This Pride Month, we had the privilege of interviewing Julian Gavino, aka @thedisabledhippie on Insta! YES, he is making waves as a model, activist and writer... AND he is an outspoken advocate for fellow LGBTQ+ and disabled people. Get to know him with us and don't forget to check out his platform!
What does sustainability have to do with LGBTQIA+ rights?
Well, first of all, everyone should be included in conversations surrounding sustainability. The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals cover topics such as poverty, social justice, human rights violations, and development. The LGBTQIA+ faces barriers at an exceptionally higher rate compared to their straight/cis counterparts. Because of this, we’re considered a vulnerable population. Our community consists of other minorities also facing these barriers at high rates as well— disabled folks, BIPOC, sex workers, and so on.
Describe your style. Where do you score the best pieces?
I would describe my style as all over the place. If I like something, I’ll wear it. One day it could be totally out there— elaborate, fancy, flashy. The next day, it could be a graphic tee with ripped jeans. I don’t think much about how others will perceive the clothes. Some might think “oh this is too masculine”, “too feminine”, or “too flashy.” I used to spend a lot of time caring about that but I don’t anymore. If I like it, I’ll go for it!
What are 3 things that you think people overlook when they’re trying to be inclusive?
Oh boy, where to begin!? Inclusivity has gotten better over the years, but it’s definitely not as good as people think. I think we hype it up to be better than it truly is in reality. The reality is that brands/people still want to be careful. They like to ride the line of being inclusive but not so much to where they might offend a more conservative audience. Major corporate brands often do this. At the end of their day, selling something is the main goal. So, they focus on gaining the widest audience possible. Unfortunately, this sends a big message.
How did you get into modeling?
I always had it in me. I was a creative child jumping from instruments to painting, dancing, writing, and of course fashion. My parents were forced to sit through endless fashion shows I choreographed to the Backstreet Boys tour on DVD. My dad was always keeping up with and encouraging my latest interests, so I wasn't surprised when he brought home a tiny digital camera. We started filming my shows and I became inspired to design my own outfits and start photographing them. Dad kept supporting me by posting my work on his Facebook as this hobby carried into my adolescent/teen years. One day he received an email from Ford Modeling inquiring if I'd like to send in some digitals and do an interview. I was simultaneously ecstatic and crushed. This would be one year before I came out as transgender. I already knew the truth about myself and even though I loved modeling and fashion dearly, it was becoming unbearable due to dysphoria. Nonetheless, my parents helped me take the digitals. I pretended to like them and told my family I'd send them to the agency. Behind closed doors, I sobbed, deleted them, and never sent them.
At that very moment, I halted all of my modeling crafts and moved on with my life. It was a decision I would go on to question well into my adulthood because the desire never quieted inside of me. I was constantly asking myself, "What could have been?" but as both my transition and illness progressed-- my illness into a visible physical disability-- the less viable modeling seemed. Everything changed when I finally felt comfortable in my own body, disability, transness, and all. So much of this came from the activism and online work I had been doing for a couple of years. I harnessed so much strength and healing from telling my story and developing a close relationship with my communities. Around the time all of these epiphanies were happening, I started to see mainstream models who were either trans or disabled. Not both and not people who looked just like me, but they resembled me. This was huge for me. My mind traveled back to the agency being interested in me, and I wondered if I could model as the new me. As the authentic me. I thought if they saw something in me then, it must still be there now. I decided to chase the dream again. I felt like I had to. If I didn't see what I wanted, then I needed to be it.
I resumed taking photos again and also researching and applying to diverse modeling agencies. Two years later I received a call to come to NYC for an agency casting. I was living in Florida at the time. Taking a huge plunge, I booked the flight and hoped for the best. The rest is history.
What do you think the future holds for the modeling industry?
I think it’s limitless, if we let it be. I would like to see the future of modeling be about the people. If you’re trying to sell clothes they should represent people buying them. Mannequins right now are still (mostly) skinny, non-disabled, binary. And when you walk into a store all of the clothes are meant for a very very specific set of people. The actual average size of a woman (I’m unsure if this stat includes trans femme or women aligned people) today in the US is a 16. When my partner and I go shopping it’s always a nightmare. There are no adaptive clothing items for me and no mid/plus sizes for her. If people were to see themselves represented in fashion, and there were clothes made for them, that would be life changing.
Can you share your thoughts on sustainability branching into adaptive wear?
I think it’s the only way to go. We only have one planet and we’re running out of time to fix things. It’s important to keep being intersectional in everything as we progress, and I think this counts just as that. So, why not make adaptive wear also sustainable? It only makes sense.
What’s your mantra / favorite quote?
“All roads lead to Rome.” I have a tattoo of that quote in Italian on my inner arm. It’s something I grew up hearing. I love it because it’s both literal and metaphorical. All roads in Europe actually do lead to Rome. But it’s also used to mean you’ll end up wherever you’re meant to be no matter what road you take. And I think that’s really beautiful.
Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Julian! Readers, tell us how you're activating this Pride Day at firstname.lastname@example.org!