Every year, TIME’s list of the 100 Most Influential People inspires, angers, and sparks meaningful dialogue. (Surely, Ted Cruz’s essay about Donald Trump ruffled a feather or two.) But what stood out most about this year’s list was inclusion. Several queer creators and activists were honored, including actress Daniela Vega (A Beautiful Woman), Emmy-winning writer/actress Lena Waithe, writer/activist Janet Mock, and artist Kehinde Wiley. While all four bring something unique and essential to the table, Mock’s and Wiley’s inclusion is a big deal for us, as this influential list reaches beyond the entertainment industry to recognize the contributions of queer people of color.
Janet Mock is a bestselling author, journalist, and activist. And, as a trans woman, her identity is interwoven in her work. Aside from Laverne Cox, she’s the most visible black trans woman in America. No, she’s one of the most visible trans women in America—period.
From the moment she revealed her transition, she used that visibility to champion her own rights as well as those of the trans community. She first opened up about her life in a 2011 Marie Claire article titled “I Was Born A Boy”. The headline proved problematic, and a bit sensational, but Mock was thrust into the mainstream. She has since written two bestselling novels about her experiences as a trans woman, including 2014’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
She has also been a powerful advocate for intersectionality. At 2017’s monumental Women’s March, she gave a rousing speech. “Our approach to freedom need not be identical but it must be intersectional and inclusive. It must extend beyond ourselves. I know with surpassing certainty that my liberation is directly linked to the liberation of the undocumented trans Latina yearning for refuge. The disabled student seeking unequivocal access. The sex worker fighting to make her living safely.” From the start, she has used her platform for a greater purpose—to stand up for herself and all disenfranchised women.
To include her on this list is to acknowledge not only her power and influence, but the collective power and influence of the entire trans community.
Kehinde Wiley possesses a similar power but uses it in a more abstract way. You might know him for challenging the average American’s perspective of presidential art, thanks to his official portrait of Barack Obama.
But Wiley is so much more. He’s proudly queer, which some have tried to overlook as he’s inched closer to the mainstream. The Grio’s George M. Johnson noted that many stories about Wiley’s Obama portrait omitted his sexuality. Not that he’s defined by his queerness, but it’s something he’s been vocal about. And for us, that conversation is critical for acceptance.
Wiley’s work is also proudly, staunchly black. It’s only right that he was chosen to illustrate Obama as so much of his work positions everyday black men and women as kings and queens, as regal subjects, and as tender, human, multi-dimensional people.
His inclusion on this list offers a multifaceted and complex view of queerness, blackness, and artistic genius. Wiley is a modern artist whose work is irreverent and moves us, as art should.
It seems, little by little, this list is beginning to represent the world around us—a diverse world, a queer world, one that’s not simply black or white, or gay or straight. We live in a world that’s not easily defined. Those who influence us most are those who offer something fresh and eye-opening; without question, those perspectives are the ones we need to inspire measurable change in society. Mock and Wiley, along with the other queer people of color included on the list, offer their work as testimony, and finally, people are listening.
Cover Photo The New Potato