Having recently been among the designers invited to attend the Ali Forney Center’s “A Place at the Table” gala, Willy Chavarria spoke of how homelessness is affecting youths throughout the U.S.
Chavarria, who designs his own label and is senior vice president of design at Calvin Klein, was joined at the Cipriani Wall Street luncheon by Jackson Wiederhoeft and Jameel Mohammad. A fourth invitee, Christian Cowan, was unable to attend. The crowd raised $1.4 million for the 20-year-old nonprofit that helps more than 2,000 LGBTQ youths — many of whom are homeless — annually through a 24-hour drop-in session.
As host of the May 13 gala, Angelica Ross made two wardrobe changes with Frederick Anderson-designed gowns, according to a spokesman for the gala.
The Ali Forney Center provides homeless LGBTQ youth with shelter, HIV prevention and life skills training. The organization deals with youths who have run away or have been thrown out of their homes because their families do not accept their LGBTQ identities. LGBTQ youths are eight times more likely to be homeless than non-LGBTQ ones. And once they encounter homelessness, these young people are eight times more likely to experience violence on the streets, sexual assault, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
Noting how the Ali Forney Center offers outreach in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Chavarria said, “It is so important that they raise money because there is so little government support especially in times like now. There are so many increased prejudices in this time that we’re living in. It’s so important that they are out there protecting, helping and getting people off of the streets and into a world that they can really live in and become successful.”
On March 31, the Biden-Harris administration recognized Transgender Day of Visibility, and again condemned the proliferation of anti-transgender legislation that has been introduced and passed in state legislatures. The Justice Department issued a letter to all state attorneys general reminding them of federal constitutional and statutory provisions that protect transgender youth against discrimination including, when youth seek gender-affirming care.
As for the lack of adequate federal aid, Chavarria said, “It’s so surprising. I think a lot of it has to do with the instilled generational biases. It’s the whole reason why those kids are on the streets to begin with. So many of them have just not been welcomed into their own families, their extended cultural families or whatever it may be. They have suffered rejection, because of these long-lasting, deep-rooted, existences of hate that we have in this country and beyond. I think that extends into the levels of government.”
He also noted how “very encouraging” it is to see how many people are willing to help those who are living on the streets or are houseless.
As the pandemic has dragged into a third year, the problem of homelessness has become a greater concern in many major American cities including New York; Seattle; Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon. “I think this country has really promoted a false sense of reality. There is an idea of turning a blind eye to what exists here in order to self promote. So much of the world right now turns a blind eye,” Chavarria said. “As times get harder for everyone, we kind of are losing the middle class. The middle class is having to fight for itself. Unfortunately, it gets tougher and tougher for people to reach out and support each other. That has allowed for this neglect of people in need.”
Accustomed to partnering with various organizations to help raise awareness or money with his own signature collections, Chavarria said he expects to do something on behalf of the Ali Forney Center.
A Calvin Klein underwear ad featuring a pregnant male trans model recently created a myriad of social media comments in favor and in opposition. The PVH Corp.-owned designer brand featured Roberto Bete in the final stage of pregnancy and partner Erica Feeha in an Instagram post. Although Chavarria deferred any comment about the reaction to that campaign without first having approval from Calvin Klein’s communications team, he said emphatically, “I’m really happy to work with a brand that promotes inclusivity and embraces the trans community as an important part of our society.”