This week, American Apparel launched its "Make America Gay Again" and "Make America LGBT Again” campaigns.
The clothing retailer partnered with the Human Rights Campaign and The Ally Coalition for the collection, which features clothing and accessories with the above slogans, rainbow American flags, and more. Thirty percent of the proceeds from American Apparel sales go towards supporting LGBT causes.
Despite the campaign's admirable intentions, something about it has smelled wrong to many people. In the words of Fusion's Isha Aran, "It looks like American Apparel really Macklemored themselves on this one."
For one thing, the Antonoff siblings (Jack, of the band fun and dating Lena Dunham, and his designer sister Rachel) who head up the Ally Coalition are just that—straight allies—so it's odd that they're so central to the campaign. For another, the retailer made a crucial mistake in its "LGBTQ tote." As mentioned below, you'll see that "ally" is included where "asexual," or something else, should be:
When "A" is included in the list of letters that represent the spectrum of identity and sexuality—i.e. LGBTQIAP, which most define as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Pansexual— it generally stands for "asexual." Sometimes it stands for "aromantic," "agender," or all three. So when American Apparel put "/ally" instead of "/asexual" or something else on their bag, many saw it as the retailer erasing an identity.
Writer Nita Tydall explained on Twitter that in this case, swapping in "ally" for "asexual" isn't just a question of semantics. Instead, it's a way for a major corporation to privilege a mainstream identity, that of an ally, over an often marginalized group—in a space specifically reserved for giving a voice to the voiceless.
People rallied around the #GiveItBack hashtag, using it to echo Tyndall's message and to call out American Apparel.
American Apparel isn't the only gay-friendly group guilty of implying that "A" stands for "ally" in this context. Last year, GLAAD launched a #GotYourBack campaign to encourage straight allies to stand with their non-straight peers, and used the phrase "A is for ally" in promoting the movement. GLAAD was responsive to critics, who also used the #GiveItBack hashtag to call attention to the misstep. GLAAD quickly apologized, writing, "Let us say without equivocation, the 'A' in LGBTQIA represents millions of Asexual, Agender, and Aromantic people, who are far too often left out of the conversation about acceptance. It was never, ever our intention to suggest otherwise, and we apologize."
Your move, American Apparel.
On Thursday, American Apparel took to Twitter to post a comment in response to the #GiveItBack campaign.
"We heard you and we honor the full spectrum of sexual orientations, and gender identities including asexual, pansexual, omnisexual, agender, genderfluid, genderqueer and beyond," the retailer said, adding, "We strive to be inclusive in our language and merchandise, recognizing that there are so many identities to celebrate. We also believe in the power of allies to speak up when those around them may fear persecution or face stigma."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.