Gender justice fashion show highlights belonging, acceptance

“Fashion is a way to take up space, to be loud, to be celebrated.”

These words, spoken by social justice activist and comedian Alok Vaid-Menon (known by their stage name ALOK), underscored the theme of this year’s GenderChill: Gender Justice Fashion Show.

Held at the Biscayne Bay Campus on Nov. 18, GenderChill is a community-building event that raises awareness for gender and body diversity through the lens of social justice. This year, GenderChill honored International Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held annually on Nov. 20.

“Sometimes when it comes to gender, you just need to chill,” said Jess Osborn, who created the inclusive fashion show with the intent to celebrate the full spectrum of gender identity and expression. Osborn launched the event at the University of Miami as a graduate student in 2019, and the Pride Center worked with them to bring it to FIU for the first time this year.

The event began with a question-and-answer session with ALOK, led by Erica Friedman, associate director of FIU’s Pride Center in the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion. ALOK discussed everything from transgender and nonbinary history as it relates to fashion, to legislation affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. They also shared their own journey as a nonbinary person and provided words of encouragement to the LGBTQIA+ students and community in the audience.

“My life is worthy of spontaneity and decoration and adornment,” ALOK said of their love for fashion. “There’s something eternal about authenticity.”

ALOK reminded the audience that there is power in the ability to show compassion. “Powerful people are people who love, and who forgive, and who have a tenderness and refuse to become dissociated.”

Afterward, models took to the runway sporting fashions created by students, alumni and locally based designers, as well as cosplayers. Adding to the excitement, audience members dressed for the occasion and were invited to walk the runway to show off their own personal style.

Alumnus Jamal Morrison, owner of Lamaj Company and designer of custom prom gowns, said it felt good to come home to FIU. Morrison said the pandemic left him in a creative slump, but one day, he sat down at his sewing machine determined to start creating again, and it led to the collection of black dresses with rose prints that he previewed at GenderChill.

“Thank you [FIU Pride Center] for having me be your premier LGBT designer,” said Morrison in an Instagram post after the event.

ALOK highlighted the importance of events like GenderChill in giving voice to the LGBTQIA+ community and uplifting those members who are not yet ready to or who cannot speak up for themselves.

“We can all be a community center for one another. We can all be the first open mic for someone else. We can all be the first runway for someone else. We can give permission to people to express themselves, and we can love them precisely because they are different. That’s what the beauty of community is,” ALOK said.

Keeping with this theme, GenderChill served as a fundraiser for the McKenzie Project, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that aims to uplift Black transgender and nonbinary adults in South Florida. It also raised awareness for FIU’s Javon A. Stovall Memorial Scholarship, which supports graduate students who carry forward the legacy and values of FIU alumnus and Pride Center graduate assistant Javon Stovall. This year’s event was held on the first anniversary of Stovall’s death.

Friedman said, “It’s truly a privilege for the Pride Center to be able to bring the LGBTQIA+ community and allies together to affirm and celebrate who they are through fashion and to support causes that uplift the community and FIU students.”

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