"Legalize Gay. Repeal Prop 8." We've all seen it. American Apparel has made sure of that. Their brightly-colored T-shirts emblazoned with an amazingly simple yet strongly impactful slogan have been passed out to thousands at LGBT Pride festivals and other events the nation over. The slogan has even made its way into print on tank tops, string tops and underwear (panties and thongs included).
Now, in response to a perceived lack of full inclusion, a transgender activist who's worked on several LGBT equality projects is taking matters into his own hands and creating the "Legalize Trans" campaign.
American Apparel's "Legalize Gay" T-shirts were originally created by the Los Angeles-based company after Prop 8's 2008 passage in California. The company passed them out at marches and rallies there. Soon, the T-shirt became so popular the company started selling them online and in stores.
Twenty-five-year-old Asher Kolieboi, who identifies as queer and transmasculine, says his initial impressions of the campaign were mixed.
"I thought the campaign was smart," Asher says. "I'm interested in public relations and advertising and thought it was a smart campaign, but I was a little perplexed by the use of 'legalize.' I think there are issues that are faced by gay-identifieid people that are not purely legal -- they are cultural or societal. Those also need to be addressed."
Asher, an LGBT coordinator at Oberlin College, has also worked with Soulforce. In 2009, he served as co-director on its Equality Ride to Southern Christian colleges, seminaries and universites which discriminate against LGBT students.
Asher says he appreciates American Apparel's campaign for the visibility it has created, but also thinks its slogan ultimately proves lacking and fails to mirror the full diversity of the LGBT and gender-equality movements: "Going on their website, they talk about the LGBTQ community, but the T-shirt only says 'Legalize Gay.'"
With the help of his girlfriend and friend-and-fellow-Soulforce-alum Brian Murphy, Asher rolled out the "Legalize Trans" campaign on July 27. While his campaign will undoubtedly bring attention to the lack of diversity in American Apparel's T-shirt line, he says its main purpose will be to educate the public on transgender and queer equality issues.
"It is trans-focused," Asher says, "but we also want to bring into the spotlight other issues that LGBTQ people face -- transphobia, classism, racism, ableism. As the campaign grows we would like to bring all that into the conversation."
Another difference supporters will notice about his campaign, Asher says, will be in the shirt sizes he offers. American Apparel's "Legalize Gay" T-shirts are available only up to 2-X. "Legalize Trans" shirts will be available up to 6-X.
"I thought, 'Why not make it to where a lot more people can wear it?' Asher says, defying American Apparel's iconic advertising image of trendy, slim and youthful models. "I kind of want to make a statement about that -- allow the shirts to go up to 6-X -- to make a statement about the types of bodies that are really in our community."
Money from T-shirt sales in the first year will be used to pay for the campaign's operating costs and part of Asher's gender-reassignment surgery -- a costly operation not covered by insurance. Individuals can sign up as affiliates, sell the shirts and keep some of the money for their own surgeries or other causes as well. Two individuals seeking funds for surgery have already indicated their interest in becoming affiliates, Asher says.
After the first year, Asher intends to donate campaign funds to organizations dedicated to "intersectional work." He says the Sylvia Rivera Project -- which addresses a range of issues from racism and classism to heterosexism and transphobia -- is a possibility.
Asher hopes his own campaign will grow as large as American Apparel's and becomes a launching point for deeper discussion.
"I hope it will become a public education campaign, not just about gender justice but about intersectional justice, that it creates dialogue about what types of agendas we ant to be pushing as far as public policy," Asher says, noting other important issues facing LGBT people: healthcare, safe schools, eldercare and more.
"Legalize Trans" T-shirts and buttons can be bought at www.legalizetrans.com. They are $18. The first round of shirts will be shipped out on Aug. 15. Right now, only one color -- white lettering on a black shirt -- is available. More colors and other products will be rolled out in the near future.
(Disclosure: I was a participant/organizer with Soulforce's 2007 Equality Ride.)