As States Pass Anti-Trans Legislation, Beauty Brands Are Vocal In Support Of Trans Rights
Although it’s not even halfway over, 2021 has been an unprecedented year for legislation to curb the rights of transgender people. The legislation includes and goes far beyond restrictions on bathroom access, which were at the center of a North Carolina law passed in 2016 that sparked a backlash.
According to the LGBTQ advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and more than 115 of those bills proposed in over 30 states take aim at trans people. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia have passed bills prohibiting trans kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identities. Tennessee has also passed bills requiring businesses and government facilities to post signs if they allow trans people into multiperson bathrooms, and denying trans students access to bathrooms consistent with their gender identities and medical care for trans youth. The Arkansas legislature overturned the governor’s veto of an anti-trans medical care bill.
The spate of anti-trans legislation comes on the heels of the Trump administration, which rescinded nondiscrimination protections for trans people seeking healthcare and health insurance, and barred trans individuals serving in the military from taking hormones and receiving gender-affirming surgery. President Joe Biden reversed those Trump-era policies and, on March 31, Transgender Day of Visibility, proclaimed the White House’s commitment to combatting anti-trans discrimination.
As the fight for the recognition and equality of trans people, who have elevated rates of suicide and self-harm, intensifies in the face of mounting political opposition, several beauty brands are ramping up efforts to be allies. In addition to tapping their platforms to make trans people feel seen and offering makeup lessons to trans people undergoing transitions, brands are extending a hand to the marginalized group by donating cash, creating jobs and more.
“What’s really interesting about the beauty industry is that it is so influential and aspirational. It kind of dictates what is acceptable and what is beautiful,” says Dev Doee, the creative director of cosmetics brand We Are Fluide who identifies as non-binary. “For someone like me growing up, not seeing yourself represented in magazines or billboards or on television or in beauty in general, you can kind of feel not beautiful or not seen or accepted.”
There are deep connections between the trans and beauty communities. As tools for self-expression, beauty products can play important roles in trans women’s lives as they transition, and the beauty industry is home to high-profile transgender influencers, entrepreneurs and models. Chinese trans celebrity Jin Xing is in Dior’s new perfume campaign. Nikkie de Jager, the makeup artist and YouTuber better known as NikkieTutorials, came out last year as trans. Nikita Dragun, a trans beauty influencer and founder of Dragun Beauty, has been an outspoken trans activist and shared her experience transitioning from male to female.
Jayla Roxx is behind BatMe Cosmetics, which she says is the first beauty brand owned by a Black trans woman. “I’m pretty glad to be the trailblazer for that,” she says. “I am a firm believer in representation. Being visible and being seen and being heard is the first step of how we can move forward.”
Roxx is a proponent of her brand and others presenting the vibrant, joyful soul of trans people instead of concentrating solely on their hardships such as tragic murders and assaults. “What [some brands have] been doing as far as education is monetizing trauma rather than celebrating and embracing the art that comes with [trans] people,” she says. “I always say representation matters, but, when you see Black trans women, you don’t really get to them in their best light.”
BatMe’s Instagram feed is filled with images of people, frequently customers, who are “very eccentric and eclectic,” says Roxx. “They feel like they can be themselves, and they feel like they are seen in the right ways without having to monetize trauma. BatMe Cosmetics is more than eyelashes and eyeshadows. It tells a story of, here you can be yourself, and the more you have that exalted, the more people will say, ‘Hey, you know what? This is weird, and I like it! So, now I’m going to be weird,’ and we can touch people that way. I think that more brands need to exalt more of their weirdos! We always preach about diversity, but diversity is on a bigger spectrum than just race.”
Doee says We Are Fluide, which bills itself as “designed for all skin shades and gender expressions,” has prioritized supporting trans youth since its launch in 2018. Doee is heartened by emails from parents excited to buy the brand’s products for their LGBTQ+ children. “Fluide is a way for parents to show their children that they see them, and that they want to support brands that support people like them,” says Doee. “It really touches me.”
“Representation matters, but, when you see Black trans women, you don’t really get to them in their best light.”
For every campaign, We Are Fluide teams up with an LGBTQ+ non-profit organization. For Trans Day of Visibility, the brand donated 20% of sales to Black Trans Travel Fund. For its holiday collection last year, the brand raised funds for Black trans group For The Gworls, and the campaign for the collection starred Black trans women. Doee says, “With a future campaign, we probably will want to more explicitly work with an organization that is pushing legislation that is in favor of trans youth.”
We Are Fluide has gotten feedback on social media critical of its trans rights efforts, but the criticism has been minimal. “Some of our paid posts will reach people that aren’t interested in what we’re doing,” says Doee. “That’s the only time we really see any kind of backlash, and that would be around people believing that beauty and makeup isn’t political, and it shouldn’t be. I totally disagree. I think it’s inherently political. Beauty in general is political, even just the way that certain groups are expected to wear makeup, and certain people are not. Even going against those norms is political.”
On the whole, Americans have mixed views on trans issues, according to a recent Gallup survey. A majority (62%) say trans athletes should be limited to playing on sports team aligned with their gender designated at birth, and a majority (66%) say trans men and women should be permitted to openly serve in the military. The mixed views may be part of the explanation for why there hasn’t been a large-scale corporate backlash so far this year against states passing anti-trans laws. Smaller companies with niche and loyal followings tend to be more vocal.
Makeup artist Jessica Blackler founded gender-fluid makeup line Jecca Blac in 2017 as a vehicle to support the trans community. “Jecca Blac began with makeup lessons for trans women and those first experimenting with their gender expression, many of whom were at the very start of their makeup journey and sought advice in a safe space setting, free from any judgement,” says Blackler. “We have always endeavored to show our loyalty whenever possible by making sure we celebrate, amplify the voices of and accurately represent trans people in every way we can.”
Jecca Blac regularly employs trans models in its campaigns and has an ambassador program that welcomes LGBTQ+ individuals. Blackler says, “Trans people are here year-round and often feel tokenized when a brand run by a cis team books trans talent only for a Pride campaign each summer.”
In 2020, Jecca Blac hosted its first Trans Festival in London’s Covent Garden. Intended to bring trans people and allies together in a safe space, the event had panel discussions spotlighting trans activists and influencers. In a private marketplace, festival goers could try products from brands inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.
Though the second festival was put off due to the pandemic, Blackler hopes to make it an annual event going forward. In the meantime, Jecca Blac’s website provides free makeup advice via video chat or email. The service “is very popular among trans makeup wearers who are looking to brush up on their skills or may be at the start of their makeup journey,” says Blackler.
Makeup artist Justin Mayfield, founder of Adveket Cosmetics, also believes in creating a safe environment for trans people to experiment with makeup. Pronounced like “advocate,” the line of non-binary makeup and skincare debuted in 2016 to generate funds for I Wore Lipstick, Mayfield’s equality-focused charity that backs organizations such as the Trans Employment Empowerment Program and The Covenant House Los Angeles, which assists homeless children and youth. It gives $1 to $5 from every product sold to charity.
“The last fight against the resistance is the hardest push. It feels like this is the end of the patriarchy.”
One of Mayfield’s favorite events to participate in is the Trans Wellness Center’s Trans Job Fair, where he has spearheaded a headshot activation. He hired a professional photographer, hairstylists and makeup artists to staff a photo station, and the line was “out the door,” says Mayfield. He adds, “It’s really cool for the trans community coming in. These are people that can be gawked at in regular social situations…[They] are discriminated against every single day. They have to fight just to exist…We really work to make them feel so beautiful, and the stories that I’ve been told while doing the makeup, you just want to stand there and cry.”
Inspired by the success of the headshot station, Mayfield is working out the logistics for a multi-brand photo shoot that will provide years’ worth of media content for I Wore Lipstick, Trans Wellness Center, The LGBT Center and The LGBT Center South. Supplying the organizations with free marketing assets, he says, “will just save them tens of thousands of dollars, which can then be allocated to something important.”
Brands’ widespread reticence to stand up for trans people was a significant motivator for the launch of Adveket Cosmetics. Mayfield says the battle for trans rights is “not something that people always want to pair themselves with, and I understand that because everyone has different values, and they perhaps don’t want to be related to certain things. But I was like, you know what? I’m just going start a damn makeup line myself.”
Adveket’s priority this year is launching a scholarship fund for people to attend cosmetology school. “When you think about the safest area for the LGBTQ community for the entire binary spectrum, one place you’ll always be able to work is in beauty,” says Mayfield. “It doesn’t matter where you came from. If your blowout is sick in a salon, you are going to make money.”
Job placement is a key goal for Rob Smith, founder of The Phluid Project, a brand that has gender-free apparel and fragrances sold at Sephora. Through a job portal on its site, The Phluid Project helps employers recruit LGBTQ+ talent. In 2019, the company introduced the gender-expansive training program G.E.T. Phluid led by non-binary and trans people. This year, Smith founded The Phluid Foundation with the aim of raising $100,000 for marginalized communities, including homeless queer youth and trans women of color.
“If I’m going to send these folks to workspaces, I have to help make them safe and affirming spaces,” says Smith. In recent months, he notes, “The interest is escalating so high. The education platform is exploding.”
Beauty brands are increasingly attempting to diversify their employee pools. “The most important step any brand can make for ensuring they are showing genuine solidarity with any marginalized group is to diversity from within,” says Blackler. “That’s why we have a trans-inclusive team. Our message is consistent and honest because it comes from the same people who unfortunately are faced with the challenges which are continually stacked up against trans people today.”
It’s not just mission-driven indie beauty brands fostering diversity in the workplace. In 2020, beauty conglomerate Coty Inc. named Sue Y Nabi, a trans woman, as its CEO. Sephora’s SephoraPrism employee resource group is designed to support LGBTQ+ employees. The beauty retailer’s Classes for Confidence program features complimentary in-store makeup lessons for members of the transgender community. In 2019, Sephora drew notice for its Identify as We campaign that celebrated trans and non-binary beauty.
In a statement emailed to Beauty Independent, a Sephora representative wrote, “We are saddened by the continued injustices and inequities faced by the transgender community. In the beauty industry, we have a unique opportunity to support and amplify the voices of the transgender community, and other marginalized groups, starting with our own organization.”
There’s still work to be done as legislation hostile to trans people spreads, but Smith argues the anti-trans policy push signals a last gasp of sorts, and trans rights will ultimately prevail. “I think it’s a fear of dismantling this binary construct,” he says. “The last fight against the resistance is the hardest push. It feels like this is the end of the patriarchy.”
Feature photo credit: Alex Webster
- 2021 has been an unprecedented year for legislation that threatens the rights of trans people and trans youth in particular.
- According to the organization Human Rights Campaign, more than 115 anti-trans bills have been introduced over 30 states this year, including ones seeking to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth and prohibit trans kids from participating in sports teams aligning with their gender identities.
- Historically, there’s been a deep connection between trans people and the beauty industry. Beauty products have been important tools for transitioning trans women, and there are prominent trans beauty YouTubers and brand founders such as Dragun Beauty founder Nikita Dragun and Nikkie de Jager, the makeup artist and YouTuber better known as NikkieTutorials.
- One way that beauty brands are taking a stand in promoting trans acceptance is by prioritizing representation of trans beauty in their campaigns and not just during Pride month.
- Beauty brands are partnering with various organizations and dedicating portions of their proceeds support the trans community.
- Both smaller, mission-driven brands and corporate behemoths are embracing the trans community by offering free makeup lessons and safe, welcoming environments in which to experiment with makeup.
- Job creation is another focus of trans allies in the beauty industry. Brands are assisting at job fairs, creating job portals and founding scholarship funds. Many beauty brands are also vowing to foster diversity within their workplaces.