The American fashion industry can provide a platform for combatting ignorance of the transgender community, Thai transgender model Peche Di said in an event cohosted by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and the LGBTQ Resource Center on Feb. 27.

At the event, also cosponsored by the Thai Club, the Asian American Student Association, student fashion publication Thirty Seventh GU and student magazine Bossier, Di discussed the importance of representation of transgender people in the modeling industry and the ways activism on social media has fostered a strong community for transgender people.

Originally from Bangkok, Di moved to New York City to pursue a career in modeling. One of Di’s first gigs was a 2014 campaign by Barneys New York called “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters” which featured 17 transgender models. In 2015, Di founded Trans Models NYC, the first transgender modeling agency in New York City.

Di said she created the Trans Models agency to create an environment where transgender models were encouraged to be themselves.

“I wanted to form an agency that really understand trans people,” Di said at the event. “A lot of modeling agencies in New York City are trying to tell you you’re too feminine — be like a man, act like a man, they try to change you to suit the type of model that the brand would like to represent.”

SHEEL PATEL FOR THE HOYA Transgender fashion model Peche Di said her industry still is not fully inclusive of all models, including different races, body types and gender identities.

Trans Models manages 19 models, including 10 trans men and nine trans women of different races and body types.

One of the main goals of the agency is inclusivity of all body types, Di said.

“I normally don’t like the word plus-sized; I say positive body size,” Di said. “I try to help my models in a way that celebrates their bodies; I like to include anybody that feels not included.”

Di cited the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17-year-old who committed suicide in 2014, as an inspiration for the founding of Trans Models. Alcorn’s suicide note expressed a lack of support for transgender people, Di said.

“She asked people to fix the society,” Di said. “I believe that when the flower cannot bloom, you can’t fix the flower, but you have to fix the environment, and that is the message that she was trying to give to us.”

Di said the Twitter hashtags that circulated following Alcorn’s death and the positive messages of support toward young transgender people were a positive use of social media as a platform for dialogue.

“I see that technology and social media have impacted so many trans people, especially young kids, that can connect with the community and we can share the positive messages together,” Di said.

To create a positive trend of inclusivity, Di said society should “start discussing gender at an early age.”

“We have to talk with every person individually to understand that person on a deeper level,” Di said.

One way to empower transgender individuals is to turn to examples in religions and traditions such as Buddhism or Native American culture that have historically accepted trans people, according to Di.

“Whether you’re trans or homosexual, our society, current day, tries to attack us and tell us that we have to fix it,” Di said. “We can use those messages from ancient history and religion to inspire and to tell young kids that this type of gender has been celebrated for so many years.”

Despite increased opportunity and support for trans models in the fashion industry, Di said, there is still a lot of progress to be made toward full equality.

“Transgender rights are the next civil rights movement,” Di said.

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