By Julia Roos
This month, LGBTQ+ community members and allies have come together to celebrate their identities and increased visibility. Over the past decade, monumental strides have been made towards equality for all Americans regardless of their identity. In 2015, the landmark civil rights case, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalized same-sex couples’ rights to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court interpreted a statute that will transform the lives of millions of LGBTQ+ Americans.
In an unanticipated 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Court heard a series of three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude v. Zarda concerned lawsuits from gay men who asserted that they were fired because of their sexual orientation, and the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case was brought by a transgender woman who was fired after she revealed that she is a transgender woman and will come to work in women’s clothing. Title VII prohibits employers’ discrimination against an employee “because of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” The Court questioned if employment discrimination “because of … sex” encompasses homosexual and transgender individuals. Since the present Supreme Court is fundamentally conservative, this ruling surprised communities and allies, while it disappointed many Republicans. Trump’s first appointee to the court, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, authored the majority opinion that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.” He furthers his rationale by explaining, “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” Imagine this scene: if an employer fires a man for having a husband but not a woman, they are firing that man for an action that they would not question in a female worker, which is discriminating based on sex. Sex undeniably plays a role in the concept of homosexuality and gender identities.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas wrote the leading dissent, which criticized the majority and accused them of sailing under a “textualist flag,” essentially pretending to make decisions strictly based off of the text but instead updating it to better reflect the values of modern society. Gorsuch acknowledged that the drafters of the Civil Rights Act did not likely have LGBTQ+ groups in mind when creating Title VII. However, he pointed out several major court rulings that have read the law expansively, for example, barring discrimination in the workplace against women because they have children, and prohibiting sexual harassment of both men and women.
Before this ruling, 29 states lacked full protection for citizens against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. These states substantially fell along the partisan divide as red states in the south and the midwest did not uphold statutory protection. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, this ruling will protect 4 million LGBTQ+ workers in those 29 states that lacked protection under federal law. The Court’s order is the most influential in the American LGBTQ+ movement’s decades-long history. Earlier successes included the implementation of anti-discrimination laws by states in 2013 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. Not everyone gets or wants to be married, but most American adults do work, and need to work, to provide for themselves or their families.
Although this landmark case indicates an enormous stride for the LGBTQ+ community, Gorsuch addressed several possible stipulations that will form after this ruling, like employers having religious objections to hiring gay or transgender workers. Freedom of religion, stated in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is a fundamental aspect of the United States government. The free exercise clause is an important regulation to follow, especially when it comes to minority religious groups whose practices are easily infringed upon by laws and policies enacted by the majority. Although, when exemptions from laws and statutes to satisfy religious beliefs or practices trample on the rights of others or essential societal values like nondiscrimination, policymakers should not blindly support freedom of religion. Proponents of laws that make exceptions for religious groups argue that they effectively balance religious freedom with LGBTQ+ rights, when in reality, these laws create exemptions for religious groups with no consideration for the burden and harm on others. These exceptions take the form of refusing to provide services to a same-sex wedding, permitting religious adoption agencies to not place a child in a same-sex family, healthcare providers turning away LGBTQ+ patients, and countless other injustices. By encouraging people to place their biases against LGBTQ+ people above fairness and equality, it challenges the broader principle that people should not be discriminated against because of who they are. The recent Supreme Court ruling does not directly combat this complication, but for LGBTQ+ groups to make this much progress in the judicial system, and in society, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination laws should be enforced on every individual, and not be disregarded by people with “religious” or “moral” standards.
President Trump has been actively pursuing the Evangelist constituency, as they made up a large percentage of his voters in the 2016 election. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelical groups’ confidence in Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased since March. As a response, Trump pushed for churches to reopen, visited religious sites, and continued to advance conservative social policies. Although the statute only refers to employment discrimination, the other prohibitions of education, housing, and public accommodation should likely follow this decision. The outcome of the ruling directly reprimands the Trump Administration, who use its rule-making power to take protections away from transgender individuals. Their attempt to roll back transgender healthcare rights from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act may bring this case back into question, since this rule would remove nondiscrimination protections from people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of this rule believe that the reversal of Obama-era regulations is necessary to define the meaning of “sex discrimination,” so healthcare providers can legally harm this already vulnerable group, even amid a pandemic. The original law stated that protections of sex discrimination include males, females, a combination of both, or individuals that identify as neither. The United States Department of Health and Human Services finalized the rule in June 2019 that will reverse the former definition of sex discrimination to be again based on biological sex exclusively. They claim that this regulation will save doctors and hospitals billions of dollars over five years, which makes sense considering these institutions can legally turn away the one million transgender people that live in America and seek healthcare. The implementation of this new rule will lead to dangerous refusals for transgender citizens in the healthcare system: a checkup at a doctor’s office, a transgender man who needs treatment for ovarian cancer, a hysterectomy not being covered by an insurer because it relates to someone’s gender transition. Fortunately, various LBGTQ advocacy groups, clinics, and organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, will sue the Trump Administration for rolling back LGBTQ+ healthcare protections.
No American should be refused care because of a provider’s beliefs or morals against the individual’s existence. Hopefully, the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision will outlaw the Trump Administration’s war on LGBTQ+ rights. The definition of “sex discrimination” should apply to gender identity or sexual orientation on every account to every person and in America regardless of religious affiliation. Since when did the value of equality in America be prioritized for certain groups over others? Why can people stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community in the name of religious freedom? Nobody should be turned away from healthcare providers, employment, or any other accommodations because of who they are.
By Julia Roos
It’s no secret that fashion holds a high position as one of the most polluting industries in the world; but how often does that stop us from shopping for clothes every season? This dilemma is especially pertinent while shopping at affordable brands like Zara and H&M, which seem to always carry clothes in style for a low price. The environmentally conscious consumer will search for “green” products, which often lead them back to fast fashion brands. Almost every fast fashion retailer promotes a line that appears dedicated to the sustainable process of making clothes, yet none of these supposed “efforts” could offset the damage that they continue to cause. Fast fashion bears the responsibility of toxic behavior on both the production and consumer side: the environmental damage, the unethical labor practices, and the perpetuation of overconsumption.
The environment faces problems like extensive water consumption and waste accumulation due to the fast fashion industry. An abundant amount of freshwater goes into the process of dyeing and finishing clothing, as well as growing the most popular fabric, cotton. Although cotton is a natural fiber that can biodegrade, it still prevails as one of the most environmentally demanding crops. Cotton is the most widely used textile, accounting for 75 percent of the world’s clothing products, but the even more staggering statistic relates to its environmental harm. In fact, it takes 20,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. Water scarcity extends past fashion, as it will lead to detrimental world effects. The United Nations estimates that 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. In addition to draining resources, growing cotton requires a heavy use of pesticides that contain harmful chemicals. World WildLife proposes that the pesticides risk damage to water quality and biodiversity in and downstream from the fields. Current cotton production methods are not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, fashion physically pollutes the Earth as 85% of all textiles end up in a landfill. Even worse, synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are made of plastic and therefore non-biodegradable. Polyester is the driving fabric of fast fashion development since the cost of production is exceptionally inexpensive, and it is projected that the global population will consume 102 million tons of clothing by 2030, with 70 percent containing polyester.
In order to keep the cost of clothing inexpensive, brands will outsource their labor, or produce clothing in countries where the federal minimum wage is low. The fast fashion industry remains notorious for exploiting underpaid and mistreated workers at the bottom of the supply chain. Workers in these supplier factories do not make a high enough wage to support themselves. If the price of a piece of clothing retails at $19.99, the person who made it was paid 19 cents. The labor policy hub, Global Labor Justice, conducted a report on the exploitation of Asian female garment workers in Gap and H&M supplier factories and documented acts of harassment, dangerous working conditions, and forced overtime. These brands don’t technically hold any legal obligation to keep these workers safe because they are not directly affiliated with the supplier firms. For reference, brands that have more transparency about their production process are more likely to be producing clothing ethically.
Fast fashion brands also maintain the pattern of overconsumption by appealing to the consumer through style and affordability. For example, Zara puts out at least 20 collections a year, which produces millions of garments that align to the most recent fashion trends. In comparison, most designer brands only show around five collections throughout the year. Fast fashion brands have made it so that every few weeks, new clothes are being sold while others become old and discounted. Furthermore, these clothes were not made to last. Since fast fashion uses cheap materials and labor, they can sell their clothes with a low price tag, which allows consumers to spend more money on garments they don’t need, and only end up wearing a few times.
In short, you buy what you pay for: cheap labor and cheap materials that won’t last long and eventually will be thrown away. To avoid the negative publicity that comes with damaging the environment, permitting poor labor conditions, and encouraging overconsumption, fast fashion retailers invest in simpler and less expensive ways to revive their images through greenwashing. Among the numerous collections fast fashion brands produce, they often present an “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” line. They inflate their marketing with vague phrases that don’t have a legal definition to carry out. H&M’s “Conscious Collection” and Zara’s “Join Life” are perfect examples of PR campaigns for brands to be seen more favorably by consumers. The information presented on H&M’s website does not do a subsequent job of explaining the range of their products. The only justification they give for their “Conscious Collection” is that they at least 50% recycled, organic or, TENCEL material, with the exception of only 20% of recycled cotton in a garment. These statistics do not relay significant information, like the method in which the materials are recycled or produced, or why they are a better alternative. Accompanied with the description, the campaign photos appeal to the environment by using grass, plants, and other symbols of nature. Similarly, Zara’s “Join Life” campaign claims to commit to sustainable fashion, but “sustainability” does not have a standardized definition to uphold, so brands continue to abuse sustainable advertising. Greenwashing is simply a short-term marketing ploy to reap the benefits of “going green”: more consumer interest and higher stock prices, without actually acting on it. These brands spend more time and money trying to convince the public that they are environmentally friendly instead of taking steps to actually reduce their impact on the environment and society.
Sustainable fast fashion is an oxymoronic phrase; the industry cannot truly be “green” when the foundation of its business plan is based on mass production for low prices. Greenwashing practices mislead the customer that values sustainability and that wants to shop ethically. As customers, we carry a large role in the political system of consumerism. While the consumer should not be to blame for the consequences of the actions of large corporations, we have the power to stand up against them by not supporting fast fashion brands and their unethical practices.
By Julia Roos
What defines art? We know by now that art is not confined to brush strokes on a canvas, since art is even found in the clothes we wear. Fashion brands dedicate their businesses to create wearable art; to encompass expression, emotion, and inspiration. Many designers look to other countries and cultures for inspiration. Enter: cultural appropriation. Often referred to as misappropriation, cultural appropriation occurs when fashion brands are accused of trivializing and misinterpreting non-European artifacts in a way that disrespects and exploits a minority culture for the prospect of financial gain. But is all cultural appropriation done with malicious intent? The fashion industry embodies the opposing arguments: is cultural appropriation beneficial or harmful to society? Cultural appropriation can take many forms, and it is up to the public's interpretation of the designs to determine if they are acceptable or not.
A clear criterion for cultural appropriation is using sacred artifacts of a culture as an accessory. Gucci showed a traditional Sikh turban during their 2018 Autumn/Winter show. The use of the headdress on the runway reduced a sacred element of the Sikh religion to a “trend” for a season. The item, sold as the “Indy Full Head Wrap,” represents one of the five articles of faith and symbolizes spirituality. This action establishes a problem that transcends the act of just exploiting indigenous designs. When designers’ are inspired by another culture, it is often a historically marginalized one. The people of the Sikh religion habitually deal with persecution and discrimination for wearing a turban that Gucci could retail for hundreds of dollars. When it comes to introducing cultural elements on the runway, especially those regarding religion, it is the brand’s responsibility to understand the symbolism and the religious practices associated with it before advertising it as an accessory.
The real issue, however, lies in the realm of social media outrage and sensitivity. Self-appointed “woke” users on social media litigate numerous, and often harmless, acts of cultural appropriation against popular fashion companies. The first issue of Vogue Arabia launched In March of 2017, with American model Gigi Hadid on the cover. Embellished in a heavily jeweled veil, Hadid faced criticism for appropriating Middle Eastern culture, even though she is half-Palestinian and her father is Muslim. Critics argued that she should not be wearing a hijab because she is not Arab enough to represent the region on the cover. A person’s ability to wear pieces that are inspired by their own heritage should not be shamed by social media users. Cultural appropriation allegations have become so frequent and popular because “the term [has] trickled into mainstream fashion discourse, becoming a buzz-word.” Discussion about offenses like cultural appropriation are important to have and are good measures to take for change. However, most online users have misguided judgements.
Cultural appropriation claims limit innovation and self-expression and therefore hinders cross-cultural appreciation. It is an important aspect of fashion, as “cultural exchange and the intermingling of forms, ideas and styles [...] are at the heart of the creative enterprise.” The power of cultural inspiration can be seen at fashion’s biggest night: the MET Gala. Every year the attendees dress according to the varying themes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The Gala provides an opportunity for designers to celebrate various cultures through their garments with themes like Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. The most renowned garment that has ever walked the MET Gala’s red carpet was Rihanna’s dress during the 2015 theme China, Through the Looking Glass. This theme provided an opportunity for designers, celebrities, and viewers to reflect on China’s influence on Western fashion and culture. Rihanna wore a regal, yellow, fur-lined cape embroidered with floral scrolls created by Chinese designer Guo Pei. The dress is celebrated for its tactful appreciation of Chinese culture that allows for education through wearable art.
For the Dior 2020 Cruise Collection, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri gracefully connected African and European culture that celebrated collaboration and globalization. The fashion show was located in Marrakech, a city in Morocco, and the theme of cultural exchange was prevalent as the Moroccon inspiration of color and craftsmanship was deeply rooted in the collection. Chiuri appointed local artists, artisans, and designers to help fuel her design aesthetic. This is an example of a designer doing the right thing regarding the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Designers should be consulting artists of the targeted culture to educate themselves while creating a collection to appreciate and not appropriate that culture.
Regardless of the context, cultural appropriation will always be seen as a negative action. However, the notion that artists should not use elements of other cultures would be counterproductive for society. To try to untangle all ties of culture is impossible, “and the impulse to do so is ahistorical and philistine.” Truly innovative ideas arise only when the inspirations of culture are mixed. Society needs to reframe the construct of appropriation in fashion as a discussion of ideas and inspiration, not an act of malice. At times this “inspiration” is carelessly and excessively offensive; other times the utilization of another culture is artistically purposeful. At times the controversy sparked from these productions is pettily misinformed; other times the discussion is enlightening. Fashion is a language, and we should use it to spread knowledge, inspiration, and positivity.