Queer style took center stage Thursday at the opening of New York Fashion Week, as more than 1,000 people lined the Beaux Arts Court at the Brooklyn Museum to celebrate dapperQ magazine’s seventh annual fashion show.
Gay hip hop artist Cakes Da Killa kicked off the fashion feast with a musical performance that included dancers with box braids and beaded cornrows on the runway. The event known for “ungendering fashion” amplified a slate of models of all genders, sizes and ages.
The show also featured eight LGBTQ fashion designers, including Hesta by Hester Sunshine, a runner-up on Season 17 of Project Runway; Mickey Freeman, of FreeMen by Mickey; and Transguy Supply.
This year’s theme, which is Bloom, aimed to use fashion to highlight the ways LGBTQ people find joy and flourish even amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including attacks on trans youth in sports and health care.
Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits discussions on sexuality and gender identity in the classroom. Meanwhile, in Texas, officials began investigating the parents of transgender youth.
Anita Dolce Vita, the owner of the queer style magazine dapperQ, said the show is a statement against efforts to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people across the U.S.
“We are a direct defiance of that,” Dolce Vita said, referring to the spate of anti-LGBTQ laws. “Standing in our truths and showing up as our most authentic selves is beautiful, but it is also dangerous. So, creating this space is so important because it is a safe space.”
Devin-Norelle, a Black transmasculine model with Stuzo Clothing, a brand created by designer Stoney Michelli Love, strutted the runway with the words “protect trans kids” written in marker on their arms.
“It’s sad because these kids' mental health is at stake,” Devin-Norelle said of the gender-affirming care bans. “I think about all the friends that I lost from suicide because they weren’t respected, because they were targeted. … when you attack trans kids you attack us too.”
Julian Gavino, a 26-year-old disabled trans model from Philadelphia, said he wanted to be a role model for others who don’t see themselves in the fashion industry.
“As a queer and disabled person, I’m not usually represented on the runway,” said Gavino, who uses a wheelchair. “I do it for my younger self and other younger people who may be out there and thinking ‘nobody looks like me’ because I used to also think ‘no one looked like me.’”
'Like a family reunion'
The event’s return to the runway this month marks the first show since the pandemic started. LGBTQ designers and models, including B. Hawk Snipes, said they were excited to see the queer fashion community again after a two-year hiatus.
“This is like a family reunion,” said Freeman, a celebrity fashion stylist and designer, donning a red feather jacket and sunglasses. “We rarely get to have events like this compared to mainstream. So, it’s always nice, whenever we get an opportunity to be celebrated.”
Snipes, who uses “they” and “she” pronouns, has walked in the show for about four years. LGBTQ designers and models, Snipes said, need to be seen across the spectrum of the industry.
“We deserve to have the spotlight on us,” they said, adding that after the two-year break "it feels great to be among community and family.”
Attendee Kiwi The Kweirdo, 32, of Brooklyn, New York, echoed that the fashion industry often lacks spaces that are inclusive of gender-fluid fashion.
“It’s a great way to show gender expression without even having to explain who you are, where you come from,” said Kweirdo, who uses “they” and “them” pronouns. “It’s a big deal because we don’t have things like this.”
Jari Jones, a model, actor and activist, made headlines in 2020 as a trans model for Calvin Klein and has walked in prior dapperQ shows. But this time she returned as a spectator, cheering on her friends and colleagues from the front row. Jones called on supporters to financially back organizations that put queer and trans models in the spotlight.
“If you’re an ally, fund shows like this,” she said. “When we start to see more representation of ourselves, other people start to humanize us — that’s how we change laws, that’s how we change society.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com