Gay Sweater challenges homophobic language

Sweater made from the hair of LGBT people aims to eliminate the misuse of the word gay

In an effort to eliminate the misuse of the word gay, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) has created what it says is the first and only truly gay object —  a sweater made entirely from the hair of more than 100 LGBT people.

The “Gay Sweater” made its debut Tuesday at the launch of Toronto Fashion Week, and saw models donning the sweater at David Pecaut Square in downtown Toronto.

Developed in partnership with Toronto-based shop Saatchi & Saatchi Canada, the sweater is intended to do more than raise a few eyebrows — it’s a vehicle to shed light on the hurt caused by using the word gay to describe things that are unpleasant, unattractive or annoying.

“Our organization is in schools every single day doing workshops and presentations around homophobia and transphobia and we hear the expression, ‘that’s so gay’ all the time… I want to sometimes turn around in the hallway and be like, ‘that test, that sweater, that shirt, that’s not gay, I’m gay’,” said Jeremy Dias, director of the CCGSD.

“We thought, what would happen if the sweater was gay? If it was making out with another sweater at the bottom of your closet or something? It just sort of spiraled from there.”

To get its message across, the CCGSD, an Ottawa-based organization that serves the LGBT community through services in the spaces of education, health and advocacy, created a four-minute film titled “The Gay Sweater, the World’s First and Only Gay Object.”

We wanted to actually ground this with some real detailed information so that we really gave people something to think about,” said Brian Sheppard, executive vice-president and executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Canada.

Sheppard, who called the project a “labour of love,” said The Gay Sweater is largely a “social play,” but the effort does include a small digital buy. The agency is also working with PR firms Republic and U.S.-based shop Golin to spread the word globally, and is encouraging people to share their reactions online using #TheGaySweater. All work on the project was done pro bono.

The project spanned about a year from idea to execution, and according to Dias, members of the LGBT community were more than happy to take part. The sweater was constructed by two textile artists, who did most of the work at Saatchi & Saatchi’s Toronto office.

After Fashion Week, the sweater will make the rounds with Dias and his team to schools and communities across the country. There’s also been some interest from art galleries, eager to showcase the unique creation.

“It’s a living piece of art, and the artists really wanted it to not stay in the back of someone’s closet,” Dias added. “They want it to be touched, they want it to be felt, and they want it to be worn. We’re going to honour that request and keep it going.”

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