A Chicago-based model dropped from Ford Models claims he was discriminated against for being gay and Asian-American.
Chufue Yang, a 21-year-old Hmong-American who signed to Ford Models in April 2016, was dropped by the agency Aug. 15 after months of feeling he was being discriminated against, he said.
"When I got the email, it was almost a sigh of relief," Yang said. "Before that, I had already felt like I didn't own my body anymore, and I saw how me being queer and a person of color influenced my career."
Yang said he received fewer opportunities than models who fit the stereotypical straight, white and muscular mold predominant in the industry, and that his agent told him it would be harder for him to get jobs because he's Asian-American.
"I didn't take it to heart because I wanted to pave my own way, but I was the only queer person of color signed onto their board, so I feel like I was the guinea pig for them," Yang said.
Representatives from Ford Models did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The agency took steps to erase Yang's identity, including changing his height on his modeling portfolio and misrepresenting him in a Models.com feature that his agent set, according to Yang. The feature, published within the site's NEWfaces division, assumed Yang's ethnicity by saying he came from Minnesota via Mongolia.
Yang posted on Instagram to express his feelings about being misidentified by Models.com, and his agent stepped in by asking Yang to remove the post, he said. Yang deactivated all his social media, and his agent emailed the feature's editor to have the story corrected.
"This is when things got kind of rocky with my agency," Yang said. "Me speaking out wasn't following what they wanted me to do, but I wanted to speak out on the discrimination."
Yang started receiving fewer emails from Ford Models about new opportunities, and he started questioning his self-worth, Yang said. He started to feel like he was losing ownership of his body, soin order to reclaim ithe shaved his head and dyed his hair without telling his agent.
Yang said he has a positive outlook after being dropped from Ford Models. He plans to take a small break from modeling, focus on earning a degree in interactive media arts and then start fresh in a new city.
He hopes people within the modeling industry can learn from his experience by working to make it more inclusive of LGBT people and people of color. He added that he does not blame his agent or Ford Models for the discrimination he faced while modeling for them.
"At the end of the day, it's the industry's faultnot my agent's or Ford Models' fault," Yang said. "Discrimination is an industry-wide problem that's taught me to stand firmer on my values and what I want to do as a model, which is be the representation I never had growing up."