American Apparel isn’t the hero LGBTQ wants, but it’s the one it needs

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Photo Courtesy of Jasper Gregory

Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel has never been one to let a sexy trend pass him by. He was all over ’70s-style porn before everyone else caught on, and, today, Charney, the Montreal-born, Los Angeles-based CEO is all about LGBTQ. (Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer.)

Recently his company posted a casting call on Instagram for “Transexy!“, inviting transgenders and transsexuals – 16-years or older – to show up at AA’s Chelsea location in New York for a look-see. The possibility of landing a modeling contract was put on the table.

Some question whether Charney is really the guy the LGBTQ’s need to help break down social barriers. I mean he’s the same person who’s been known to walk around the office in his underwear; who regularly fends off sexual harassment claims; who calls women “sluts”; whose ads are frequently pulled by authorities because of their sexually explicit nature; and whose company auditors fired themselves.

So far, so raunchy.

So, okay, he’s a bad boy. But why shouldn’t Charney be leading the charge? I don’t see anyone else stepping up. Yes, he’s a mass of contradictions (who isn’t?), but alongside the sleaze factor is also a powerful leader for social change.

Long before Obama made it an issue, Charney was at the forefront of the pro-labour movement focusing attention of decent pay and benefits for workers. He put a spotlight on the scourge of sweatshops, (fashion’s dirty little secret), with his anti-sweatshop campaign and has continued to fight to legitimize undocumented workers in the United States. How many successful retailers here in Canada or in the U.S. can you name that have taken on the plight of the workers who have made them rich? Yeah, me neither. American Apparel underwrites activist groups called Legalize LA and Legalize Gay that fight on behalf of workers, and the LGBTQ community.

When allegations swirled that AA discriminates in their hiring practices, allegedly giving jobs to young women of specific ethnicities, the company’s website listed Charney’s phone number and email address, inviting anyone to contact him to discuss the matter directly.

It’s easy to dismiss Charney for all his “letting it all hang out there-ness”, but this is a guy who runs a powerhouse manufacturing and retailing company valued at over $600 million. That’s a pretty big bullhorn, whether he’s championing worker rights or transgender rights. He’s a sharp businessman who just happens to also happens to have a strong social conscience. These traits don’t often appear together, but they seem to cohabit happily in Charney.

Now back to those skeezy ads. Whether the model is a 16-year old nymphette from Pasadena or a transgender from Baltimore–beauty is beauty. If AA can help us get past the artificial divisions we create about who gets to be “sexy” in our society, then I’m all for it. Transexies step up. Next: chubby oldsters!

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