Update 1/12/16: Upon Qwear publishing this article, The Telegraph removed dapperQ from their article without any editor's note. View an archived PDF of the article below.
The Telegraph's recent article, "Meet the amazing LGBT women who defined 2015," makes me second guess the progress we've made in honoring POC contributions to the queer community. The minute I saw the cover image, I knew what I was in for:
This says to me, "Welcome to another article about white people."
I was hoping that the successful boycott of the Stonewall movie would help raise awareness that the LGBTQ rights we have today are largely due to the work of queer people of color, despite white media's insistence on rewriting stories to center around white people. (The filmmaker replaced the trans women of color who lead the Stonewall Riots with a cis white male lead. Luckily, we all boycotted it and they didn't make a cent.)
As I scrolled down the page, I thought, come on, it's 2016. Even the most ignorant white people would think to include at least one person of color in an article. Right? Nope! The article really lives up to the cover image. Every single image is a white face. It gives me disturbing flashbacks to the week I spent in South Carolina, playing music for white country clubs, where my jewishness hid behind my white skin and the only POC in the room was a Black server.
What's more, The Telegraph replaced a woman of color, Anita Dolce Vita of dapperQ and credited her work to a white woman, Susan Herr. When it comes to issues within our community, I like to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they weren't up-to-date on dapperQ's whereabouts, or the fact that though Susan Herr founded dapperQ in 2009, she has been increasingly absent from the site's operations since 2011, when Dolce Vita became Editor-in-chief. In 2015, Susan Herr published a total of two articles on dapperQ.
Dolce Vita tweeted at them to correct their error, but to no avail. The Telegraph stands by their decision to keep Susan Herr up as the person responsible for dapperQ in 2015. Remember all those VERGE fashion shows that took months to produce and made headlines in nearly every LGBTQ publication? Yeah, that was all Dolce Vita. Herr didn't even attend the shows.
The other problem with attributing dapperQ's success to a white person is that their success is largely due to Dolce Vita's biracial identity. I spoke with our Fashion Director Ru who is also biracial to speak on this. She says, "Being biracial allows us to identify with two different races and cultural experiences which allows us to incorportate the experiences of people of color, otherwise not voiced within mainstream white fashion." This is crucial because until Dolce Vita took charge of dapperQ, mainstream LGBT fashion coverage has been largely white. When looking at its history, Dolce Vita plays a major role in raising POC voices in queer fashion.
I reached out to Dolce Vita for comment, who is generally very humble about her work, but knows when its time to speak up for justice. "To be clear, I do not need to have all of my work validated in public. However, when my work is wrongfully attributed to a white person, it is part of an ongoing, disturbing trend of the erasure of POC from history, which is an act of psychological violence that perpetuates racism and oppression. From Stonewall to #BlackLivesMatter, POC leaders have been denied their rightful place in the LGBTQ historical archives. I can no longer stand for this. Speaking up to ensure that this doesn't happen to me empowers others to do the same and sets a precedence with others who are in the position of documenting our rich history to document it accurately."
I also asked Dolce Vita to clarify exactly what was Herr's role in dapperQ. She said, "Susan Herr founded dapperQ in 2009, but became increasingly absent from its operations starting in 2011, verbally handed URL over to me in 2012, and legally handed the URL over to me in 2015. I own the Trademark to the dapperQ name. Herr did not produce a single one of the last five multi-brand fashion shows for which we have received world-wide acclaim. Herr has not been involved in recruiting and training brand ambassadors, financing our events and web support, or authoring proposals that have secured designers, models, and activists access to display their work at major cultural institutions. I ask, then, other than the color of her skin, what earned Herr praise as the leader of dapperQ, particularly in 2015?"
Even for the white people who have done amazing work, none of their efforts would have been possible without people of color. People of color are often on the front lines of LGBTQ movements, giving their lives to improve the safety for all of us. And, it's the labor of people of color from the past and present that keeps white society wealthy, that allows white people who are doing good activism the resources to carry through their success. To not acknowledge any people of color but to honor the people at the top who benefited off so much of their labor is not only dishonest, but wrong. It is the opposite of what feminism stands for.
There are so many people of color who did amazing work in the last year. I say "people," because I am focusing on the work of women, but I don't see a need to box people in. Some people are non binary, genderqueer, or don't label themselves as women who deserve to be included in this list. Here are just a few of the MANY people of color who did amazing work for the LGBT community in the past year.
Laverne Cox, 2015 Time 100 Most Influential People List, actress and LGBT advocate who frequently speaks out against the injustices to trans women of color.
Taja DeJesus, one of est. 22 reported American trans women murdered in 2015, who gave her life to the community through openly volunteering with Trans Thrive.
Angelica Ross, Executive Director and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprise, a training academy and apprenticeship program that aims to empower, educate and employ the trans community through the use of technology while promoting innovation, independence and entrepreneurship.
Shiona Heru, trans health law advocate who recently co-authored a study proving that the U.S. can provide trans-inclusive health care for 1.6 cents/per month.
Anita Dolce Vita, owner of dapperQ and mastermind behind and Executive Producer of historic (un)Heeled event at Brooklyn Museum, one of the world's largest queer fashion shows.
Monica Roberts, winner of 2015 Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award
Kim Katrin Milan, co-founder and current Executive Director of The People Project, a movement of queer and trans folks of color and allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, art activism and collaboration.
Alok Vaid-Menon, trans femme south asian writer, performance artist, and community organizer working with The Audre LordeProject and touring with DarkMatter, a trans South Asianart collaboration.
Bamby Salcedo, founder and president of the Trans-Latin@ Coalition who has brought voice and to the trans community as well as intersecting issues including migration, HIV, youth, LGBT, incarceration and Latina communities.
Charlene Carruthers, National director of the Black Youth Project 100 with many awards including “Movement Builder Award” by the United States Students Association
Janet Mock, TV host, writer and activist consistantly speaking on behalf of the trans women of color community
The best we can do when we see injustices such as The Telegraph article is work even harder to highlight the contributions made to the queer community by people of color. I plan to continue holding conversations with other white people so that we can challenge each other on how to fight racial oppression. We are never done learning and growing, and it is all of our responsibility to counter racial injustice.
For further informative and inspirational reading, I highly recommend Janet Mock's blog.
Cover image by Lauren Soleil-Downer
As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.