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Op-ed: Dolce and Gabbana's Harmful Words

Dolce and Gabbana

We know what the design duo said was stupid. Here’s why it was way more than just idiotic mouthing-off.

When famed gay fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana stuck their exquisitely-loafered feet into their big mouths again in an interview with Panorama magazine, one could imagine they thought they were just inveighing against the wealthy gays and lesbians who use in vitro fertilization or surrogacy when one (or both of them, Greek chorus-style) said, "The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offspring, and rented uterus. Life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed." Dolce continued that procreation, "must be an act of love"; "I call children of chemistry 'synthetic children.' Uteri [for] rent, semen chosen from a catalog."

But they weren't just mouthing off about rich gays using IVF. They were being viciously judgmental about them and plenty of other people, including single parents of any orientation who adopt children, as well as plenty of straight couples and individuals who used IVF or surrogacy to conceive.

It shouldn't matter a whit what any fashion designer thinks of anyone's parenting choices, and in another era no one would have asked them to offer up their opinions on this matter--or any matter outside fashion. But these men aren't just fashion designers, they're billionaire fashion designers, who run big businesses and influence a significant sector of their industry. They employ many people and their opinions affect corporate culture. They are cultural influencers in their advertising, in their speech, in their practices.

So what they say does matter. And sadly, they keep channeling blatantly antigay crap. They are opposed to same-sex marriage, and cite Catholicism as the reason. They've thrown around "traditional" and "natural," words they say cannot apply to families that have used IVF or aren't headed by a mother and father.

"Unnatural" and "not a family" are words familiar to LGBTs. It is the kind of rhetoric that has been used against queers for eons by the Catholic Church and other traditionally antigay institutions. The propagation of that language was deliberate, and was used to marginalize, disenfranchise, and stir up hatred against us. "Unnatural" is the kind of language used by hate groups Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, and they try to curtail our civil rights in the United States. It is language used by Scott Lively on his mission to export his deadly, evangelical brand of antigay hatred to Africa and Russia.

"I'm Sicilian and I grew up in a traditional family, made up of a mother, a father, and children," said Dolce in the statement posted on Gabbana's Instagram, in an attempt to explain where he's coming from. But was his aim apology, or a desire to sidetrack calls for a boycott, or to get back into the good graces of Courtney Love who threatened to set fire to her Dolce & Gabbana wardrobe? Dolce's use of his upbringing to justify his intolerance can't alleviate the insult to anyone who didn't grow up with a mother and father--like children of parents who divorced, or children of widows or widowers. "I could not imagine my childhood without my mother," says Gabbana. Madonna, who has worked with the designers extensively, hasn't yet entered the fray. But I can't imagine that she would agree that life without a mother (her mother died of breast cancer when Madonna was 5), is some sort of faddish way to grow up.

"The family is not a fad," adds Stefano Gabbana. "In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging." And yet we know the single-parent-headed family isn't a fad either (see Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown for a 1990s example of a single mom; see The Odyssey for a somewhat older example).

The social media firestorm has obviously taken the designers by surprise; they've been spewing this kind of junk in interview for years now, and only this time has the response risen above the general Twitter din. When Elton John called for a boycott of Dolce and Gabbana, Gabbana's response was to call John a "fascist" in a message on Instagram.

It's exceptionally revealing how insidious homophobia can be when two of the wealthiest queer people in the world are using language of oppression against other queer people. Homophobia's effects run deep. It can be internalized, and then it can be externalized, regurgitated, and used against others.

Matthew Breen is deputy editor of Out and the editor-in-chief of The Advocate

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Matthew Breen