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Support Companies That Support You: Commodity Activism In The LGBTQ Community

For many LGBTQ-owned companies, supporting struggling members of their community is a top priority.

Sarah Kerndt | September 27, 2018

Here in Richmond, we celebrate Pride in September. While the reasoning for Richmond’s autumn Pride celebration remains an enigma, there’s an undeniable charm to Richmond’s Pride parties, a refreshing change of pace from the big international Pride celebrations in June.

It also helps this city’s Pride avoid the major commercialization of LGBTQ Pride Month that happens every June. We all know that major international companies will do anything and everything to commodify the spirit of Pride so they can get our business. Representation is all well and good, but companies are often erratic in their dedication; for many of them, it seems their Pride ends at the end of June.

However, there are some companies whose support of the LGBTQ community is unwavering regardless of the seasonal excitement, companies that work to promote community through their business by tying their products in with pro-LGBTQ commodity activism.

According to Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser, authors of the book Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance In Neoliberal Times, commodity activism is defined as “the process by which social action is increasingly understood through the ways it is mapped onto merchandising practices, market incentives, and corporate profits.” On a grand scale, commodity activism is widening the gap between consumers and their political activity; however, when it comes to smaller queer owned businesses, it seems fair to argue in favor of this kind of relationship between sellers and buyers. For queer buyers, commodity activism offers an opportunity to support members of the LGBTQ community in ways that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

A popular form of commodity activism that has arisen in the LGBTQ community over the past several years is through funding of gender affirming surgeries for members of the trans and non-binary communities. Surgeries are not the only thing small queer businesses raise money for, but there is a very clear need felt by many members of the trans community.

Aydian Dowling of Point 5CC/Point of Pride, via Facebook

A 2017 NPR poll found that 31 percent of transgender Americans lack regular access to health care, and many struggle to even find steady work, with the National Center For Transgender Equality reporting that over 1 in 4 transgender Americans have lost a job due to bias. In queer online havens such as tumblr, fundraising pages are omnipresent; donations from friends and activist organizations as well as businesses tend to play a major role in trans folks transitions.

One business that has been involved in this sort of work for quite a while is Point 5CC, an apparel company whose mission is to “create amazing clothes and accessories that make trans folks look and feel great, and through every purchase, support programs and services that benefit the trans community.” The business originally started as a way for owner and CEO Aydian Dowling to raise money for his own top surgery, but has since branched out into programs such as the Annual Transgender Surgery Fund and chest binder donation programs, which function alongside Dowling’s non-profit Point of Pride.

Point of Pride and Point 5CC helped set the standard for what fundraising and commodity activism could look like in the trans community. Since their genesis, the groups have provided over $45,000 of financial aid for trans individuals in over 50 countries. The breadth and depth of Dowling’s work has proved to make monumental impact on the community, and encouraged an interest in large scale commodity activism in the community.

Photo via FLAVNT Streetwear/Facebook

While a number of companies start their activism in a similar manner to Point 5CC, as one person working to provide a service in exchange for funding for their own surgery, Chris and Courtney Rhodes, twins and co-owners of FLAVNT Streetwear, decided to take a different approach to their fundraising. Instead of pooling a percentage of sales into a contribution program for gender affirming surgeries, they decided to create a campaign program where individuals can apply to be the single recipient of 15% of each sale FLAVNT has until half of their goal is reached. This system allows the attention to focus on a single campaign partner.

“We like the idea of the community getting behind one person,” said Chris Rhodes. “A lot of queer people don’t have family or community supporting them, so we like the idea of creating a crowd that cares about one person, since they might not have that in their immediate family.” This individualized approach gives customers a direct connection to the people their money is supporting, allowing them to quickly see the results of the funds their purchases have raised.

Over the four years FLAVNT has been in business, they have successfully completed nine campaigns, and thus far eight of the nine recipients have successfully received their gender affirming surgery. Their presence on social media makes it easy to see where your money goes and even interact with those receiving funding. I personally have been in contact with the folks from FLAVNT since 2014, and have loved to see the way their funding model has been able to improve the lives of so many trans folks.

Photo via Stealth Bros & Co/Facebook

One of the newest up and coming businesses supporting the trans community is Stealth Bros & Co. Established in 2017, this luxury supply company creates designer bags, called DOPP Kits,which allow trans folks to carry… well, anything and everything, but specifically the supplies necessary for hormone shots. Like Point 5CC, Stealth Bros. & Co. started so owner Brax and their partner, Miko, could raise the funds necessary for their top surgeries.

However, they’ve clearly found a unique niche market for something the trans community needed — they have only been in business for a year, but they are already seeing exponential growth in their profits. Brax says the company started making profit within the first three months. “My dad is an entrepreneur, and he couldn’t believe it,” said Brax. Like other companies before it, Stealth Bros. & Co. intends to keep the fund going after the owner and his partner have paid for their own surgeries, establishing an ongoing support network for those seeking funds for surgeries.

Commodity activism is a very real part of the world we live in today. For marginalized people like those in the LGBTQ community, it serves an important purpose, helping reduce the distance between consumers and those they are helping out with their purchase. It also helps businesses serve a more important role within their community than merely selling a product. So next time you’re in the market for some clothes or a new bag, consider supporting small queer businesses, and using your purchases to give something back.

Top photo via Point 5CC/Facebook