Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Trans People But Were Too Afraid To Ask

#AskTransFolks is a new social video campaign that aims to demystify trans issues.

Between Caitlyn Jenner’s celebrity, some states’ controversial bathroom bills, and the award-winning show Transparent, it’s been a high-profile year for trans issues in the news.


Perhaps less known is that 2015 saw a record high number of 15 transgender people murdered in the U.S. According to the National Coalition of Anti-violence Programs (NCAVP), of the 11 reported trans homicides in 2016, nine were transgender people of color. In order to raise awareness and demystify transgender people and issues, a new social campaign launched last week inviting people to ask any question they want through the hashtag #asktransfolks, and a transgender person would respond in a video.

The campaign wasn’t created by a single ad agency, but instead during a five-day workshop with leading ad industry creatives from places like R/GA, LEMZ, Sid Lee, Code&Theory, Special Guest, GOOD, Sagmeister Walsh, and more, and trans activists, as part of an ongoing, nonprofit collective project called Papel&Caneta (Pen&Paper) aimed at using ad skills to tackle social issues. Other participants include FLAGCX, a creative collective of companies in Brazil (aligned to IPG), who help fund the project, and a Brazil-based incubator called Mesa.

Launched by a twenty-something ad planner from Brazil named Andre Chaves, Papel&Caneta has previously created white paper reports with the same collaborative model, targeted at supporting female creative leadership in advertising, and how the creative industry can build a new gender imagery for children. Chaves says this was its most ambitious project to date.

“The fact that leaders, young people, and activists worked together at the same table for six days, not just to think about ideas, but also launch a real project that will serve as a catalyst for social change,” says Chaves.

R/GA’s vice president of strategy and partnerships Jess Greenwood says it was a whirlwind five days, and the simplicity of the campaign’s central idea–ask a question, get an answer–was born out of that time constraint.

“It’s basically a knowledge exchange program done through Twitter and the Twitter API, something we needed to be able to manage very lightly, where anyone can ask their question, and a member of the trans community will answer it in a short video and send it back to them,” says Greenwood. “And we’re going to build up an archive of it all at asktransfolks site. We made it that way on purpose, and if we had more time it probably would’ve been more complicated.”


Greenwood says that Chaves is a master organizer on a mission. “This is an interesting model for people in advertising and communications to use their skills in a positive and impactful way.”

Transgender activist and speaker Tiq Milan was also part of the workshop and says he became part of the campaign after Chaves simply got in touch through his website. “I’ve been advocating in LGBT community and working as a journalist for over a decade,” says Milan. “Merging these two fields, advocacy and journalism, has given me a deeper understanding of how important media is to the cultivation of culture. We don’t just document what’s happening. We dictate it at the same time. I jumped at the chance to be part of this intensive project because I knew that it was going to make a difference.”

Another transgender advocate on the project was photographer and designer Texas, who says the workshop was a really unique way to create a platform. “I had to really think about it, because it wasn’t the kind of work I’ve ever done before,” he says. “So, I was not only inserting myself in the experience as a photographer, but also as someone who was reviewing the language and content of this project.”

As the industry starts to look ahead to its annual get together in Cannes next month, Chaves says there should be more opportunities like this for advertising’s best to get together for a better reason.

“Every year, leaders and young people convene in Cannes to be inspired and recognized for their work, but after a week, everyone returns to their routines and their projects in search of results,” says Chaves. “I believe that it is time to show how the ad industry can change the world, but not in an individual way with each agency working by and for themselves. We’re at the cusp of a world that is getting more and more collaborative, where people from different places and experiences are connecting. It’s time to see leaders and creatives together at the table working on global and social causes–not just festivals. Success can no longer be defined by how many awards you win, but by how you change people’s lives.”

[First Photo: Setti Kidane; Other Photos: courtesy of #asktransfolks]


About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.