Matt Comer

'Legalize Trans' campaign takes on American Apparel, gender equality issues

Filed By Matt Comer | August 08, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: American Apparel, Legalize Gay, Legalize Trans, Prop 8, Prop. 8

"Legalize Gay. Repeal Prop 8." We've all seen it. American Apparel legalizetrans_logoabg.jpghas 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.'"

LTminiflyer.jpgWith 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 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.)

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How about
'Criminalize bigotry and discrimination' ?

I really like this campaign! :) The "Legalize Gay" slogan totally undermines the original "Legalize LA" slogan for immigrant rights. "Legalize Trans*" seems more appropriate, but I'm not sure it also reaches that mark. However, since the strategy here is to reach the audience who buys "Legalize Gay" shirts then I do approve of the slogan wholeheartedly.

What bugged me a lot more about American Apparel were the employment cards I got in the mail for their factory jobs. They were only printed in Spanish and Cantonese. With how badly I needed a job when I got those cards, I was livid, not because I have anything against Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans, but because I felt unwelcome by the company for being an English speaking, German descended Caucasian. They never got a dollar from me, they're not going to any time soon.

Now, then, as a transgender woman, who quite often feels as if she's breaking the law by existing, and is treated as such far too often, sign me up, I'll take two!

I'm not sure I understand. I get the criticism about the Legalize Gay campaign for not being inclusive. I also think it doesn't make that much sense, since being gay is legal, although it might make sense as an ironic reference to anti-gay laws. But I'm not sure the Legalize Trans campaign is more inclusive.

What do you think of "Equalize Queers"?

That makes more sense to me. I'm no marketing guru, though, so I can't vouch for its salability.

That makes more sense to me. I'm no marketing guru, though, so I can't vouch for its salability.

Given that the new season of Mad Men is in full swing, I'd suggest the following inquiry: WWDDD?

What would Don Draper do?

I don't think Legalize Trans should be inclusive, it should be specifically promoting trans. The reason being is that if we don't specify, if we agree to assimilate under the "gay" label, the standard presumption will be, as it always is, that if gays are protected from discrimination that there's no need to deal with trans as well. Considering how many "progressives" in the media undermine the cause of real equality by using "gay" as a catch-all for LGBT and how often transpeople and our rights under the law are forgotten about, ignored, or proactively denied inclusion altogether, it's time to break out of that box and promote transpeople with specifically and exclusively trans identities.

It's time to own our identities and our labels. Yes, we are part of a greater movement and we should always strive to remember that, but we are also ourselves, with our own lives, our own culture, our own issues, and our own agenda.

If there's anything we've learned from HRC over the years, it's that assimilation simply doesn't work for us as a political strategy any better than it does for the Borg as a war plan, that there will always be a certain segment of the population that refuses to to accept LGBT's and more commonly transfolks, as part of modern America.

It's time for us to own this reality as African-Americans and Hispanics in this country did decades ago, and say the American public, as a community, "Yes, we're different, and there's nothing with being different.".

I agree - I never understood "legalize gay" either. I thought it was just a stupid way for American Apparel to make money off anger around Prop 8.

Why the asterisk? It just makes me look underneath the slogan for smaller text (like, exceptions?), and then I get confused when I don't find any.

It's meant to be an "insert any remaining portion of the word here" kind of symbol - as in, it can mean transgender, transexual, transsexual, transmasculine, transfeminine, or what have you. It's taken from the fact that using an asterisk after a word root in a lot of online search forms means you get all endings of the word (i.e. if I search for excit*, I would get excited, excitable, exciting, etc.). It's become pretty standard in the trans community, just as veg*n is fairly common in non-meat-eating communities to mean both vegetarians and vegans.

That whole ship sailed when you all embraced being gender made your third gendered beds, now lie in them. Those of us in the binary are street legal already despite your antics. Thanks to the DSM V revision that will be official policy of the psychiatric community as well.

Kathy Padilla | August 9, 2010 2:52 PM

It's the dream of every minority to be codified in a psychiatric manual. The soul of enfranchisement.

You do love your mis information campaigns don't you?

The DSM revision proclaims that fully transitioned women of history are cured of any psychological disorder they might have once they achieve mind/body congruence.....and those who embrace being transgenders are disordered... in a nutshell.

For years one of the ways TGs attacked women like myself was to hold up the therapy requirement of the SOC and the GID diagnosis to claim we were "crazy".......the worm turned. Even the organization that was established to aid transsexuals in their transitions changed it's name and policies to pathologize transgenders and leave actual transsexuals alone.....WPATH, formerly HBIGDA. You might care to read this presentation by a WPATH member on the subject.

Kathy Padilla | August 9, 2010 4:02 PM

I'm questioning your implication of civil rights coming from this. (street legality and your previous statements that the change in the DSM leads to coverage via the ADA)

1. If you're fully transitioned & cured - you don't have a disability.
2. If you're not yet fully transitioned and "cured" - the definition of disability requires an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

such as:

"It [the ADA] describes a disability as a condition which limits a person’s ability to function in major life activities – including communication, walking, and self-care (such as feeding and dressing oneself) – and which is likely to continue indefinitely, resulting in the need for supportive services."

I'm also obviously making fun of you for finding being listed in a psychiatric manual as something to take pride in. It may have useful features - but - it's not the least stigmatizing way to obtain them.

ADA coverage now...btw:
The ADA defines physical impairment as:

“Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.”

Yes, neurological is mentioned as a “physical impairment”. In a letter dating from 1994 to Senator John Kerry from James P. Turner, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division stated clearly that Gender Identity Disorder FROM a physical impairment is covered under the ADA. We have a legal opinion from the civil rights branch of the Attorney General’s office making our coverage clear.

And DSM V coverage when it's official. In the civil rights game the law is never consistent so you use what you have, but either you know that or you have cognitive dysfunctions that really should be looked into.

And you must be an idiot if you think I am "proud" of a major wrong being righted.

So other than being a TG troll, did you have a point?

BTW, I wrote the essay on the ADA coverage almost 2 years ago which predated the DSM V revision announcement by about a year....
here's the link to the original:

Kathy Padilla | August 9, 2010 4:54 PM

They have to be neurological impairments that rise to the activities of daily living standard - and you would also need to prove a physical cause for the impairment.

There have also been large limitations of the coverage afforded by the ADA since 1994.

Yes - everyone who disagrees with you is both TG and a troll.

"And you must be an idiot if you think I am "proud" of a major wrong being righted."

No - I'd think your being proud of a major wrong being righted was appropriate - and that such an opinion would have little to do with a persons' intelligence level.

From mental illness in the workplace re: coverage by the ADA for psychiatric conditions:

"Thus, it is critical that psychiatrists and psychologists who diagnose individuals with a particular mental disorder indicate the person’s specific functional impairment and not just describe mental disorders based upon the self-reporting of subjective distress. It is also important that the mental health evaluator indicate specific life and other job functions that are affected by a disorder and not merely provide general categories of functioning that are impaired."

two words
neurological intersexed....not psychiatric condition. What is your level of reading comprehension because I am giving up on giving you the benefit of the doubt.

read the essay and go back the the GLB-AGs

Kathy Padilla | August 9, 2010 6:33 PM

The DSM is listing it as a psychiatric diagnosis - regardless of how you wish to consider it. It doesn't matter regarding the ADA - you still need to meet the disability/impairment standards.

Not agreeing with you does not equal not understanding you. You're wrong on this.

And of course there's that cross-sexed neurology evidence from Gay Brain studies. Making them neurologicaly intersexed too no?

Which means there's a range of neurological Intersex Diversity. A Spectrum. A spectrum of gender diversity which includes sexual orientation and degrees of brain sex diversification which of course results in variations of sex identity and gender expression.

Science is fun :)

Patricia Harlow Patricia Harlow | August 9, 2010 6:27 PM

Way to jump in and bring a downer and all the good this campaign attempts to bring, Radical Bitch. I swear, every time you comment on anything trans related it's sour grapes. Clearly, Old School, meet New School. You have it oh so good, and oh so made, so stop raining your distaste on everyone else. Honestly, by your own arguments, why are you even commenting on trans anything if you are now cured and a 'total/real street legal' woman? I don't require an answer to that question, it was rhetorical. Go play in your own I-used-to-be-trans-but-now-I-distance-myself-from-that-group space, table for one.

Anyway, I just bought two of these shirts. One for my wife, one for me. I am a transsexual and see nothing wrong with that state of being.

I'd buy one. Want me to get one for you, Matt?

Radical Bitch, my third-gender, or accurately wide gender-spectrum, bed is big and comfy. I get acceptance from my local queer community. From the local women's group who practically demanded i attend the womens group dinner the other night. From my FtM Crossdresser partner's family. From the people in the shopping mall and the cinema and the amusemant park and everywhere else we went together in several states and several cities and several towns.

The science increasingly backs up my big comfy gender-spectrum bed and predicts the awesome comfyness of it.

And sure some few frown on my preferred style of bed but they are growing fewer and weaker by the day.

There must be something like a pack of frozen peas between the mattresses and mildew in the pillow of your bed though Radical Bitch as you seem loathe to lie in it but instead keep running over to mine trying to convince me that my nice warm comfy bed is somehow bad let alone worse than yours.

Meanwhile my Goth FtM Crossdresser partner and I will keep up our gender non-conformity and continue to gain increasing acceptance in the process. Smiling all the time. And no amount of words from you can touch our lived experience, no matter how much you want it to.