THE JOURNEY TO INDUSTRY ACCEPTANCE
Sudanese supermodel Aweng Ade-Chuol’s brazen love for her wife Alexus Ade-Chuol has created a remarkable cover for the January 2021 issue of Elle UK. In grand defiance of the vicious homophobia that has challenged their marriage, the Ade-Chuol couple has awed readers with their passionate kiss.. More significantly, this depiction of sapphic affection in a major publication signals the fashion industry’s increasingly positive attitudes towards LGBTQ+ models.
Breaking Down Barriers
Decades prior to the publication of this cover, hiring an openly queer model was unthinkable, as evidenced by the abrupt derailment of Tracey “Africa” Norman’s once-thriving career when she was outed as a trans woman. In 2016, thirty years after being disowned by the fashion industry, Norman was welcomed back into the modeling field after it had transformed into a far more inclusive environment for models. Queer models of the past, such as Norman, have overcome longstanding discrimination, and paved the way for contemporaries like Aweng and Alexus Ade-Chuol to freely express their love.
The Rise of Queer Models
LGBTQ+ models have been embraced by many distinguished brands, such as Dior and Gucci. Queer models have been the centerpieces of various campaigns, gracing billboards and magazine covers draped in haute couture. The practice of celebrating the sexual and gender identities of models began in 2016, and in just a few years, there has been a 10-15% increase in openly queer models. Acceptance of LGBTQ+ models became so widespread that agencies such as New Pandemics and Zand Wagon are dedicated to boosting their careers.
This newly heightened visibility can be mostly attributed to the fashion industry’s history of left-leaning politics, as well as the fact that progressivism is demonstrably profitable in the 2020s. The Trump administration has repeatedly jeopardized LGBTQ+ rights, thereby necessitating ardent support for the targeted community.
Additionally, modern consumers prefer to patronize businesses that share their morals. Alienating the growing population of openly queer shoppers will cost a company the patronage of that demographic and its allies.
Diversity or Tokenism?
While revolutionary strides towards inclusivity have undeniably been made in the fashion world, there are remaining issues that hinder their progress. Fashion is a worldwide industry, and not all parts of the world are receptive to those who are not straight or cis. The Ade-Chuol couple was vilified by Aweng’s country of origin once the models made their relationship public.
There are also problems within spaces that have made efforts to cast queer models, particularly regarding the tokenism that distorts the hiring process. Trans models have confessed to being forced to out themselves in order to further their careers, while nonbinary models’ marketability often hinges on a company’s performative attempts at appearing diverse.
A Hopeful Future
Nevertheless, the increased presence and adulation of LGBTQ+ models has the dual benefits of providing more opportunities to a historically shunned community while simultaneously communicating to audiences that people of all sexualities and genders can be fashionable and glamorous. Partly remedying the bigoted vitriol that overwhelmed the Ade-Chuol couple was the subsequent outpouring of support from Sudanese girls, with whom Aweng and Alexus’ love story resonated.