Here's to the death of power lists

By Michelle E. Brown

Viewpoint

The definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" is generally attributed to Albert Einstein. Regardless of who originally coined this adage, it continues to ring true today.

We live in an insane world where decisions, attitudes and even elections are influenced, even determined, by headlines, innuendos, trends of the moment and the loudest voice able to capture our short attention span. We don't change, then wonder why things aren't better.

We all, to some extent, are lured into following and/or defining ourselves, our movement, our lives by the usual bright shining lights. We find some level of acceptability, comfort, even progress by basking in the rays of this light rather than looking for a reality beyond current expectations.

I have been thinking about this lately, following some discussions around Out Magazine's "Power 50" and "Hidden 105" lists, specifically at how we define power and the implied power associated with being on these lists.

I have to start by disclosing that I am on the "Hidden 105" list. I must admit being included on a list that includes Mandy Carter, Juan Battle, Hank Milbourne and Julie Nemecek compiled as an addendum, so to speak, to a list which included Barney Frank, Rachel Maddow and Jody Foster is pretty damn cool.

In this day and age of instant celebrity, news and communications, I wonder how are we defining power? When I looked at the initial "Power 50" I asked myself how this is "my power" as a member of the LGBT community?

Yes, we are visible. Gay characters pop up all over television and in the movies and more importantly gay actors are being cast in a variety of roles based solely on their talent and ability. We are not only in the news, but making news and policy as broadcasters and politicians. Unless you've been living under a rock or on hiatus to Mars you know we are here and queer whether you're used to it or not.

But I've heard this tune before. My African American experience includes those early television shows where blacks went from serving the household to having households; where African American actors are in front of and behind the cameras, not limited to opportunities by the color of their skin. African Americans have also made their mark in politics. And even though no African Americans were elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2010 elections, the Congressional Black Caucus remains strong and an African American, Barack Obama, occupies the most important house in the land - the White House.

You might say, "we've come a long way baby," but it's hardly time to kick back and light up that Virginia Slim. It's not time to pat ourselves on our backs, sing we've got the power, and throw our hands up in the air and wave them like we no longer have to care.

We don't have the power, and more importantly, do we really know what power is?

In 2008, we ushered in the piper(s) to lure the political rats away. We felt we had the power, the momentum. But like the citizenry of Hamelin, once the possibility of change was within our grasp we've been unwilling to pay the piper. Assimilation has lulled us into a false sense of security and now the piper is coming for our children with a backlash of bias and false conservatism threatening to unravel our precious gains.

The accomplishments and visibility of the Power 50 in Out Magazine, even expanded to include the 105 people of color and transgender and ability activists, is not a game changer. We are still disempowered.

Even if you listed both Jody Foster and me as references on your resume, there is still no ENDA to protect your right to work as an openly gay person.

Knowing that the kid in the playground being bullied for his/her sexual orientation or gender expression might grow up to be Rachel Maddow will not ease the pain, nor will it provide the protection of strong anti-bullying legislation.

The war for marriage equality rages on in the states. The fight against DOMA and DADT still isn't totally over.

Lists are nice, but please don't congratulate me for having my name on anyone's list. It's just my 15 minutes of fame.

The only power list that matters is the one you won't find published in any magazine. It's strong, powerful and all-inclusive, regardless of race, creed, color, ethnicity, ability/disability, sexual orientation or gender expression.

It's that unspoken list that denies us full equality as gay Americans, that says it's OK to continue to persecute and even kill gays worldwide, and that tells little Johnny it's OK to bully the Muslim/queer/person of color/disabled and others because power accepts him but excludes the others.

So let's make a deal: no more lists. No more accepting crumbs so we can pretend to be powerful. No more worrying about who made the list or not. We've paid the piper, so let's finish what we've started and tear down the power lists that have divided our community, denied us our rights and continue to threaten the world we must build for all of our children.

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