“I feel like I really had no other option — I’m a gender nonconforming, transfeminine South Asian person,” said Alok Vaid-Menon, known simply as Alok, of being a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights.
The 30-year-old writer and performance artist has been tapped by Ugg for the brand’s Pride campaign: “Feel Heard.” It’s in honor of Pride month, with the Southern California-based company (a division of Deckers Brands) donating $125,000 to The Trevor Project — the suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit for LGBTQ youth.
“When I walk down the street people have an issue with it, because they don’t believe that people like me belong,” Alok went on. “I often experienced constant and relentless harassment in person and online. And so, it’s seen as political for me to exist. It doesn’t even matter what I’m doing. And that’s frustrating. I wish that I could be doing so many other things with my life. But, unfortunately, I still have to argue for my right to exist. And so, I think from a young age I learned that I would have to fight and resist in order to be able to claim space and be here. But what feels different, I think, than the advocacy work I do is the creative work I do. So, whereas advocacy is often reactionary, as an artist, I’m really interested in being proactive and imaginary. Like actually cultivating my wonder, my imagination, my dream, my capacity to expand, not just restrict myself. And so, I think that that balance for me is really necessary.”
Alok — who uses they/them pronouns — began writing poetry at 12 years old while growing up in a small town in Texas.
“I would publish them anonymously online, and a lot of them were about my own issues struggling with mental health,” they continued. “And I had so many people across the world tell me, like, ‘I feel the same way.’ And that really gave me license and permission to keep going because I knew that I wasn’t alone in my pain. The connections between art, storytelling and mental health have always been central to my creative practice.”
The Ugg campaign (while highlighting the brand’s “Fluff” slide sandals as part of its Pride collection) — with Alok front and center — aims to help destigmatize mental health.
“A lot of brands only understand pride in really simple and reductive ways, and we wanted to give a more expansive way that really featured queer people on our own terms, without having to filter that through people’s idea of what pride should be,” said Alok. “Pride is also an opportunity for me to help educate people about the ongoing struggle of anti-trans discrimination. In 2022, we already have over 280 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation that are circulating at the state level in this country, which is making it the worst ever legislative year for civil rights for trans people in U.S. history.”
Below, Alok breaks down what individuals can do to help advocate for LGBTQ rights:
- The first one is we really need to stop making assumptions around people’s gender. And that’s not just something that’s about supporting trans and non-binary people. It begins in our own lives with one another. We have these narrow ideas of what a man or woman is supposed to look like or be or act, and they’re harmful. We actually need to allow people to express gender on their own terms and challenge a culture of gender stereotypes. When you see gender stereotypes in your own orbit, interrupt that and say,”‘Hey, that’s not cool. People are allowed to be who they are. They don’t have to be something that you think that they should be.”
- I think the next thing is we need more support for trans-led and trans-specific advocacy organization. What a lot of people don’t understand is that after the successful realization of same-sex marriage, a lot of funding for LGBTQ issues in the U.S. dissipated because people thought that the movement was over. So we didn’t actually have an adequate enough infrastructure to respond to the backlash of anti-trans legislation. So many trans activists and organizations and community centers are profoundly under resourced. And a lot of times when people are supporting LGBTQ issues, that support only extends towards the most privileged in our community, white and wealthy folks. So it’s looking about getting involved at the grassroots level in your own town with organizations that are helping to uplift and support the trans community.
- The third thing that feels really vital right now is familiarizing yourself with the status of anti-LGBTQ legislation in your state. A lot of folks would be surprised to know that there are policies that are being debated in their state right now that are anti-LGBTQ, even in some of our allegedly progressive states. And once you find out — some places you can go for this is Equality Federation and the [American Civil Liberties Union] — then you can contact your senators and your elected representatives and say, “This is not consistent with our values.” And if you work at a company or a job, it’s also totally cool to investigate where you’re receiving funding from and if you’re receiving donations from politicians or if you’re receiving economic support or giving donations to politicians who are advancing anti-LGBTQ legislation. It’s important to speak up about that.