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Monumental Dress Dedicated To Fighting Homophobia Comes To Canada

The Amersterdam Rainbow Dress, a vibrant work of art highlighting the persecution of LGBTQ2S+ people around the world, has arrived in Canada…
 
A monumental dress that calls attention to global homophobia is touring Canada this week, aided by some high-profile Canadian talent. The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is stitched together from the flags of countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized upon threat of imprisonment, torture, or death. As it is illegal to be gay in 71 countries, representing a third of all countries in the world, the dress is massive and has a diameter of over 50 feet.
 
The project has a hopeful message, though: as countries decriminalize same-sex relations, their respective flags within the dress are replaced with rainbow flags. Since first being exhibited in 2016, the dress has toured the world and is now a part of Amsterdam Museum’s permanent collection.
 
Through the support of the Dutch Embassy, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress will be in both Ottawa and Toronto this week so that it can be photographed at the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the CN Tower, and Harbourfront Centre.
 
Arnout van Krimpen, one of the creative minds behind the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, says, “The dress is a visualization of state-sponsored homophobia. It’s a conversation-starter that gets people’s attention because it’s very colourful and pretty – and then people want to hear the story behind it, which is not so pretty. It’s a story which some people might not otherwise listen to. Ultimately, we use this artivism to lower the threshold for attention.”
 

ABOVE LEFT: Alicia Kazobinka, a Montreal-based trans activist originally from Burundi, in the Canadian Museum of History (Photo by Adam Zivo) / ABOVE RIGHT: Icesis Couture, a fan favourite on season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race, in the National Gallery of Canada (Photo by Adam Zivo)

When asked about why he wanted to bring the dress to Canada, van Krimpen added, “Both countries are highly liberal and were early adopters of pro-LGBTQ legislation, including non-discrimination laws and marriage equality. I think that when countries like these come together, they have a stronger voice when advocating for change around the globe.”
 
When touring foreign cities, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is presented to local political figures, sparking conversations about the global rights of LGBTQ migrants and refugees. For example, in 2017 the dress was featured in a Dutch LGBTQ diplomatic mission to the United States, where it was presented to American politicians by Amsterdam’s then-deputy mayor, Simone Kukenheim.
 
In conjunction with diplomatic outreach, the dress is photographed at prominent landmarks in partnership with high-profile LGBTQ figures from the host country.
 
In Ottawa, the dress has already been modelled by Icesis Couture, who is currently a top-four contestant on season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race, as well as Alicia Kazobinka, a Montreal-based trans activist originally from Burundi. In Toronto, Myles Sexton, a prominent nonbinary model and HIV advocate, will be modelling the dress in the CN tower, while Kai Cheng Thom, an acclaimed trans author, will be serving looks at Harbourfront Centre.
 

ABOVE: Trans activist Alicia Kazobinka reviews a photo with photographer Adam Zivo and Amsterdam Rainbow Dress lead, Arnoult van Krimpen. (Photo by Sean Coulton)

Each shoot will be spearheaded by controversial photographer and writer Adam Zivo, who was previously the founder and director of LoveisLoveisLove, an arts-based LGBTQ advocacy campaign. Zivo’s provocative column-writing at the National Post has often taken an iconoclastic approach to rights advocacy.
 
Zivo draws comparisons between the rainbow dress and the AIDS quilt of the 1980s, which stitched together panels memorializing those who died of AIDS. “Historically-speaking, striking visuals have an emotional heft, persuasiveness, and political impact that can’t be matched by written arguments.”
 
Myles Sexton, who will be modelling the dress from the lofty heights of the CN tower, hopes that they can use their participation in the project to draw more visibility to people living with HIV. They elaborate, “Just like the 71 countries where it is punishable by law to be gay, there are 75 countries that still criminalize HIV. That acts as a barrier to HIV prevention, care, and treatment. Modelling this dress as a queer non-binary person helps bring visibility to these two topics which have a profound impact on the 2SLGBQIA+ community.”
 
Author Kai Cheng Thom, who is noted for her conciliatory approach to trans activism, says, “It’s important to me that we continue to make queer an trans rights accessible. I want to help anyone, including folks in the Global South, to feel that they can talk about gender diversity. Even if they don’t always agree with the right way to talk about gender diversity, I want the conversation to be had.”
 

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