The Problem With American Apparel’s “Legalize Gay” Shirts

The other day, I was walking down the street and went past an American Apparel store. In the window on a mannequin was one of their “Legalize Gay” shirts. I looked at it and noticed that it said “Repeal Prop 8 Now.” (By the way, some of the images of the shirt on that link are NSFW.)

First of all, I wondered why the shirt didn’t say “Legalize Gay Marriage.” Having “Legalize Gay” implies to me that it would be in support of decriminalizing homosexuality in various countries. Second, I was annoyed that it said “Repeal Prop 8 Now.” Yes, I was angered by the passage of Proposition 8 because I felt as though it stripped gays and lesbians in California of equality. However, several states have legalized gay marriage since the passage of Proposition 8, including my home state of Iowa. I know that American Apparel is based out of Los Angeles, but they’re all over the nation. Why can’t we just focus on legalizing gay marriage everywhere in America? If Iowa can legalize same-sex marriage, why can’t it be legalized in Illinois? (There is a bill presently in the State House in Illinois to legalize same-sex marriage.) Is it truly helpful if you focus on legalizing same-sex marriage in one state where it was legalized, but then overturned? I would like to be able to marry someday and I intend to stay in Illinois. The legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa was like a beacon of hope; a signal that legalization in other states could someday be possible.

On top of that, if we just look at the phrase “Legalize Gay,” which is an awkward sentence fragment, why not focus on the problems facing gays in not just America, but also in the world. The gruesome violence occurring to gay men in Iraq is despicable. There has been coverage of it in New York Magazine, The Advocate, and Der Spiegel. It is horrifying that these things are occurring to gay men in Iraq, especially when you read in some articles that LGBT individuals are worse off in Iraq than they were under Sadaam Hussein’s regime. Why isn’t there more outrage over this?

So, as I continued walking down the street, my annoyance became evidently the result of how narrow some people look at gay rights, ignoring the issues in their own state or the larger issues in the world.


2 thoughts on “The Problem With American Apparel’s “Legalize Gay” Shirts

  1. Hi Monica,

    Just wanted to explain our position because you’re right, the gay rights issue is much bigger than just California. The Legalize Gay campaign from American Apparel started in California because a few of our employees wanted shirts to attend some anti-Prop 8 rallies in Los Angeles. The phrase is a play off “Legalize LA’, which is the slogan for company’s fight for immigration reform in the city where we are based.

    It’s been almost a year now since those original shirts were printed and there are at least 4 different versions out there. The one you saw is probably part of the original stock from late 2008. For example, we just made a limited run of Legalize Gay shirts with the Human Rights Commission logo on them for the National Equality March.

    Anyway, to address your concerns, the campaign is much bigger than California. In fact, most of the discussion about it has happening in other cities like Washington DC. (A few months ago someone destroyed a store window and called in a death threat because the shirts were displayed: ) Our stores in Israel proudly displayed the shirts and gave them away to protests after a gunman killed two gay men at a nightclub in Tel Aviv in August.

    If you get a chance, check out We try to describe what we’re doing with the project there. If you’d like to try out a shirt or have any ideas for the campaign, please just email me.


  2. Oh, thank you Ryan. I’m very pleased to hear that American Apparel is looking at this in a broad sense and that they have been doing things in like giving away the shirts at protests after that killing at the nightclub in Tel Aviv. I was also aware of the shop display and the death threats that occurred to the one store.

    Thank you for clarifying things.

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