Gen Z’s Queer Icons Talk About Pride

Eliza Huber

This Pride month, which marks the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — when transgender people, gay people, and drag queens protested police brutality for six days after a violent raid at NYC’s Stonewall Inn — the queer community has once again found themselves on the frontlines, this time to protest for Black people and, more specifically, Black trans people who are still being targeted and killed at alarming rates.

In celebration of Pride, Calvin Klein launched a nine-part video series, directed and shot by American photographer Ryan McGinley, featuring rising stars in the community, each with a unique story to tell. The lineup includes Fenty model Ama Elsesser, Black transqueer model and actress Jari Jones, 13 Reasons Why star Tommy Dorfman, and “Only A Girl” singer Gia Woods, among others.

“I called my mom and dad one day and told them I am queer,” MaryV Benoit, a Brooklyn-based photographer known for exploring the queer existence in her work, told Refinery29. “They were both supportive and said whoever I am with just has to treat me with respect. I hope for a world in which my personal experience is no longer rare. If you are a parent, please, try to be as respectful and patient as you can be with your child.”

Non-binary model Ama Elsesser had a similar coming out experience at 13. “I was having an anxiety attack one day and just yelled, ‘Mom I’m gay, I’m gay, okay?’ and she responded, ‘That’s why you’re freaking out? It’s not a big deal, and I always knew that cause you’re so curious,’” they said in an interview. 

But not all have such positive experiences. 

“Coming from a strict Persian background, you can imagine that it wasn’t easy,” singer-songwriter Gia Woods told R29. “Both of my parents are from Iran, where you can still be beheaded for being gay. So growing up, I was very closeted and felt estranged from my own family a lot of my childhood. I thought that there was something wrong with me, so I just kept to myself a lot of the time.” According to her, music became her way out, a method of expression that eventually led her to embrace who she was. “I dropped my first ever single called ‘Only a Girl,’ which was how I came out to the whole world. It was terrifying, but I finally felt like I could breathe,” Woods said. 

“Know that heterosexuality isn’t the hierarchy and that being something other than what society deems as ‘regular’ is just as good, maybe even better.”

Jari Jones

For Jari Jones, the most important piece of advice she has to give to the younger generation is to “enjoy the exploration.” “Know that heterosexuality isn’t the hierarchy,” she added via email, and “that being something other than what society deems as ‘regular’ is just as good, maybe even better.” Tommy Dorfman, the 13 Reasons Why star who came out as non-binary last year after struggling with their own gender identity for most of their life, agrees. “There’s no rush. You can move as quickly or as slowly as you want,” they said in the campaign video.

“Don’t try to take yourself out of your feelings,” Elsesser added. “They are all valid and real.” 

The campaign also features Chella Man, a gender-queer artist and Benoit’s partner who is deaf and trans; Mina Gerges, a gay Egyptian model who was recently featured in a Sephora campaign; Pabllo Vittar, a popular drag queen; and bisexual model Reece King.  

In addition to the campaign, Calvin Klein is offering donations to LGBTQ+ organizations throughout the year, rather than just during Pride month. Earlier in 2020, the company partnered with OutRight Action International to provide emergency financial relief to LGBTQ+ nonprofits during the pandemic. This month, the brand is partnering with onePULSE Foundation, the organization established by the owner of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where the 2016 shooting took place. The donation will go toward building the National Pulse Memorial and Museum, as well as creating an endowment in the name of Frank Hernandez, the Calvin Klein store manager who died in the shooting. Throughout the year, the brand will also be working with Australian charity The Equality Project to aid in its goal of creating a world where diversity is celebrated, and all people are respected.

The Pride collection — which includes the brand’s iconic sports bra and brief sets with a rainbow twist, multicolored boxer briefs, denim, sweatshirts, and more — is available now.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

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