Let the debate begin…again
By Nathan James
Last year, MSN’s Wonderwall did an interesting feature listing their choices for the “15 Most Powerful Gay Celebrities”. One of the “interesting” things about their list, was that there wasn’t a single gay celebrity of color on it. I bethought myself to rectify that oversight by creating and publishing my own list of the 15 most powerful gay celebrities of color. The response I got from that piece was, by far, the most overwhelming public reaction to any article I’d ever written up to that time. Some applauded my choices, others vehemently disagreed with them, and still others asked why their own persinal choices missed the cut. Well, this year, I’m at it again, with a completely new list that’s sure to provoke more debate and stir more passionate discussion. Submitted for your approval, here are my picks for the fifteen most powerful gay celebrities for 2012!
15. Lee Soulja
Lee is New York City’s own visual performance artist, nightlife promoter, and operator of the annual NYC Black Pride celebration. He has graced the club scene for over two decades as a walking work of art with his original costumes and personal style. Always a fierce LGBT advocate, he’s been a major player at events such as the Latex Ball, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness, the Black Party, and the unforgettable SIN series at the Gramercy Theater.
His countless contributions to the ongoing health and welfare of the black gay community in the city are his hallmark, as is his stewardship of Black Pride Week. Through his artistry, Lee has advanced the cause of the LGBT community, and earns his place on my list this year.
14. Kevin Anthony
Modern Broadway theater wouldn’t exist without the LGBT community, and within its storied annals we find Kevin Anthony, a Broadway actor and vocalist whose Black 2 Broadway variety show shines a spotlight on Broadway’s performers of color. Over the years, Kevin has made his mark as both an artist and entertainment entrepreneur, moving the performing arts forward in his own inimitable fashion. His ongoing support of artists of color, gay and straight, is his lasting contribution to the contemporary American stage.
13. Clay Cane
The radio voice of the LGBT community of color is broadcaster Clay Cane, who speaks to us via WWRL’s Equality Radio series, Clay Cane Live. As an Entertainment Editor for Black Entertainment Network (BET), Clay helped shape the way America sees artists of color on television, and his insightful commentary on LGBT issues in such forums as The Advocate and The Root have made his voice an important one. His portfolio includes groundbreaking celebrity interviews and features, and he earns his place on our list as an outspoken advocate and journalist of distinction.
12. Kevin Aviance
No discussion of the club scene in the 1990s would be complete without mentioning Kevin Aviance, a pop vocalist, performance artist and ballroom icon Kevin Aviance. His music has made the Billboard Top 40 several times, and his Din Da Da is known the world over as a house-music signature song. When, in 2006, Kevin was brutally gay-bashed on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, his nationally-televised appearances brought renewed attention to the issue, as well as his courage in speaking out against it. Kevin’s defiance of convention and his iconic musical style, bring a sense of fierce independence to our community.
11. Darryl Stephens
The star of LOGO’s groundbreaking Noah’s Arc series, Darryl Stephens, joins our list for his unflinching portrayal of black gay men living their lives, with all the trials and triumphs that accompany them. Darryl has brought LGBT life to the mainstream, appearing in the ABC-TV series Private Practice as a transgender character seeking sex-reassignment surgery.His portrayal of Jane Finch gave television audiences a rare look at the ordeals faced by trans people in everyday life.
When Noah’s Arc transitioned to the silver screen as a feature film, Darryl, reprising his role as Noah Nehemiah Nicholson, joined the cast in depicting same-sex marriage, a subject that continues to capture headlines around the country. Darryl’s acting makes his statement about black gay life in a positive, enduring way.
10. George Takei
Generations of science-fiction fans have come to know and love George Takei’s portrayal of helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the iconic television and film series Star Trek. Starring roles for Asian-Americans were rare when Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic show piloted in 1966, but George took the role, made it his own, and never looked back. When he publicly came out in 2005 adding his name to the roll call of distinguished gay actors, he also became an outspoken advocate for gay rights, particularly gay marriage.
His tour, Equality Trek, highlighted his experiences as a gay Asian-American, and promoted greater understanding of the LGBT community across the board. He and his husband, Brad, continue to advance the cause of our community.
9. John Amaechi
As the forst player in the NBA to come out of the closet, John Amaechi made us aware of the plight of gay athletes in major-league sports. His book, Man In The Middle, about his life as a closeted pro, exposed the institutionalized homophobia inherent in the hypermasculine world of American professional athletes.
His coming-out was met with harsh criticism from his fellow players, but, undeterred, John went on to become a broadcaster, psychologist, and political activist, discussing LGBT issues and encouraging other gay athletes to follow their dreams.
8. Tracy Chapman
Multi-platinum, four-time Grammy Award winner Tracy Chapman joins our list as an accomplished vocalist and composer, Tracy is also a prolific social activist. Through her compositions, Tracy supports human-rights and LGBT causes, although she makes great efforts to keep her personal and professional lives separate. She has been an outspoken HIV/AIDS awareness advocate on a global scale, and her immense success as an artist is grand testimony to the indomitable spirit of the LGBT community.
The sine qua non and ne plus ultra of drag queens everywhere, RuPaul is the quinressential example of modern self-expression and crossover appeal. Ru has been a fixture of American entertainment for over a generation, always pushing the edge of the envelope and challenging America’s delicate sensibilities. Ru is always a passionately fierce symbol of the importance of being who you are, come what may.
As an inspiration to millions of gays and lesbians, Ru has taught us all how to crush hatred under the sharp spikes of a stiletto heel. Today, the world sees Ru Paul’s syndicated programs, Drag Race (in several flavors) and Drag U as a staple of contemporary television.
6. LZ Granderson
As a black, gay sportswriter, LZ Granderson overturns convention with his authoritative voice on American major-league sports. A commentator and columnist for global network ESPN, his analyses and observations are heard the world over, making him a journalist in a class all his own. Breaking the barriers of a straight-dominated segment of the journalistic profession, LZ showed that gay men of color continue to shatter glass ceilings everywhere.
5. Emil Wilbekin
No reading of a list of powerful gay celebrities of color would be complete without an entry from the fashion world, and it is here that Essence.com Managing Editor and Marc Ecko VP Emil Wilbekin makes his appearance. Emil also spent a dozen years at Vibe Magazine, five of them as Editor-In-Chief. He recently co-chaired the GLAAD Media Awards in NYC, honoring excellence in the media portrayal of the LGBT community. Emil is an ardent supporter of LGBT issues and goals, and his eloquent pen steers a course of style and culture that won’t soon be forgotten.
4. Janet Mock
Janet is the editor of People Magazine’s website and a trans advocate of international renown. As a member of the Hetrick-Martin Institute (which operates NYC’s high school for LGBT teens, Harvey Milk High) , Janet works on the Programs Committee to create transgender-specific programs and education. Her upcoming book, Fish Food, will discuss the meaning of living as you really are, and Janet is a regular television commentator on trans issues. Her courage and determination are a beacon to transgendered people everywhere, and to the LGBT community at large.
3. Wanda Sykes
Bringing laughter to the hearts of millions is Wanda Sykes’ artistic goal, but behind the comedy, she is also a serious champion of our rights. Wanda is an Emmy Award-winning comedienne, and was named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the “25 Funniest People In America” in 2004. Wanda has numerous film and television credits, including the HBO special I’m a Be Me and the feature film Monster In Law. During a rally against Proposition 8, the referendum banning gay marriage in California, Wanda publicly came out, and has remained a vocal supporter of gay marriage across the country. She survived a cancer diagnosis, and continues to put a smile on all our faces with her performances and concern for our community.
2. Lee Daniels
A giant of Hollywood, actor, director, and producer Lee Daniels has elevated the filmmaker’s art to new levels. With Monster’s Ball, Lee became the first African-American producer of a film to win that award. His 2009 direction of Precious brought him into the pantheon of great Hollywood artists, and his public-service work includes PSAs encouraging young African-Americans to vote, a project encouraged and supported by then-President Bill Clinton. Lee’s work earned him the Pratt Institute’s Creative Spirit Award, and his diligence to the craft of American film makes Lee a driving force in the industry.
1. Don Lemon
For as long as people have watched the news on television, it’s been the anchors that are the ones we turn to, when we want to know what’s going on in the world. For half a dozen years at CNN, one of those anchors has been Don Lemon, a black gay journalist who covers national and world events for the cable network.
Don’s career has taken him from local news with NBC in New York and Chicago, to MSNBC, and later Presidential politics with NBC and CNN.
Ebony Magazine named Don to their Power 150 this year, calling him “one of the most influential blacks in America”, and he currently anchors weekend prime-time coverage for CNN.
When Don publicly came out last year, it was the beginning of a new dimension in his career. In his book, Transparent, Don discussed his gay life, and made plain in interviews that he works and longs for the day when “everybody can be out”.
As one of only a few openly gay TV network anchors, Don has reported on numerous LGBT stories, speaking out about the plight of gay men in the black community. He is dedicated to staying at the forefront of the fight to realize his dream of a day when every gay person can be out without fear. For his strident, public voice and command of his medium in the daily trial of American gay life, Don Lemon takes his place here at the top of our list of 2012’s most powerful gay celebrities of color.