The IoS Pink List 2009

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It's back - as controversial and, we believe, as necessary as ever. Here is this year's roster of the 101 most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain today

Before we started work on the 10th annual Independent on Sunday Pink List, we asked ourselves again whether we should be doing it at all. After all, in 2009, equal rights are enshrined in law and there are ‘out’ gay men and women at the top of every profession - or rather, they might argue, just men and women at the top of their professions. So, is the list anachronistic? Is it patronising to gay people? We feared it might be - and went in search of a leading gay or lesbian figure to say so. None of those we contacted wanted to. Their verdict? The Pink List remains indispensable, a celebration of a community that is integral to the British way of life.

On the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots - and in the week when the National Portrait Gallery launches a major new exhibition of Gay Icons, this list is a celebration of those people who have struggled to get us from there to here. As such, you won’t see anyone “outed” in these pages. If you don't see someone you think should be on the list, it may be that they have asked not to appear. It is also possible that - believe it or not - we have erred and they have been overlooked.

Defining "influential" is, of course, a tricky, highly personal and often capricious process, and many of you will disagree with the results. Good! When we first ran the list in 2000, we featured 50 people, and ran them alphabetically. These days, in the unashamed hope of garnering a little more controversy, we rank them, a rather difficult task: and we’ve thrown in a couple of non-Brits, too, on the basis that they stay here, and contribute so much to the life of the nation. Were we right to do so?

Please send your suggestions and your criticisms to: sundayletters@independent.co.uk, or post them in the comments form below. Maybe you can change the shape of next year’s list. Or maybe next year, the list of influential, openly gay people at the top of society will be so long that we’ll have to post it entirely online.

Click on the image (right) to see the full list.

1 (last year's rating 64) Peter Mandelson

First Secretary of State; Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; Lord President of the Council

Where do we start? At the time of last year's Pink List he was a mere EU Trade Commissioner planning his summer holiday in Corfu. Unknown to all of us he had already had talks with Gordon Brown about a return to Government. Then came the yachting adventure with Oleg Deripaska and George Osborne. Last October, he was recalled to the Cabinet, as Business Secretary, in the biggest surprise to hit Westminster since John Major and Edwina Currie. Earlier this month he rescued Brown by persuading fellow Cabinet ministers not to quit; he was rewarded with the extra title of First Secretary of State – Deputy Prime Minister in all but name.

This week, he will help to launch a plan to help Britain recover from recession. Mandelson, 55, refuses to discuss his private life, and has never officially come out – meaning that he has been criticised by some gay men and women for his lack of support. But there was no debate about promoting Lord Mandelson 63 places to Number 1: he's not only the most powerful gay man in Britain, but arguably the most powerful individual in the country.

'City bosses must lead the way to greater diversity'

"It's still difficult in the City to come out. In the media and arts, where people wear jeans and roll their sleeves up, there's a much easier environment. One of the reasons that I am so outspoken is that every time I'm quoted I get several emails saying, 'you've given me more confidence'. Chief executives and chairmen need to show leadership, and not leave diversity issues to the human resources departments. They need to say that diversity is important. However, where the City has got to now, as opposed to even three years ago, has been a huge improvement. About five or six years ago, big corporates and some of the smaller firms were involved in 'the war for best talent' – about getting the best staff. They couldn't afford to ignore talent, be they gay, black, women, disabled or over 60. Legislation isn't always the way. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in the 1970s, but are women really paid the same as men in the City?"

Ashley Steel (No 62)

Stonewall: A Greenwich Village riot that signalled it was time to fight back

Activists still disagree as to whether it was a gay man, a lesbian or a transsexual who threw the first blow on 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The consensus of those who were there that night during yet another shakedown of a small gay bar by the New York Police Department is that it was probably a lesbian who reacted, hitting her harasser with a drag queen's shoe and later wrestling her way out of a policeman's arms. The police swiftly lost control of the situation as an angry crowd of gay Village residents gathered to protest.

But the Stonewall Riot, as it came to be known, was not about the first blow. Rather it signalled that it was time to fight back. The Sixties in America was the decade of counterculture, for black people, for women, for the young. The drag queens, rent boys and butch dykes, as well as the closeted gay men in suits at the Stonewall Inn, weren't going to be left behind. In a decade of upheaval they finally demanded to be treated the same as everyone else.

Back in 1969, gay people were cowed in this country too. It was less than two years since homosexual acts had been decriminalised. Metropolitan Police officers, no longer able to supplement their income by blackmailing well-off gay men, were still happy to arrest them for holding hands or kissing in public, an abuse of public money which continued for another 25 years. But, at last, other gay people, somewhere, had demonstrated that we could fight back.

Stonewall's capacity to inspire endured. In 1989, a group of British activists – including Ian McKellen, Michael Cashman, Lisa Power and Olivette Cole-Wilson – decided they too had had enough and formed a lobbying group. The trigger was Section 28, which banned the "promotion" of homosexuality by local authorities. The group was named Stonewall.

Ben Summerskill (No 40)

Landmark moments

1969 Stonewall riots: Heavy-handed policing in New York sparked several days of unrest (see above).

1971 Legalising homosexuality: Austria, Costa Rica and Finland among first states to decriminalise gay sex.

1974 Homosexuals not insane: Research by Evelyn Hooker and Alfred Kinsey for American Psychiatric Association led to ending of view of being gay as a mental disorder.

1978 Gay pride: Rainbow flag first used as symbol of pride.

1993 Brookside: First British TV show to feature a lesbian kiss.

1994 Age reduced: UK cuts age of consent from 21 to 18.

1997 Political pride: Chris Smith became first openly gay Cabinet minister.

1999 Fathers' progress: Barrie Drewitt and Tony Barlow became first British same-sex couple to register as parents when they fathered twins through a US surrogate mum.

2000 Your country needs you: UK lifts ban on gay people in the armed forces. Age of consent is lowered to 16.

2004 Religious revolt: Canon Jeffrey John's appointment as Bishop of Reading shelved over evangelical opposition.

Feb 2009 Warm reception: Johanna Sigurdardottir becomes first openly lesbian national leader when she's elected Iceland's premier.

'I was in the closet while I played basketball. Then, you could be fired in 28 states for being gay'

"Over my years as a player in the National Basketball Association in the States, I spent much of my time in the locker-room shaking my head, watching straight teammates do things that made me ask, 'And I'm the gay one?' In Europe especially, the increasing metrosexuality of male sports stars means all things gay are ever-present and often co-opted – the first time I saw shorts like those Cristiano Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand wore on holiday recently was Gay Pride float in Manchester.

"Indeed, much of the manufactured taboo about gay people in sports is due to the highly homoerotic nature of male team sports – just look at the next goal celebration. The blame for the lack of 'out' sportspeople is usually laid on the fans on the terraces (read: working classes) and "urban sportsmen" (read black athletes). To suggest there are no bigots is a lie, but to lay the blame here alone is a mistake.

"Increasingly, it's only the managers, coaches and club executives who believe that 'showering with a gay person' is likely to cause a rift in the dressing-room. I was 'out' to my teammates, even if it was a very unsatisfying 'don't ask, don't tell, don't bring your boyfriend round' arrangement. And gay athletes in the UK have told me of agreeable relationships with straight teammates.

"It's easy to fool ourselves that there are no gay or lesbian people in sport. There was an illustrious list of closeted athletes for many years during my time in the NBA, and I was one of them. I had fears about being out to the public while I played. But far worse than the fear of being verbally or physically abused was the fact that, at the time, you could be fired in 28 states for being gay (it's now 20). The idea that I – the only British NBA player at the time – could lose my job because of my sexuality was something I couldn't risk, that I shouldn't have to risk.

"My one regret now at not coming out while I played is that I believe I would have been a better player – the energy I used to protect my secret could have been used to better my basketball."

John Amaechi (No 60)

Contributors: Damian Barr; Kate Bassett; Brian Brady; Hugo Eyre-Varnier; Janine Fotiadis-Negreponte; Susannah Frankel; Jenny Gilbert; Katy Guest; Mike Higgins; Mark Leftly; Jane Merrick; Hugh Montgomery; Marc Padgett; Anna Picard; John Rentoul; Simmy Richman; Ben Summerskill; Peter Victor; Harriet Walker

Read previous year's lists:

The Pink List 2008

The Pink List 2007

The Pink List 2006

The first ever IoS Pink List in 2000

Contributors: Damian Barr; Kate Bassett; Hugo Eyre-Varnier; Janine Fotiadis-Negreponte; Susannah Frankel; Jenny Gilbert; Katy Guest; Mike Higgins; Mark Leftly; Jane Merrick; Hugh Montgomery; Marc Padgett; Anna Picard; John Rentoul; Simmy Richman; Ben Summerskill; Peter Victor; Harriet Walker

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