LGBTQIA+ representation is fundamental, especially during Pride Month, as it can have a powerful impact in terms of influencing ideas and attitudes towards the community. While putting queer and trans people at the forefront is one way of championing the many voices of the community, it is also crucial for those same voices to be celebrated—not only for who they are today, but for the journey they embarked upon to express their identity.
That’s the exact message Calvin Klein is amplifying this Pride 2021 through a continuation of its renowned #ProudInMyCalvins campaign, which lets you learn from some of the biggest influences of today’s LGBTQIA+ community as they look back on the transformative events that shaped their lives.
Over the years, Calvin Klein has put great effort into championing the LGBTQIA+ community and advocating for its rights. Unlike other brands who have been called out for only doing so once June’s Pride Month comes along, Calvin Klein is known to partner with multiple non-profit organisations in support of LGBTQIA+ advocacy, equality, and safety—not for one month, but throughout the year.
This year, the brand has rounded up an impressive cast of LGBTQIA+ talents—both on-camera and behind the scenes—to bring their stories to the world, celebrating the defining moments of each of their personal journeys. Calvin Klein worked with acclaimed LGBTQIA+ photographers Gorka Postigo Breedveld, Matt Lamb, Ryan McGinley, Campbell Addy, Collier Schorr and Vivi Bacco who in turn captured eight queer and trans cultural leaders in a video series reflecting on the pivotal moments in their lives.
While each of the cast stands out for their highly individual background and rare talent, they are all united in their shared passion for—and impact on—the LGBTQIA+ community. These include Venezuelan musician Arca, electronic musician Honey Dijon, spoken word poet and activist Kai Isaiah-Jamal, singer-songwriter King Princess, actor and singer Isaac Cole Powell, make-up artist Raisa Flowers, visual artist Samuel de Saboia and Elite star Omar Ayuso.
Venezuelan, Barcelona-based musician, singer, composer, record producer, and DJ Arca has released four studio albums and has contributed production work to artists such as Björk, Kanye West, FKA twigs, Kelela, and Frank Ocean. Arca came out as non-binary in 2018, later adding that she identifies as a trans woman, and goes by the pronouns she/her.
In 2020, in an interview for i-D, she stated, “I see my gender identity as non-binary, and I identify as a trans Latina woman, and yet, I don’t want to encourage anyone to think that my gayness has been banished. And when I talk about gayness, it’s funny because I’m not thinking about who I’m attracted to. It’s a form of cultural production that is individual and collective, which I don’t ever want to renounce.”
In Calvin Klein’s new #ProudInMyCalvins campaign, Arca shares the story of the first time she gave herself permission to cruise—meaning: to visit a place in search of a sexual partner.
“Something about the magnetism in the air that day made it possible for me to have the courage to come up to him. In that moment of connection, I felt a vitality. I felt free of doubt and elated.”
Honey Dijon has been a vocal advocate for trans rights and awareness, speaking from her experience as a black trans woman DJ in dance music. Referring to a moment in “1990-something,” she speaks about a time where she went out with a friend in New York and met another trans woman: “She saw me and said to me, ‘you belong in a skirt’ and it was the first time in my life that someone had seen me before I saw myself. I felt light, happy, I felt warm, loved, seen and accepted.”
In their video for Calvin Klein, titled The Moment: transition 2.0, poet, activist and model Kai Isaiah-Jamal shares about their experience as a trans person of colour.
“I’ll never forget it. I call it my transition 2.0. Being able to step back into femininity and celebrate that glory…where once those things would have been really triggering. I felt weightless and free.”
The singer, songwriter and producer from Brooklyn, New York, quickly rose to fame after her debut single ‘1950’, released in 2018. It was through her mother, who worked in fashion, that she first found her LGBTQIA+ family. For King Princess—real name Mikaela Straus—the moment she shed light on was when she first felt lucky to be gay, “I started to realise that I was part of this tapestry of queer people that have made really powerful, moving work. When I realised that, everything made sense.”
Similar to Arca, Isaac Cole Powell had his moment through a personal encounter. Powell’s happened in 2010, when he found himself alone with someone he was very attracted to. “I kept waiting for him to do it,” he says. “My hand just crept down my thigh, waiting for it to brush up against him. And then it finally did, and it was like electricity. My whole body was flashing colours.”
“I just knew there was no going back from that feeling, I was forever changed in that moment because I finally knew what it felt like to touch another boy.”
Beyond her impeccable make-up looks, Raisa Flowers is also a fierce advocate for representation of all types in the fashion industry. “She’s been vocal about the pushback she’s received as a plus-size, black and queer makeup artist and works hard to ensure inclusivity for all types of bodies and faces,” writes Elle.
In her #ProudInMyCalvins video, titled The Moment: I Didn’t Care, Flowers explains how she learned to channel her inner-power through teenage rebellion after shaving her head while attending Catholic school. “My principal was like, ‘We need to watch her because she’s going to be wild’,” she recalls. “I felt like a badass.”
Calvin Klein also travelled to Brazil to link up with bisexual Afro-Indigenous Brazilian artist Samuel de Saboia. Sharing his own defining moment, de Saboia recalls, “I never kissed a guy till that moment. Heart pumping. Like, I could literally see my chest just moving.”
“My parents are preachers. So, once I got back home at the end of the day, my parents already had a photo of me kissing this guy. I just felt so hurt by the idea that someone would look at another person and feel entitled to change and mess up their whole life. Within one week, I packed my bags and went to São Paulo. And everything started,” adds de Saboia.
Spanish actor Omar Ayuso, best known for his role as Omar Shanaa on the Netflix series Elite, felt affirmed simply by admitting who he truly was to both himself and to the people around him. In his video, Ayuso admits how scared he was when he first came out to his mother in 2013, “I came out of the closet when I was 15. And to begin with, I told a couple of female friends, but what I remember was when I told my mother. I thought she would be shocked and make some big scene or get really mad… Not at all, quite the opposite.”
“When I could finally be who I was and had nothing to hide, which I can tell you was only in part because I still find it hard today, I felt calm and at peace because you’re no longer living with the fear or anguish that people around you will reject you.”
They say ‘life is about the journey, not the destination,’ and although it would be naive to undermine the freedom that comes with embracing who you always knew yourself to be, in order to truly learn from each other’s experiences, it is also necessary for us to look back on the events that led up to this precise moment.
Along with uplifting the vibrant members of the queer community by celebrating those transformative moments of queer affirmation, Calvin Klein has also reimagined some of its iconic styles in fun Pride-appropriate colourways for its Pride 2021 capsule collection—from Calvin Klein Underwear staples like bralettes and jockstraps and Calvin Klein Jeans pieces like trucker jackets and cropped vests to accessories like bags, hats, and eyewear.
Because the brand knows that actions speak louder than words, it has also announced a two-year partnership with The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning young people. Through this partnership, Calvin Klein will use its platform to increase the knowledge of The Trevor Project’s essential 24/7 crisis services and other mental health resources to help promote wider inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community.
In addition, the brand supports ILGA World’s work as the global voice for the LGBTQIA+ rights of those who face discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and/or sex characteristics.
Learn more about the campaign and shop Calvin Klein’s Pride 2021 collection here.
Isaac Cole Powell
Samuel de Saboia
“I have enough problems going around the world [as a trans person] without literal buildings constantly telling me, ‘Hey, hey, I think you’re a dude’,” Os Keyes, a gender and technology researcher based at the University of Washington told Screen Shot. Keyes was referring to the growing trend of governments and companies deploying automated recognition of gender and sexual orientation in order to identify citizens and consumers in a wide variety of spaces, from airport terminals, retail stores and billboards to social media platforms and mobile applications.
This software, which attempts to classify people as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ based on their facial features, the way they sound and the manner in which they move, places those whose gender doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth at great risk of further marginalisation, exclusion and discrimination. Harnessing the rising ubiquity of AI systems, automated gender recognition technology also threatens to reinforce outdated social taboos and stereotypes surrounding gender and effectively erase anything existing outside of the crudest binary perception of ‘male’ and ‘female’.
As the EU embarks on a legislative process of regulating the use of AI within the Union, a joint campaign launched by All Out, Access Now, Reclaim Your Face and Os Keyes is calling on the EU to include an explicit ban on automated gender and sexual orientation recognition in the bill.
On 21 April, the EU Commission—the executive branch of the EU—delivered its proposal for a legal framework to regulate AI. While it did highlight the inherent risks of some AI applications, the Commission did not go as far as prohibiting the deployment of automated gender recognition. The joint campaign to ban the technology, which so far has gained over 24,000 signatures, will now place its focus on the EU Parliament and Council, which are slated to continue working on the AI regulation bill.
The campaign originally stemmed from Keyes’ research about gender recognition systems and their impact on trans and nonbinary people. “I was prompted to study these gender recognition algorithms by having to see them used in my own discipline […] seeing people use it for research purposes and as a consequence producing research that cut out people who these systems cannot recognise,” Keyes told Screen Shot. “As I got in further,” they added, “I got to see more examples of it being used and deployed in the real world and a lot of people talking about deploying it further in situations that seem very, very dangerous for trans and gender non-conforming people.”
Keyes’ research was then referenced in the EU’s five-year LGBTI strategy, in a passage pointing out the danger in deploying automated gender recognition.
When Yuri Guaiana, senior campaign manager at All Out—an international LGBTQI advocacy organisation—came across Keyes’ quote in the EU’s LGBTI strategy he became fascinated with the topic and upon further research had launched a campaign to pressure the EU to ban automated gender and sexual orientation recognition. To that end, All Out joined forces with Access Now, an NGO advocating for a human rights-based regulation of AI, and Reclaim Your Face, a citizen initiative to ban biometric mass surveillance in the EU. They also got the endorsement of Keyes, who signed the letter submitted to the EU Commission along with the petition.
Speaking to Screen Shot, Keyes mentioned various existing applications of automated gender and sexual orientation recognition and highlighted some of the risks this technology poses for trans and gender non-conforming people.
One of the examples they referenced was a campaign by the Berlin Metro on International Women’s Day 2019, where women could pay 21 per cent less than men for a ticket. In order to authenticate a rider’s gender, automated gender recognition software was embedded in ticketing machines; those who failed to be recognised as female by the system were instructed to seek help from a service person at the station.
Keyes has pointed out two main issues in this case: “the first is the fact that you are being told ‘no you do not fit’,” they said. “The second is this idea of ‘well you can just go talk to an employee and they’ll work it out for you’,” they added. “Queer and trans people do not have the best experiences going to officials going ‘hey, just to let you know, I don’t fit, and I’m not meant to be here, and can you please fix this’. And when we think about the proposed deployments in places like bathrooms, you can see pretty clearly how that could get a lot more harmful and difficult.”
Keyes also mentioned the growing use of this technology in advertising, including on physical billboards that curate ads based on the perceived gender of the person walking past it: cars for men, dresses for women, and so on. Keyes pointed out that beyond the harm this application of automated gender recognition could cause trans and non-binary people, it also circulates incredibly negative and limiting social messages pertaining to gender: “This is what you’re allowed to do with gender, this is who you can be, this is what you can buy,” they said. Yuri Guaiana of All Out seconds this analysis. “How are you assuming that just because of your gender you are interested in certain products?” he said, highlighting that “interests are more important than gender in consumer behaviour.”
But Keyes emphasised the particular trauma this type of advertising can inflict on trans and gender non-conforming people. To them, the high potential of such advertising tools to misgender people who do not ‘fall neatly’ into either gender category and its implied message that they simply do not fit embody a blatant manifestation of transphobia. “What [transphobia] actually looks like is lots of small interactions […] it’s a death of a thousand cuts.” Keyes said. “And this is something I think anyone who is trans experiences on a day-to-day basis, like the constant small harms.”
Another application of the technology, which Keyes maintains is rarer but certainly existent, is in passport biometrics and various authentication systems. In this type of deployment, automated gender recognition is used to try and reduce the number of face images the given machine has to sort through in order to confirm the person’s identity. “The problem with this is if it gets it wrong, one way or the other, then what you get is the system concluding that this person does not appear in the database even though they do, and […] someone [could be] locked out of the system for being gender non-conforming,” Keyes said, adding that the secrecy with which this technology is shrouded and the lack of transparency regarding where, when and how it is being deployed amplifies its risk.
“We know that everyone is talking about doing it, and they most certainly are, but we can’t tell where and we can’t tell which discriminatory outcomes are caused by this,” they said, referencing a case where a trans woman’s identity could not be verified by Uber’s algorithm. “That could look a hell of a lot worse if we were talking about places like, again, biometrics, border control, passport security systems; places where you have much fewer rights or abilities to appeal if you can’t even work out what the system is not recognising about you in the first place […] and where the consequences of forced interactions with officials can be much more strenuous.”
Delineating the broader harm automated gender and sexual orientation recognition can inflict, Guaiana of All Out mentioned that the use of this technology could prove life-threatening in countries where being LGBTQI is illegal. “If they are using [automated gender and sexual orientation recognition] in places where being gay is illegal, and they can predict with a huge margin of being wrong that somebody rallying against something or walking in the street is gay—that can have very serious consequences,” Guaiana said. “This technology is used by government agents, but also private companies. It is censorship. Because in certain countries […] they could start surveilling people just because they predicted they are LGBTI.”
After reading over the EU Commission’s proposal last week, Guaiana, as well as other members of the campaign, noted that despite listing some applications of AI that should be prohibited, the Commission did not go as far as it should have in calling for a ban on harmful AI technologies that violate fundamental rights. “There is no explicit—or implicit, for that matter—ban on automatic recognition of gender and sexual orientation. For us, of course, this needs improvement,” Guaiana told Screen Shot.
But All Out and its partners are far from discouraged. “Of course we would have preferred very much for the Commission to put [the ban] in the initial draft,” said Guaiana, “but I think it’s going to be a lengthy legislative process, [and] it’s still a good starting point […] There is still room to grow the campaign, keep the pressure up, and finally win this battle.”
Once more signatures are gathered and the legislative agenda and timeline of the EU Parliament and Council become known, the campaign to ban automated recognition of gender and sexual orientation will direct its resources at the Union’s representatives, recognising that they have the authority to amend the Commission’s recommendation and introduce the ban into the bill.
Guaiana and the other organisers of the campaign all believe that a ban on this particular type of technology in the EU could possibly have a global ripple effect, as did the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) back in 2016. Such a prohibition, says Guaiana, could “Help forbid the EU not only from implementing this technology within the EU, but also from exporting it […] and therefore that can help slow down the spread of this technology around the world.”
As we tackle the behemoth that is the tech industry, and as we try to regulate the application of various AI technologies and their deployment by both governments and companies, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of their seemingly inexorable force. Keyes, however, offers a slightly more optimistic—though pragmatist, as they define it—take on the issue. “I happen to believe that people thinking they can’t interfere [with technological development] is why interfering hasn’t worked thus far,” they said, “and there are a lot of examples that we don’t necessarily think about of technologies being banned in ways that did seriously derail things. Like, I’m a trans person, do you know how shitty trans healthcare is partly because nobody bothered doing any research because of the social taboos behind it?”
“We think of them as bad examples, but in a weird way they actually demonstrate that we can intervene in technological development; we can slow things down and we can redirect things,” they said, adding that our objective shouldn’t only be to root out the already existing technologies that prove harmful, but challenge the very way we approach, research and develop technology in the first place. “I think it’s possible,” they finally said, “because, well, if changing how people do things isn’t possible then the technology industry isn’t shit, because that’s what they claim they’ve been doing this whole time. Like, you’re telling me that your app can disrupt society beyond recognition, but also your software developers’ workflow is immutable and cannot be changed? One of those two things is false.”