Model Teddy Quinlivan came out as transgender last September, and since then she’s used her platform to encourage visibility and acceptance across the fashion industry. She’s been featured in magazine editorials and lookbooks and has walked in hundreds of shows — so many that The Fashion Spot’s spring 2018 diversity report attributed her New York Fashion Week casting to the boost in transgender runway appearances, from 18 to 45. “Selling super expensive clothing to rich people is fun,” Quinlivan said during a panel at the Gurls Talk festival with Teen Vogue and Coach on Sunday, British Vogue reports, “but getting to change the world and de-stigmatizing what it means to be transgender is what's really important.”
In addition to breaking down those barriers, she’s speaking out on the fashion industry’s sexual harassment reckoning, sharing she had been sexually assaulted several times. “I've been sexually assaulted at work, outside of work by people I work with, and on a date. There's this sexual assault that happens in the workplace in fashion, and people write it off because it's a creative industry. Because we're creatives, and we're sexually free, your sexual assault doesn't matter... You signed up for it.”
Quinlivan thinks the fashion industry plays a major role in keeping sexual assault quiet. “These people protect each other,” she said. “They do it on a closed set. They do it surrounded by people who will never rat them out.” And it’s hard to speak out when rejecting the inappropriate behavior could inadvertently mean rejecting future jobs. “A lot of times sexual assault does lead to opportunities, which is really sick and terrible and disgusting.”
The model's on-set experience came at the hands of a photographer. “That person was a hero of mine: someone who I looked up to, someone who I admired... I convinced myself that it was OK that he had done that to me, because I was going to get something out of it. When I didn't get [any opportunities], it was a really harsh awakening... I'm disappointed with him, but I was even more disappointed with myself that I let it happen to me. And I decided to take my power back.”
But speaking out is how we ultimately bring change, Quinlivan believes. “I'm telling this story because we can't let it happen anymore. Touching people inappropriately, saying inappropriate things to them, making people feel useless, making them feel like their body is the only thing they have to offer someone, it has to stop. And the way that we stop it is we change the culture. We have this conversation. We demand better.”
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).