AA Strikes Again: “Legalize Gay” Shirts


While I've made my feelings about American Apparel clear in the past, they certainly are making themselves into a moving target. Picking up the slack left behind by Urban Outfitters, AA has introduced a Legalize Gay shirt to their stores (a riff off of their Legalize LA model). Does this have anything to do with their recent drama in San Francisco? And what do we think of the commercialization of activism?

For those of you who haven't heard, American Apparel just lost a major battle with local business owners and residents of San Francisco's Mission District. The San Francisco Planning Commission voted against granting the company the permit to retail space on Valencia Street, a move in line with many residents' desires to keep formula retail out of the neighborhood. While a Legalize Gay shirt is certainly timely for many major reasons beyond this fight in my hometown, it does seem like an olive branch of sorts when considering the city's obvious ties to the gay rights movement (and even further pop cultural relevance in the aftermath of Sean Penn's Oscar win for Milk).

But is this olive branch only a twisted up pair of $30 leggings in disguise? I'm personally suspicious of commercialism masked as activism, which is an already played out concept for AA. The idea that buying into capitalism (a system that feeds off of inequality) to fight inequality seems a little backwards. Additionally, "consumption activism" strikes me as just an easy way out. If I buy this sweatshop-free tee that is ALSO in support of same-sex marriage, I'm covering all my bases, right?

While I definitely love an equal rights for all message, it is a little hard to swallow when coming from an anti-union, pro-female humiliation and exploitation company such as AA. Maybe I'm a little overly cynical, but I have to imagine that this design is from a money making perspective primarily. While I do not doubt that many employees of the company are in support of repealing Prop 8, I can't believe that American Apparel would introduce any kind of clothing or accessory without the wondering "will this sell?"

What do you all think? Step in the right direction? Smart money-making move?


by Annalee Schafranek
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15 Comments Have Been Posted

I know very little

...about the whole American Apparel thing. What can I say, I haven't followed it much. But I'm torn: generally, as with the Facebook advocacy/activistish groups, I would condemn armchair activism. But sometimes, some of us want to speak out and don't know how to do it effectively. Or don't want to get too involved but want to say a little something, with or without words. This shirt is almost like a mini-protest if, say, a thousand people bought it and wore them all at once and went about their day. It's getting out that you, and lots of other folks, want gay marriage or gay anything to be legalized and accepted. Why is that bad? Why is standing in a group with big signs and yelling and being aggressive only considered activism (that's the kind we see in the media)? Why can't there be a less subtle approach, like this one? Yes, it's buying into capitalism and fake philanthropy (buy this shirt or this ribbon or this sticker to help charity or poor kids; it's a load of crap). Maybe if some other company had put out the shirt? Would that make it any less unworthy of our attention? Maybe American Apparel does have good intentions, despite the reputation they've got. Sometimes 'selling out' isn't always a bad thing, especially when you're getting an idea out to more people, perhaps to people that don't have a way to express their beliefs. To people that want to say something but either don't know how or don't want to get too deeply involved. What's wrong with fringe activism?

Obviously I agree that if

Obviously I agree that if American Apparel didn't think these shirts would be profitable they wouldn't be selling them. I'm far more likely to make my own shirt than to buy this, but it's nice to know that the money is going for a good cause.

I agree that activism does not always have to be the protesting and banner-waving, which I think in some ways creates a hierarchy of it's own, favoring aggressive outspoken people. There is a million ways to be an activist. I think that the "fringe/armchair activism" is not always a bad thing. To make a statement on facebook saying "I support this cause" is often not just saying it to your friends, but nowadays your family and coworkers as well (I am friends with my grandma on facebook!) .

I'm just thinking about what would happen if I wore this t shirt to work (and I work in a large relatively conservative law firm). Would it change the way people treat me? Would it change how they act or spoke around me? Of course it would.

Do I think a facebook group or a t shirt is going to incite radical change? No, we still need to get off our asses to do things of course. But it might change the conversations we have with people, and that too is important.


What is most interesting to me about the <i>Legalize Gay</i> shirts is their apparently 'for-profit' nature; according to American Apparel's website, &quot;<a href="http://store.americanapparel.net/2001law.html">100% of net proceeds [from the <i>Legalize LA</i> shirts] will go to Los Angelos-based immigrant rights groups</a>.&quot;<b> </b>However, so far as I can tell, there isn't a comparable philanthropic destination for the net proceeds of the <i>Legalize Gay</i> shirts.  Even though the <i>Legalize LA</i> shirts were obvious marketing tools for AA and they were definitely commercializing activism, I felt somewhat ok with it because at least Dov wasn't making bank off of them AND the money was going somewhere useful.  While I'm totally down with the message of the <i>Legalize Gay</i> shirts, the fact that the proceeds appear to be going solely to AA is pretty cringe-worthy.

Legalize Gay

It's just one of those things.

Perhaps Dov Charney had nothing to do with this and it was the project of people at the company who honestly felt like they could use this as a way to get the message out. The problem is, American Apparal has used up any credit they may have built up with social issues (fair pay to workers in LA) by negating it all with ridiculous publicity stunts and comments made by the founder. It's gonna take more than something like this to trust that the company has good/honest intentions.


But, Mr. Holiday, the company you work for is still anti-union, sexist, and racist (the "Africa" line and related advertisements have been lambasted by activists and/or people of color for its ridiculous generalizations of African or African-American people, as well as for the cultural appropriation of what American Apparel supposes is representative of African culture). Some of the people who work at American Apparel may be in favor of immigrant rights and GLBT rights, but they certainly aren't in favor of workers' rights, women's rights, cultural sensitivity, and the basic courtesy and respect for an entire group of people that accompanies any one of those issues.

Why would we, as consumers and decent folks, want to support a company that behaves toward its immigrant and women employees and people of color as American Apparel does? Obviously, there are plenty of other clothing companies whose policies or advertisements are equally damaging and disrespectful; still, that's no excuse. The difference between American Apparel's adopted causes and American Apparel's actual treatment of its workers and others proves that the company is not conscientious.

With all due respect Mr.

With all due respect Mr. Holiday, fuck you and the shitty company you rode in on.


Agree with the comment above.

where was the last place you

where was the last place you bought new clothes?

I buy fair trade or

I buy fair trade or second-hand.

I understand that my comment could have been hypocritical if I bought from other companies that exploit their workers. It's important to walk your talk. Fortunately, the options for people who want to buy fair trade, organic, socially-conscious, nice second-hand clothes, etc. are growing.

I'm not following. I buy AA

I'm not following. I buy AA because I like the clothes and their social programs.

They're not in favor of workers' rights though they have the best wages and benefits of any other clothing maker in the country and maybe even the world? You're also saying that they're disrespectful towards people of color and immigrant rights though they're routinely lauded by everyone for their stances? I thought the Africa line was stupid in name, but I don't remember much scrutiny over it. What activists were pissed off? I know I would have heard of Jesse Jackson or the NAACP complaining about a company that I like.

Racialicious called the

Racialicious called the blatant racial insensitivity of the ad they discuss in this blog post...: http://www.racialicious.com/2007/08/17/american-apparel-trumpets-blackfa...
(One commenter calls it "auction block chic", while others note that while the model may actually be African-American and her skin may actually be that dark, her painted lips and manner of dress are reminiscent of the "mammy" stereotype or a person in blackface (and African-Americans often entertained in "blackface" and painted themselves darker to fit a stereotype, as well), which is deeply racist in its history and political implications. See comment #6 of the comment thread in this blog post.)
...and also the appropriation, cultural insensitivity, and general ignorance in this blog post:

Also see this article, which pretty succinctly explains the issues of appropriation, misinterpretation, and resulting disrespect:

In my research, AA certainly does NOT have the best wages/benefits. Certified fair trade companies and co-ops have the best wages and benefits. There are lots of fair trade and/or more environmentally-friendly alternatives to AA, and these are just a few:
1. Global Girlfriend (Their clothes are so comfy!! Be sure to read about the women who make the clothing - it's all fair trade):
2. Global Exchange:
3. No Sweat Apparel:
4. Patagonia (more expensive but more durable - their philosophy is that clothing should last in order to be more eco-friendly, they work with some organic cotton, working on fair trade, implement eco-friendly practices in their clothing production):
5. Rawganique:
6. Jungmaven (hemp clothes):
7. Maggie's Organics:

a tricky fit...

I find this sort of issue to be particularly troublesome; I don't believe one can easily delineate a yes/good/empowering vs. no/bad/exploitative answer. On the one hand, as exhausting as I find the perfumed aura of the fashion world and the idea of thousands of identically clad people marching around with this month's flavored lattes, I'd be pretty damn pleased, at least initially, to see a catwalk or a sidewalk full of "Legalize Gay" slogans. The more popular the message the better, right?
Of course - and before this article, I knew nothing about American Apparel, so pardon any blatant errors - the entire issue of the product's source, background, effects, and ultimate purpose becomes a prickly one. I don't advocate a world of "armchair activism" - but I don't quiet condemn it, either. What I find dangerous is the tendency or the encouragement towards this sort of passive demonstration alone; it's good, but not enough. At worst, it renders civil rights a trendy way to display one's identity - i.e. "Check me out! I'm socially conscious."
But at the very least it can proffer a sense of solidarity, in this case a visible one, but ultimately one questions the extent to which it can bring about real change. It's a start, but in order to truly transform things on an effective scale there needs to be more: protests and rallies, lobbying, journalism, art, writing, the list goes on and on... as well as real thought and understanding of what the situation of homosexual civil rights or any other cause really means. Perhaps that's something AA can foster: local discussion groups? press releases? demonstrations? One hopes there's a 100%-of-profits-go-to-activism policy here, but I'm not certain at this point. In the end, yep, they're a business with their own priorities, and I don't doubt money and marketing are the motivators here.
But that doesn't need to be the whole story. I abhor the tacit philosophy that purchase and consumerism are the sole modes of expression, power, fulfillment, or unity available to the citizen, but I'd like to think that maybe - and my paltry knowledge of business are hardly sufficient to generate the practicalities - there could be some way to transform the market itself. But I'm not so sure AA has reached or is moving towards this point...

It's very hard not to be

It's very hard not to be cynical about AA. Although it’s fairly common for corporations to advocate for certain issues, this usually happens through the charitable work of a foundation created by the company, which acts somewhat separately. In a moment of personal contradiction, within the same week I found myself reading about sexism in Burger King's recent ads on Bitch, and later looking into the Burger King "Have it Your Way" Foundation as a potential funder for work. Strange world.

At any rate, it's hard not to believe that ultimately AA is trying to build an affinity brand. I have to assume that AA is into gay right's and wage issues because I'm into wage issues and gay rights. That is to say that, if the majority of 25-35 year olds hipsters were pro-elder abuse and snuff porn, AA would be on the forefront of these issues. Maybe that's a hyperbolic example, but you know what I'm gettin' at.

I think there is a discontinuity in AA's messages and this simply isn't due to the likely contradiction between business profit and philanthropy. I think (as most of us are pointing out) it's because AA cherry picks "sexy" issues. This is not philanthropy or advocacy, it's marketing.



Thanks for the post. I might

Thanks for the post. I might say that when I have some free space in my schedule I do like to kill the time surfing through the web pages and staring at different kind of t-shirts. I select the most interesting examples and I'm glad to share some of them with you:
<img src="http://www.overtherainbowshop.com/tsthink.jpg">
<img src="http://images3.cafepress.com/product/57047613v8_480x480_Front.jpg">
<img src="http://images7.cafepress.com/product/63748237v9_480x480_Front.jpg">
<img src="http://media.threadless.com/product/896/view1.jpg">

P.S. I'm not a gay, but I'm really tired of homophobes.

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