We’re right in the middle of Pride Month, and just in time, American Apparel has announced a new Partnership with GLAAD, AND introduced their first transgendered model. My good friend and comedian Ilana Glazer may have unintentionally paved the way for the latter with this brilliant satire a few years ago, but I guess we’ll never know!
Though AA has a history of some less than palatable advertising, these are two huge steps in the right direction, and I salute them! They have officially been crossed off of my list of "Companies that deserve to be shoplifted from."
With this campaign, AA joins the short list of companies who have made a public stance re: LGBT rights. It is a brave move, as the others have faced very aggressive public attack campaigns by conservative organizations such as One Million Morons Moms.
When JC Penney announced Ellen Degeneres as their new spokeswoman, OMM quickly launched a boycott campaign in response. JC Penney secured my lifetime loyalty by responding to the boycott with a Mothers day campaign featuring two moms, and most recently this Fathers Day ad.
Starbucks faced a similar attack by the National Organization for Morons Marriage, (Well, they should stop making it so easy!) when they announced their support of marriage equality in January. In response to the boycott, CEO Howard Shultz said, at a shareholder meeting:
"I would assure you that the senior team at Starbucks discussed it, and it was, to be candid with you, not a difficult decision for us."
The response from the shareholders? A standing ovation. America is ready for this.
Their refusal to back down in the face of pressure is paying off -- I know I'm not alone in the fact that I now go out of my way to choose Starbucks, when faced with a few corporate coffee options. I'll walk the three extra blocks to JC Penney instead of TJ Maxx, and I’ll pay a few dollars more for a product if it means giving my money to a corporation with guts, vs. one who has remained neutral or silent.
In issues of human rights, particularly those that affect a minority, silence means agreement -- it is also, of course, safer. To be fair, corporations are not charitable organizations; their goal is to make money, and to do that people have to like them. They are at the mercy of the public eye, and spend huge amounts of money hiring ad and PR agencies to make them look like the universal answer to everyone's need.
This bravery of these companies is precisely why it is so important for straight advocates to speak up -- we represent the majority, and as a straight woman who supports LGBT rights, my voice (and yours, straight advocate reading this) is perhaps the most important. You, as the majority, are the biggest stakeholder in the mind of a corporation. Your thank you letter to JC Penney means even more to them than a thank you letter from a LGBT customer, because it assures them that they are not losing your majority dollar, by gaining the support of the minority.
Social scrutiny on a micro level is common, too, and perhaps harder to combat. Last week, after purchasing my own AA tank, a good friend of mine posted a Facebook update telling the story of his teen daughter's experience wearing her "GAY OK" shirt to school. Upon arriving at her Chesterfield, VA school, 14-year-old Hannah Godfrey said it was clear the shirt would be an issue. She was awesome enough to talk to me about it, and wanted me to use her name:
"When I was dropped off at school the first thing I was told (by a janitor!) was that I might have to change and to try to 'avoid the administrators' because our school "doesn't like that stuff." When I got to my 1st period, one of the administrators came in and asked me to come into the hall. When I was in the hall my whole class was mouthing stuff to me behind her back about how stupid the situation was and that I shouldn't listen. Anyways, I was told that my shirt was "potentially distracting," "too political," and "sexually connoted." She brought me to a different administrator who basically said the exact same thing, adding in that she "loved the shirt but not at school." Then, the second administrator brought the principal over who just shrugged and told me to turn it inside out. Luckily I had a stock of clothes in my locker from a friend, so I changed into a dress trying to avoid any trouble. When I got back to my class, everyone was super surprised that they actually made me change."
The idea that a shirt with the words "GAY OK" could be construed as too sexual only goes to reinforce the idea that homosexuality is still a taboo, over-simplified concept in America. The word Gay is not a sexual term any more than Straight is; I'm quite certain that if the shirt had said "Straight but not narrow," the issue would not have been worthy of administrative attention, because it's OK for a teenager to be straight, since most of them are. Gay? Gay still means gay sex and nothing else to too many Americans.
The reality of homosexuality is that my Best Friend Eliot knew he was gay in the 6th grade, way before sex was an issue for most of us, including him. What he did know in 6th grade, though, was that his life wasn't going to be as easy as it would be for his straight friends. He knew in 6th grade that there were a lot of people who hated him for who he was and who he wanted to love, and he knew that for some reason his personal life choices were up for discussion publicly, in a way that mine weren't.
With all that swimming around in his head, he sure could have used a little positive reinforcement from his classmates who were cool with him being who he was
Where we lived on the North Shore of Long Island, Gay was certainly not "OK." Faggot was the greatest, most hilarious insult the gel-haired, spray-tanned meatheads could launch at each other, and at anyone else who so much as made eye contact with them. As a straight female, even I felt threatened by them.
During our senior prom, we had to be escorted out by the police when our two friends who *were* out had the audacity to attend prom as a couple. Long Island! So close to Manhattan, and yet so far from any semblance of cultural intelligence.
It's no surprise that Eliot decided to wait until his freshman year at NYU to tell us he was gay -- though we had a pretttttty good idea. He could have used someone like Hannah back then.
So what did Hannah do, in response to her school administration? Here’s why Hannah is AWESOME -- she organized:
"Today, my boyfriend and I got the majority of the 8th grade to write the words "GAY OK" on their hands (some took it further and wrote it on arms, foreheads, chests, legs...), the same words that were on the shirt. It was a HUGE turnout. Overall, I think the school was trying to avoid some kid/parent complaining that I had a shirt that was going against their beliefs. But still, why shouldn't I be able to wear a shirt that basically promotes the basic rights of others and spreads a message of anti-bullying? I don't think it's fair at all."
Admittedly, as a nonprofit Teen Worker, I have a pretty dramatic emotional response any time I hear about teenagers doing something applause-worthy, but just try and tell me that the future isn't looking hopeful, after reading that. We might all be dodging debt collectors and living in our cars by 2025, but social enlightenment will be ushered in with this new generation, that much is clear. I mean, look at this kid:
In the meantime, you can help speed up the process and look cute as hell by buying and wearing an American Apparel tank to your local Pride celebration -- or more importantly to your school, work, or family BBQ.
Want proof of the power of exposure? Eliot and I became best friends 12 years ago, and back then my Stepdad knew how good a friend he was, and so he loved Eliot -- “despite” his orientation. Last Thanksgiving, Eliot spent Thanksgiving with my family, and toward the end of the evening, my very drunk uncle called a dog a “Faggy-ass little dog.” My Stepdad became an LGBT advocate right before our eyes, when he took my uncle aside and said: “Our good friend Eliot, who you have just spent Thanksgiving with is gay, and you have just embarrassed yourself, and me.”