By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com July 12 2012 4:27 PM ET
A small grassroots volunteer organization aiming to educate people on trans rights and issues says a campaign featuring a transgender model is actually helping erase transsexual visibility.
Leaders of MAGNET, or Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Transgender & Transsexual People, are boycotting a campaign from American Apparel and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, asking both to reconsider the message their new T-shirts send.
GLAAD and American Apparel touted the shirts with slogans like "Legalize Gay" and "Gay O.K." during pride season. And while transgender model Isis King is wearing the shirts in advertisements, MAGNET member Ashley Love says it may be too confusing to those who don't understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, since King is transgender but also heterosexual.
"The real issue isn’t if a particular model profits by promoting 'Legalize Gay' tees, it’s the confusion sent to society by feeding the already-widespread misconception that women of transsexual history are really 'gay' men in dresses," Love says. "The public is misled to perceive ‘gay’ as an umbrella term which includes transsexualism."
Love added that she is proud that King has been featured so prominently in a campaign for a global brand, but that hasn't stopped her and other members of MAGNET from launching a boycott against the shirts. MAGNET supporter Amber Gray, a California-based activist, agrees with Love that the shirts' messages "promote misgendering and public misunderstanding of an already underrepresented community who struggles to end transphobia and to be affirmed." She adds, "GLAAD’s campaign intentionally promotes 'legalize gay' interests in replacement of transsexual and transgender issues, which speaks to the larger gay and lesbian political establishment’s continued appropriation, flatlining and erasure of the transsexual medical condition’s needs and accurate narrative."
King was the first transgender contestant on America's Next Top Model and one of the first openly transgender contestants on any prime time reality show. She said she is simply doing her job as a model, while also flexing her muscle as a gay ally.
"I think it's absurd and ridiculous to think that I would misrepresent my sexual orientation," she says. "The T-shirt doesn't say I am personally gay. This shirt simply says gay is O.K., meaning that I — as an ally and a public figure — am telling other people that there is nothing wrong with gay people. I'm not misinformed and I know who I am. This design empowers my friends in the gay community, and I'd like to see more allies wear this shirt."
King added that she hopes her campaign will encourage more transgender women to model in national campaigns. "It does make headlines when a campaign features an openly trans model," she said, "but the reality is that many trans community members and young adults will see these images and know that you can be successful and achieve your dreams."
Rich Ferraro, GLAAD's vice president of communications, also makes the point that the shirts are meant to be worn by gay people, as well as gay allies, which include transgender people like King. Ferraro adds that American Apparel's ad campaign featuring the pride shirts is one of the first national campaigns to ever feature an openly transgender model, a projecct GLAAD worked mighty hard on.
"We heard from many in the trans community who shared how proud they are that a positive story about a model — who happens to be a transgender woman of color — was able to reach so many through GLAAD's work to publicize her participation," he said. He added that GLAAD hopes to work with more companies in the future to promote acceptance of all LGBT people and that the group was thrilled to be able to push for King to be the spokesmodel, hoping the national campaign was yet another boost in the model's career.
In either case, the group's boycott persists, although its Facebook group called "Boycott GLAAD's & AA's Pride T-Shirts: 'Transsexual' will NOT be Censored" has fewer than 200 members.
"GLAAD propagates the socially engineered 'transgender umbrella theory,' the result of a twenty year ideological misinformation campaign which seeks to blur the distinction between the transsexual medical condition, and the many forms of 'gender variance' and fetishism," Love says. "This miseducation reinforces misunderstanding and misgendering, violates our patient rights and marginalizes our social interests."
Love said she hopes shirts for the 2013 pride season are more trans-inclusive.
"A rose is still a rose, period — not a sub-rose, not a second class rose, not a rose impersonator," Love said. "Why didn’t GLAAD also advocate for ‘Legalize Transsexualism’? Being an 'ally' goes both ways."