its own right. A tolerant and inclusive society should not regard any individual’s gender or sexuality as public spectacle or as a potential source of controversy, and The Independent’s recognition of the outdated nature of regarding a celebrity’s identification with the LGBTI spectrum as ‘influential’ is, hopefully, a step towards that society.

Max Edwards, Get Real. contributor


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