Prejudice on the Runway

Modeling troupes at Florida A&M are known for allowing students of any background, color, or creed to fashionably express themselves on the runway. 

But one Tallahassee Community College student said she was turned away from FACES Modeling Troupe, Inc., because she was, at one time, “he.”

Fabian Johns is a 23-year-old transgendered woman from Ft. Lauderdale.

Those who identify as transgendered have their own gender identity, which does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, according to the American Psychological Association.

In short, Johns was born a biological male and is transitioning into an apparent female.

“My story isn’t really like everyone else’s…it’s very different, but still relatable,” Johns said.

Johns cheered in high school and said she was told she would “be a girl one day.” When she graduated from high school, Johns made the decision to become a woman.

According to Johns, friends of hers, also members of FACES, had long advised her to try out.

“I was just like, I don’t want to be judged, or deal with any bias, so I left it alone,” said Johns.

“But, two years later, I started believe what they were saying and decided to try out.

“I went to the first day of clinics, Sept. 13 to15. I talked to one of trainers, and she said ‘you’ll make it.’

“I did everything that was asked of me. I made sure I knew all the mechanics. I knew that if I got cut, it would be because I was born a man,” said Johns who was shocked when she didn’t get a call back.

Johns said she called FACES’ secretary, who did not have an answer as to why she didn’t make the cut.

She also claims members of the modeling troupe called her to apologize.

It was mostly the male members of the modeling troupe who opposed her membership, according to Johns, in a conversation with FACES members. She said they didn’t want FACES to have a “bad image.”

But Johns said she could only respond: “I knew this was going to happen.”

Disgruntled, Johns didn’t give up. She then went to walk-ons Sept. 17, for one last try.

“They cut me again,” said Johns. “After that, a lot of the members came up to me. They said ‘if it were up to me, you would’ve made it, but you know how it is.'”

The Famuan tried several times to contact members of FACES, including those on the executive board, but was unsuccessful.

But according to Derrick McMahon, a former member who joined in spring 2007, FACES has a history of policing the sexual orientation and gender identity of prospective members,

“I can personally remember the gender expressions and sexual orientations of male prospective members being used against them in terms of who passed auditions and who didn’t,” said the 2010 graduate of the Department of History, Geography, and Political Science.

“The interesting thing is that there is a double standard when it comes to gender expression. Girls who are more masculine aren’t discriminated against, and are actively incorporated into the organization, but boys who are more feminine are denied opportunities to join the organization, particularly if their femininity is seen as being gay,” said McMahon, who teaches middle school social sciences in Polk County.

McMahon also added that the troupe has always been open to students from both FSU and TCC.

Active chapters exist at other colleges in Florida.

Shakida Harvey, a FAMU student and member of the troupe, disagrees with the decision to exclude Johns.

“It’s petty…truly discriminatory,” said Harvey, from Titusville, Fla.

Johns’ ordeal is probably not uncommon among LGBT students at FAMU and others in the university community. Since sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t protected in the university’s discrimination policy, students who identify as LGBT have no outlet to claim discrimination.

Carrie Gavin, director of Equal Opportunity Programs, said a complaint similar to Johns’ would be a relatively new issue for her office.

“Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s Non-Discrimination Regulation is modeled after Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act. At this time, federal and state law do not cover sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes,” said Gavin.

FAMU’s policy ensures its students and employees an “environment free from any form of discrimination including race, religion, color, age, disability, sex, marital status, national origin, veteran status and sexual harassment as prohibited by state and federal statutes.”

“However, that does not mean the university will not continue to look at this issue. Although, we may not have sexual orientation and gender identity listed in the regulation, that does not mean the EOP is not sensitive about those issues towards the persons involved,” said Gavin.

She added that her office usually deals with individual complaints pertaining to sexual orientation. As far as she knows, no complaints have been made against any groups.

Nonetheless, according to Gavin, if sexual orientation and gender identity were outlined in Section 10.103, Non-Discrimination Policy and Discrimination and Harassment Complaint Procedures, of the University regulations, FACES and other student groups would be held accountable for such discrimination.

Gavin also said that her office encourages students to take action to change the policy.

However, the issue of changing the policy to protect those like Johns, and hundreds of FAMU students in the discrimination policy, is not new for SGA.

Asha Rizor, director of diversity for SGA, said that in the past, members have questioned the discrimination policy. They’ve even gone so far as to hold meetings to solicit student input.

“Last year, we tried to have a focus group to discuss the issue, but hardly anyone showed up,” said the 19-year old from Stockbridge, Ga.

“I think it’s (gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination) problem, although it’s hard to quantify. No one speaks up about being discriminated against, but it’s up to students to voice opposition and turn that around.

“We are a really conservative school, so it’s hard for an outcry to arise to a point where people feel like action should be taken,” said Rizor, a biology student.

Rizor said it’s possible that the university’s demographic, which is 91.6 percent Black, according the 2010-11 FAMU Fact Book, has something to do with the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity from the policy.

“It’s hard to rock the boat, when it’s been tradition for so long, especially among Black Americans,” Rizor said.

Because FACES is a registered, non-political organization on campus, the group is eligible to receive SGA funding, which is generated from the activities and service fee imposed on tuition.

According to the web-accessible copies of the discrimination policies from the 11 members of the state university system, nine institutions include protection of gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.

Florida International University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the Universities of North, South, and West Florida protect sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Of the 11 member-institutions of the state university system, two, FAMU and Florida Atlantic University, do not protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

TCC’s discrimination policy, while not explicitly stated, does protect sexual orientation, but excludes gender identity.

Florida State’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to adopt a policy against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in June 2010.

“After years and generations of FSU students have pushed for the inclusion of a basic non-discriminatory policy, Florida State University joins ranks of other institutions that will cover all students, staff, and faculty against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” stated the June 25, 2010 FSU SGA press release.

The Obama administration revised the Equal Employment Opportunity policy (EEO) to include protection of sexual orientation and gender identity at the federal level in 2010.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA) is a proposed law, which was introduced in 1994, but did not pass the Committee on Labor and Human Resources of the 103rd Congress, according to the Library of Congress. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy sponsored the bill. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) reintroduced the bill to the 112th Congress, which he co-sponsored with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore). Both legislators are openly gay. 

“Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” was published in February 2011. The survey was conducted by National Black Justice Coalition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“From education to employment and housing discrimination, from police brutality to health care disparities, Black transgender people are suffering at extremely high rates due to bigotry and transphobia,” said National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks.

“Nearly half of all Black transgender respondents report being harassed at work and at school.”

The study found that half of Black respondents who attended school reported facing harassment, with 49 percent reported having attempted suicide.


*Four state universities that protect both gender identity and sexual orientation:





*Casilya Smith, vice president of FACES Modeling Troupe Inc., submitted this letter(s) in response to the above article: 

“On behalf of the executive board of FACES Modeling Troupe INC. and myself, I would like to move that the FAMUAN pulls the article and issue out an apology statement on the basis of slander and defamation of character.

The author of this article did not seek any statement from our executive board, the president, or myself (vice president) on the issues accused in this article nor permission to use our name “FACES Modeling Troupe” in this sense. Our trainers have voted in the same manner year after year. Potential models go through a series of clinics, and then are tested on skills learned,presence, and potential at FIRST CUTS. The models chosen to move past FIRST CUTS are voted by majority votes.

Each model was given the exact same chance and same consideration to try out regardless of sex, race, or gender preference, but just like any other organization…it is a TRY OUT. No one person is guaranteed to make it into the organization. We are an incorporated organization with many chapters, and we like to treat FACES as a business. We are deeply concerned and puzzled at the inaccuracy in the claims published in the FAMUAN, and as stated earlier we would like for the article to be pulled and a apology be issued accordingly.

Neither myself, Chartzi Spell, or our secretary Kristin has received calls or voicemails concerning this issue. We are incorporated and have a state board. We also are a student organization and have a faculty adviser (Morris Hawkins) that has accurate contact information(phone and email) and TRUE factual statements to issue out had we been offered that respect before this article was published. As an ESTABLISHED publication, we wouldn’t expect for a “hearsay” accusation that lacks factual evidence to be published front page at our expense. It would have been more appropriate and professional to omit FACES’ name until proper statements were received. Our next concern, is that if we were to write a letter to the editor, will it be front page news? Probably not. We expect those call logs to be emailed and handed to myself, Chartzi, Kristin, or Morris ASAP. Our state board representative will be handling everything else with you guys accordingly. We hate to be pushed into corners but if we have to contact the Democrat on the basis of the FAMUAN and defmation of character without probable evidence, or facts then that’s what we will have to do. We will be sure to contact your office for proper statements if necessary. Please understand the backlash, criticism, and lasting effects this has had on our general body, sponsors, and other chapters. We pride ourselves on diversity and this article does not reflect anything our organization stands for. Thank you in advance!!


Casilya Smith


2011-2012 Vice President