In a world dominated by the coronavirus pandemic – where record- breaking engagement in social and political activism is more present than ever – we’ve experienced major turning points which represent a long-anticipated shift for inclusivity and a more equitable world. Nonetheless, manifestations of intolerance and hatred towards particular communities still remain and continue to leave us living in a climate of civil unrest. Although overdue conversations surrounding white supremacy, racism, policing and inclusivity are finally taking centre stage, hate remains a growing phenomenon on a global scale. While advocacy through allyship and community building is concretely embedded in many of us, the question still remains: how do we protect ourselves against hate?
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 44. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Amidst all the bigotry stands Antiguan-American model, Aaron Rose Philip, paving the way for an all- inclusive future through celebrating individuality and community. From being the face of major fashion campaigns at Moschino and Sephora, to appearing on Collina Strada’s digital runway during New York Fashion Week, Aaron Rose is the first Black, transgender and disabled model to be represented by a major agency. Born with cerebral palsy, Aaron Rose has diversified the stage taking the Internet by storm by shedding love and light amongst communities and advocating for social change. A catalyst for inclusion, the model is dedicated to challenging cultural binaries and has obliterated dated perceptions of beauty standards. Although anti-hate is a life-long commitment, the young model is firmly committed to fighting for a better world – now, and for the forthcoming generations.
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As an Antiguan-American who is the first Black, transgender and disabled model to be represented by a highly recognized agency, has there been a shift in your confidence and self-identity since your rise to success, especially at such a young age?
 I honestly always just wanted people to understand me. I literally got into modelling because I wanted people to understand that I am the person that I am, and people are who they are. So, just because we may not be cisgender, tall or able-bodied, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have access or take up space in places like the fashion industry, social media, or in advocacy entirely. You know, I feel like people have the perception that I’m constantly trying to fix things, without even really getting to know me or informing themselves on the nuances of myself, or identities as a whole.
That being said, do you think the strong ambitious and self-directed qualities you embody are exceptional to your generation and those to come?
Yes. My generation is very self-defined, and it’s super beautiful to have the language we have surrounding community and the way communities bring themselves together now, especially with queer and marginalized youth. It’s very beautiful to see the way we find such a collective language for ourselves and bring it together the way that we do in order to create community and to create ourselves. It really is incredible, and this has only been seen in this generation!
Definitely... Because of this, there’s been so much progress! However, even with all that progress, there’s still so much work to be done, but it’s amazing to witness so many different communities coming together and working harder than ever before. It’ll be very interesting to see the growth from this point on in years to come.
Yes, for sure! It is incredible. I feel like compared to where we once were, we’ve come a long way in terms of community building. But, as you said, that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t light-years of work to be done, especially when it comes to protecting each other, and uplifting those identities who are not cisgender, white and able-bodied. Personally, I would love to see Black trans women be acknowledged as the women that they are in every matter. I want to see disabled people take up space in fashion, and eventually, see mobility aids like wheelchairs featured in major campaigns and on the runway. You know, these things need to become normal, because they’re more normal than people think. Ambition and drive are all that matters; individuals with disabilities just need assistance with stuff. Besides that, we’re ‘good,’ and even if we’re not ‘good,’ we still deserve to be handled with care, respect and utmost love.
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Top AREA, earrings DAVID YURMAN, feathers MARLON SMART.
Yes, I’m right behind you! Speaking of ambition, was being at the forefront of the fashion industry something you were hoping to achieve as a long-term goal, given that you developed a love for the industry at such a young age?
I was drawn to fashion because I knew that a change needed to occur and that, perhaps, I needed to be that person who loved fashion enough to say something. Honestly, I didn’t think I would get this far at all! I am so grateful every day, and a lot of the times it’s almost unbelievable to see how blessed I am to have these opportunities. I am truly so grateful to be able to talk candidly about the fact that my industry has such a lack of proper representation, to explain how important representation is, and how it should be invested in. I am so happy to have got this far and want to continue being a successful model.
It really is incredible to see your growth! Given your success thus far, are there particular challenges you continue to face in your career today?
Disability will always be a conversation that is hard, and it’s always something that has to be worked around. I’ve been extremely lucky to be on sets that have attended to my needs. However, that isn’t something that always happens for a disabled person. I’ve definitely had my fair share of challenges within my career thus far, though. Things that I’ve done as of recently have been tremendous and I do feel truly blessed. But, I will say that I still haven’t done my first major runway show yet, mainly because of the fact that having disabled bodies on the runway is still a topic of conversation. I do look forward to the day it happens, though, and I know it will be amazing. It’s highly important for designers and casting directors to have these conversations. Not just for myself, but also for other talents who want to venture into fashion.
I totally agree. Of course, there has been so much progress in the fashion industry through championing social justice and equality, which has paved a new foundation for inclusivity. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done with regards to diversity across fashion to break its conventional model and experience a full cultural shift. Are there particular initiatives you’d like to see the industry take in order to challenge discrimination and all forms of hate?
It’s so crazy because the industry is still combatting things like racism, and racism is literally the root of all our problems. This just goes to show how far we still have to go. I think it’s important to have these conversations on a corporate level, so it can impact businesses and the higher-ups in the industry. I do believe that change will be implemented when people in higher positions are faced with these conversations, and hopefully these conversations can be facilitated in a more open form.
Given your platform, how do you hope to educate the industry in order to achieve a more balanced and inclusive model?
Constantly showing people that I am here and reminding them that we are all in this together is crucial. Just like anyone else, I have aspirations and talent which I simply want to be recognized. I want to keep putting this message out to the universe and continue to connect with my audience about my ambitions and success. What’s important is creating a world for yourself through advocacy in which you can carve a space for yourself with words.
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Dress CHRISTIAN COWAN, earring worn as bracelet Y/PROJECT, necklace TIFFANY & CO., earrings stylist own.
Growing up in the Internet era, your presence on social media platforms has been significant to your success as a model and your expression for human rights advocacy. Though social networks allow like-minded individuals to uplift their voices and communities, it also remains a place that gathers large public opinions and often calls for acts of violence and hatred. How do you think social networks should tackle hate speech? Do you believe social platforms provide a safe space for individuals at large?
I can definitely answer that from my personal experience. It’s a sad reality that people will read about others and do a deep dive into their identity, and almost kind of pinpoint things about them to bring negativity for no absolute reason! I remember something I went through when I was starting my career was the amount of online harassment, stalking and so many other things just because I was a young model trying to get signed. I mean, there were people literally emailing my mother in Antigua with fake tweets that I ‘made’ which resulted in my Twitter being taken down by the alt-rights. When I was 18 years old, I would get bullied for months on end on Twitter by these same trolls who would call me racist and transphobic slurs... I’ve really seen it all. During these times, I’ve definitely noticed that certain apps respond much better in these instances more than others.
For example, Twitter didn’t do too much at that point and a lot of this hate speech constantly went unnoticed. It’s truly devastating, but I am very confident in saying that Instagram is a safer space when it comes to harassment, as their reactions are way more immediate. Though I will say, for a fact, that my experience on both Twitter and Instagram has been very nuanced since I do owe these platforms so much for being the main source of what started my career. But it can be a very hurtful place without a doubt.
Social media is a powerful, yet equally destructive tool. Do you think harmful content on social networks will ever stop?
That is a dream. People are people. These things will happen... That’s just a cruel fact of life.
Hate in the United States – and on a global scale – has become commonplace. As a young Black, transgender and disabled figure in mainstream fashion, how do you hope to continue spreading awareness for marginalized identities in the industry and society in its entirety?
People often ask Black people, what are you going to do to keep moving forward and to keep amplifying your voice? My answer is: existing, and to keep existing with love and light. I am trying to genuinely exist as the person that I am. I think wowing people rather than just announcing the possibilities is incredibly powerful. It’s so important to feed representation of Black, trans, and disabled people in mainstream fashion media because it normalises our presence. That is exactly what we need.
That is very touching to hear and such an authentic approach. To keep existing with love and light really is the most powerful tool, because you know what you’re about and those who support you will continue to move forward with you.
 Never compromise the self. It’s important to keep the self loud and open.
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With movements like Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and others advocating for change around the world, we are still living in a climate of civil unrest. In a world that continues to deem trans folks as feral, and causes repercussions when the lack of trans representation is critiqued;, what tangible resources do you believe should be offered to communities in need in order to stop the hate that is infiltrating political conversations, the media and our society?
 Resources to help the trans community definitely involve health care, therapy, work opportunities and education. These are literally basic human needs that our community has been deprived of because of who we are. I mean, these resources are the basis, but they truly mean the most. Trans people aren’t doing anything but being themselves; and this community pays the price for that. Change can happen if these resources are provided to us.
Following major incidents involving police officers like the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the US has reached the highest level of hate crimes in over a decade. What are methods you believe are effective in order to restore community in the aftermath of hatred?
Can I be completely honest with you?
Of course.
I am not entirely sure about that at the moment. I think there’s so much that’s happened that we are literally all trying to move forward together. I will say, last year started a lot of conversations and mutual allyship amongst many communities. After all of this, there definitely is togetherness right now. We’ve all experienced this together and within that is what brings this commonality of us being together.
As you were born with cerebral palsy, times of physical protest may be challenging for you. How do you put forth your voice in these times of protest from a distance?
I definitely use my platform. Last year, because I couldn’t take to the streets to protest, I started helping people on the Internet who are Black and have families or are simply in need by getting them mutual aid. Through this, they can take care of bills and get healthcare just like anyone else, since these people aren’t getting these services from the federal government. It’s about getting into community; getting into the nitty- gritty and giving the most tangible help possible. It’s been very interesting to find ways to do this over social media. It’s such a fascinating and powerful tool.
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Top AREA, skirt, belt and shoes MIU MIU, bag BRANDON BLACKWOOD, earrings DAVID YURMAN, feathers MARLON SMART.
From being the face of major campaigns at Moschino and Sephora, to closing Willie Norris Workshop’s runway show, you’ve dismantled barriers and made fashion history. Given your exposure, how do you hope viewers perceive your art in the industry?
As of late, I have just been trying to live life from the most honest place in my heart. Whatever the project, I approach it with my whole heart and brain to create something beautiful. I don’t have expectations. I must say, before doing any job, I do feel this happiness and pride to be able to do this, which empowers my ability to get the job done right.
Is there a particular project you’ve worked on that is your favourite in your career thus far?
Ah, that is such a difficult one! I mean, I am so grateful to have had so many beautiful experiences in my career thus far, but Moschino was so special to me. I felt so held, respected and loved on set... I remember my whole heart lifted out of my chest for how grateful I was to have lived that experience. So, I think it would definitely be a combination between working with Moschino, Sephora, and the Miley Cyrus music video when I was 18 years old. These are definitely my favourite thus far because I had such an incredible time on set and felt so special!
Congratulations, Aaron Rose! It’s so great to see your accomplishments at such a young age. All of these projects have been so wonderful to see. Thank you for paving the way for individuals like yourself.
Thank you so much, that means a lot! We’re living in a tremendous period. Personally, I’ve definitely been going through a crossroads of my own, where I’m entering something that is so big and fabulous. I do feel like the whole world is feeling something similar right now. I don’t know if it’s the election or a combination of things, but I do feel such a crossroad right now. There is some bad, but so much good!
Do you have a specific message you’d like to put out for those who follow you, and those who don’t just yet?
I love you! I have so much love for you, and I hope you find everything you want in this life.
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Dress and belt GIVENCHY, sunglasses CHRIS HABANA x DAVID KOMA, choker and earrings CHRIS HABANA, headpiece BED ON WATER.
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