LGBTQ Presence in Fashion

As social equality for the LGBTQ community progresses, so too does equality in the fashion world. The industry has often appeared to provide a level playing field for those who identify as LGBTQ and, this past year, the Fashion Institute of Technology opened one if its special exhibitions centered around fashion in the LGBTQ community, A Queer History of Fashion.

However, this acceptance has not always been the case and traces of bias are still evident today with only a handful of lesbian, bisexual and transgender-identified figures working in fashion business. And, while many battles have been won throughout the years, the war against LGBTQ discrimination in fashion is still a major problem.

While many may fantasize about the old stereotype of gay men ruling the fashion world, there is very little representation of other sexual and gender identities aside from gay and straight. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have had an influence within the fashion world — Coco Chanel was said to have had many sexual partners of both sexes and designer Margaret Cho is openly bisexual. This small display is nothing compared to the endless list of gay male figures within the fashion industry, including designers Michael Kors, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs.

In the world of modeling, advances were made this past season as several transgender models were hired for major runway shows. Donna Karan displayed one of the most diverse casts of models with openly pansexual rapper Angel Haze, transgender performer Juliana Huxtable and the androgynous model Andrej Pejic. Her decision to cast these individuals among a variety of others showcased an appreciation and acceptance of the LGBTQ presence and talent in fashion that has rarely been recognized. Also paving the way for the transgender community is Brazilian model Lea T. who was featured in Givenchy’s haute couture show as well as the brand’s ad campaign. She has been a standout figure for transgender people all over the world while also proving that anyone can achieve their dreams, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Andrej Pejic for Vogue Korea, January 2014
Andrej Pejic for Vogue Korea, January 2014

These instances of broader LGBTQ support are definitely influential, but we must not be too quick to trivialize the evident problem with these small examples. While it is astounding that society has come as far as it has to accept and support the LGBTQ community in fashion, the mere fact that such instances of LGBTQ support gain large media publicity proves that a post-closet era has not begun, nor will it begin until real change is implemented.

This change does not include more occasional displays of the token gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person. This change only becomes real the moment gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender figures becomes part of the norm. By making LGBTQ people a minority within the world of fashion, a construction of a heterosexual norm has been presented and perpetuated. Therefore, while it is uplifting to reflect on the present progress made, it is time to look ahead at making a brighter future for all members of the community.
David Bologna is a staff writer. Email him at bstyle@nyunews.com.

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