Ever heard someone try to disparage something by calling it gay? Well, the Gay Sweater Initiative is demonstrating the absolute absurdity of the insult by making "the world's first and only gay object."
Timed to Toronto Fashion Week, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity is debuting a sweater that is literally woven from the donated hair of over 100 LGBT adults.
"We were walking around school and people were like, 'that test is so gay and that homework's so gay and someone said that sweater's so gay,'" explains Jeremy Dias, who came up with the idea. "We thought, what would it take to make a sweater that's so gay to literalize the expression? Someone said being gay is just who you are, it's part of your being. That resonated with us."
Dias was discriminated against as a gay teen in northern Ontario and won a human rights lawsuit against his school board. He used the settlement to launch the anti-bullying organization Jer's Vision, recently renamed CCGSD ahead of its 10th anniversary, which holds educational events that reach a quarter-million students, teachers and parents annually.
Dias is no stranger to awareness campaigns, having started the International Day of Pink, which last year saw over 9 million people making a sartorial statement against bullying LGBT youth. But wearing pink is one thing, and wearing a hairshirt is another.
"When we first started it, it was weird and creepy and we thought nobody's going to donate to this," admits Dias. "And then when we started asking queer and trans people to donate their hair, they were like, 'hell yeah, take it.' That sense of oppression is woven into yourselves, into everything you are.
"Every single day I educate, I empower, I train, but art is different, art is unique," he adds. "With art, it's not me sharing my experience or research, it's your experience. You could be excited by it, you could be repulsed by it, or motivated by it or mystified by it. [The goal] is to spark a dialogue about homophobia and transphobia."
After Fashion Week, the sweater knitted by Brenna MacDonald and Amelia Lyon in Toronto, will be used as part of the organization's school workshops along with a short doc (see above) that's lighthearted while still bringing home why the unintentional insult is so harmful to their fellow LGBT students.
"I know the argument is, 'well, I don't mean it that way, like I just mean that it's stupid,'" says one of the hair donors. "Find a different way of saying that because gay is taken and it doesn't mean anything negative."
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