There were probably quite a few gay men and women who bought the Independent on Sunday yesterday for its 'Pink List' of the 101 most powerful gay men and women in Britain.
In one sense it's as absurd as publishing a list of the most powerful ginger people in Britain (actually, it wouldn't surprise me if someone has already done that), but we are where we are. Sexuality, like skin colour, remains an 'issue' and we are curious about the private lives of the famous.
Spotting the Gay has always been a popular game, not least for gay people themselves. It reminds me of the sketches in Goodness Gracious Me, where the Indian father claims everyone from the Queen downwards as Indian. For stigmatised minorities it gives reassurance to see people like themselves who are talented, rich and famous. In my youth it was mainly long-dead writers and poets. Today, with greater openness, young gay people have many more contemporary role models.
But citing high-profile gay people never really worked as a way of gaining acceptance for yourself. Famous people are by definition 'other', separated from ordinary life, and people tended to say 'yes, of course, a lot of famous writers and actors are gay but that doesn't make it right.'
Another problem was that drawing attention to famous and powerful gay people always fuelled one of the favourite obsessions of the homophobic: that there is a sinister 'gay conspiracy' dedicated to destroying heterosexuality and traditional families and 'corrupting' the nation's youth. Since every gay person on the planet sprang from a heterosexual union, it's difficult to see why gay people would wish to stamp out heterosexuality.
It was as recently as Labour's first term in office that the Sun splashed a front page on the gay conspiracy that was running Britain. And that was even before Peter Mandelson was outed. They later apologised for this nonsense.
One merit of the Independent's list is that, as well as all the expected names from show business, there's a good spread of occupations, including top civil servants, a judge, the athlete Rob Newton, a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander, an Ambassador, police chief Brian Paddick, and Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of BMI. None of which should surprise anyone, although it probably will.
I doubt if the number of gay people in any particular occupation varies by more than one or two percentage points from the number of gay people in the population as a whole. Contrary to popular belief, most actors, hairdressers and ballet dancers are straight. We simply don't share any characteristics other than our sexuality, any more than straight people do.
Arguably the greatest poet of the last century, who happened to be gay, was a shambolic, scruffy man who pissed in the sink and never changed his underpants and almost certainly couldn't dance. I refer to the late W.H. Auden.
It would be interesting, and possibly more educational, for the Independent to publish a list of the 101 least powerful gay people in Britain. The ones who drive the buses and trains, empty your dustbins, stack the shelves in Sainsbury's, stamp your library books, teach your children, sell you your newspaper or are unemployed. For these are the ordinary people that I have mostly encountered amongst the thousands of gay people I have met over the past 40 years. And not forgetting the young rent boys who sell their bodies because, even in this sexually tolerant New Jerusalem, their parents, who are happy to watch Julian Clary (no 39 in the list) hosting the Lottery show, have kicked their queer son out into the street.