Phil Reese

Aaron Hicklin: Editor of Out on the Power 50

Filed By Phil Reese | May 01, 2011 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: LGBT, lists, media, out magazine, people of color, queer, trans

Our newspapers and magazines love making lists and ranking famous people. We see it every day: from Cosmo to USA Today - lists are it. powerfifty.jpgOne list made a surprising uproar in the LGBT community recently. Out Magazine's Power 50 generated a lot of criticism for its clear lack of diversity. There were few people of color on the list - only two people of Latino heritage - and absolutely no African Americans or trans people. Is this a comment on Out Magazine, or a comment on our larger society as a whole?

This week we sit down with Out's Editor in Chief, Aaron Hicklin, to discuss the list, the backlash, and what this could tell us about opportunities for people of color and trans people in our society as a whole. I also ask Aaron if there is a way to be more inclusive without destroying the spirit of the list - find out what he says.

Listen to our 20 minute interview, after the jump.

What do you think of our chat? Do you feel Out has done all it could to assure this list represents our community best, or do you have any suggestions for criteria or list subjects for the future?

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What struck me about the list (as I wrote on my own blog) was Out's practice of including individuals, such as Anderson Cooper, Shepard Smith and Jodi Foster (in previous years), who haven't come out publicly.

When you take into account the lack of diversity, what this says about Out is that the editorial staff lacks professionalism and their ethics are questionable at best.

Rev. Steve did you listen to the interview?

Hicklin's defense amounts to, "Yes, the list completely marginalizes trans people and people of color. That's not my fault and I deny all meaningful moral responsibility for the editorial decisions that went into it; that's the way the world is."

It's exactly as thoughtless and insensitive as I expected.

...shrug....the enshrinement and extolling of largely assimilationist Glam-Gays.
It is journalistic fluff, the sort of thing that brings the mindless to read "US' or other tabloids.

Are we really as shallow, as a community, as the Christian Right keeps claiming?

The controversies upon this blog would seem to say otherwise.

Dan Massey | May 1, 2011 12:55 PM

Well of course we have shallow people in the lgbt community. Every group defined by anything other than non-shallowness is going to have a lot of shallow people. The offensive thing about the Christianist Right and the Christianist Catholic (Ureformed) is that they themselves are the shallowest people in the entire world community of faith and society and they dare to complain about anyone else's shallowness when theirs is greater than all else put together.

We're not all shallow. Some of us are actvists. Some are followers. Some are satisfied with the status quo.

That was the point of the last line of my comment, Dan...people like you DO strive to focus on issues of depth...

Yes, Phil, I listened to the interview. And I think you should have pressed harder on the outing issue. It is just as important, if not more so, as the lack of diversity. All in all, Hicklin made a lot of lame excuses.

I would also have liked to know whether or not out talks to these "honorees" in advance of publishing the list. It doesn't sound like they do.

Rachel Maddow said it best this week:
"I've long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:

1. Gay people -- generally speaking -- have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.

2. We should all get to decide for ourselves the "if and when we feel that we can" part of that.

3. Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.

I also believe that coming out makes for a happier life, but that's not a matter of ethics, that's just corny advice."

It just feels like the gay people in charge of these media outlets are mostly white, and they don't know about non-white gay people doing things. Otherwise I would have put other people on there instead. (for example: Nicki Minaj).

That's not particularly surprising, but still pretty annoying that gay stuff is presented as all white these days. Although it does show who's really in touch with all aspects of culture, at least, and Out magazine clearly isn't.

Dear JJ, this is Aaron, the editor of Out. Your critique of the Power 50 aside, it's a bit rich to use the absence of Nicki Minaj from the list to make your point that we are out of touch with culture. Nicki Minaj was on the cover of Out last October, with an eight page in-depth profile by lesbian writer Caryn Ganz. That made Out the first non-music magazine to cover Minaj, and while she didn't make the Power 50 that was because of her own ambivalence around her sexuality (and as on-again, off-again bisexual). More importantly, the fact that you didn't know that Minaj had appeared on the cover of Out suggests you don't read the magazine, which, frankly, undermines makes your credibility as a critic. That said, I do hope you will take the opportunity to read the Minaj profile now, at

And maybe we can even persuade you to subscribe!

I thought this was a good two-way conversation that raised some valid points on both sides of the argument. I'm not sure I agree entirely with the editor, but I appreciate what he was trying to do, and agree with him that Out by and large aims for diversity within its pages. Out is mainly concerned with fashion and lifestyle, so i wasn't surprised that the list tilted that way; any other similar magazine like GQ would reflect a similar bias. As for "outing" people, in the world of blogs and websites like Gawker, most of the information Out uses to determine who is gay is already in the public domain. Does Rev. Steve seriously think Out should be engaged in helping Anderson Cooper stay in the closet simply to preserve his multi-million dollar salary? What message does that send to young gay men? That sexuality is shameful, and that your chance of succeeding in life is greater if you stay closeted.

Aaron I can't believe that you reduced JJ's comments to whether or not Nicki Minaj was ever included in your magazine. The underrepresentation of people of color in the gay community is a big problem that gay white people in powerful positions in the media such as yourself don't seem to care at all about changing. I will never understand why the media is so intent on presenting the gay community as white only.

Hi Bryan, I agree that it's a problem, and put my hand up to own some of that problem, and will strive to ensure that Out is part of the solution. My point is that the list is being taken out of context of all the representation you can find in Out, hence the reference to Nicki Minaj - I think she belongs in Out, but I don't think she belongs in the Power List based on the criteria of the list. I really do feel this list reflects mainstream society, broadly, while acknowledging that we may have overlooked some people, and I think there's a danger that some critics are shooting the messenger for the message. In any other issue of Out, I think you will find that the kind of representation you are seeking, or something closer to it, and many names being bandied around as candidates for the Power list have featured prominently in Out. Indeed, several, including Bill T. Jones, Dan Choi, Wanda Sykes, and Ricky Martin, have appeared on the cover, to say nothing of the fact that the cover subject of the Power issue was transgender performer Justin Bond. None of this is deny that some of the criticism is valid, but I really feel it would have more power if it was balanced with some acknowledgment.

Acknowledgment of what, Aaron? Just because a non-white or transgender person occasionally makes it on the cover of your glorified magazine does not make up for the fact that your 50 'power' list is totally whitewashed. You send the message that only white gays (predominately male) have the 'power'. It's time for you to stop make excuses and to stop talking down to people. Listen. Venture out of your little box--make the effort to embrace all of GLBT people, not just the white ones. Actually talk with people of color instead of talking down to them.