There was plenty of gay male drama in the second season of Bravo's Project Runway, which comes out on DVD June 27, but all references to contestant Zulema Griffin's lesbianism got left on the cutting-room floor. As she prepares to show her debut collection at New York Fashion Week in September, former Ford model Griffin — who made it to episode 8 before getting the double kiss-off from host Heidi Klum — also volunteers for nonprofits such as Living Beyond Belief, which raises HIV/AIDS awareness through high school peer-to-peer education. So was Griffin really an abrasive, model-stealing bitch or just another innocent victim of creative editing? You be the judge.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: When did you disclose your sexuality to Project Runway producers?
Zulema Griffin: Immediately, because I had no choice. They do a background check and get all into your business. Literally, they want your dates from the past 10 years. So it's not something I could hide.
Once the cameras began rolling, were you actively vocal about being gay?
Being gay is like being black — I don't go around campaigning about it, but it was pretty obvious. I barely spoke on the show, but I told everyone I was gay. Also, the only person I ever called was my wife [Sherie, of 3 1/2 years]. But I didn't have any agenda; I just wanted to make great clothes. I'm a multilayered individual, but the show's not about being gay — it's about fashion design.
Why did the producers focus on the guys' sexuality while ignoring yours?
I have no idea. Probably because if you're trying to create a villain, you can't give them endearing traits. But first and foremost, no one campaigned their gayness. Nick [Verreos] wasn't vocal about it at all. It's something I would make reference to because we're both in long-term relationships, but every time I'd mention his boyfriend, he would tell me to hush. Meanwhile, he was doing runway walks. [Laughs]
You were omitted from "Seven for the Runway," Advocate.com's December 6, 2005, feature on the season's gay contestants.
That is what I was most upset about. More than a month before the Advocate.com article came out, the [Bravo] PR people asked me a very specific question: "Do you want us to promote you in the gay market?" I said, "Absolutely." When I saw that I wasn't involved in the article, I immediately knew how [the producers] were going to play me.
Were you prepared for how negatively you were portrayed?
Oh, I was totally prepared for it. My wife works in postproduction services, and half of my friends are editors, many on reality shows. They said, "You're black, and you're on a reality show — be ready for them not to be nice to you."
Have you confronted the producers?
The producers said, "Zulema, after you see the first episode, give us a call and tell us what you think." They omitted some very important information and changed my dialogue to make it seem like I did certain things that I didn't, so I gave them a call and told them what I thought. That didn't go very well, so we didn't speak to each other after that. But it's not just the producers and editors who are narrow-minded — it's also the people who believe everything that they see on TV.
Do you feel a responsibility to step up as a role model?
Not specifically for African-American gays, but more a responsibility to promoting all facets of who I am — being black, being a woman, and being gay in fashion.
Any regrets about auditioning for the show in the first place?
I don't like what happened, but I don't regret anything. You can't go back; you can only move forward.
The Advocate, July 2006.