When University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Lauren Meyer was attacked by two men last month for wearing an American Apparel “Legalize Gay” shirt (she was punched in the face as the men hurled gay slurs), dozens of supporters rallied on campus to raise awareness about hate crimes. Also jumping to her support? American Apparel, which sent some 500 shirts to campus to give away to students gratis, and also purchased a full-page ad in the student paper on Wednesday (pictured) declaring the company an ally to the gays. Corporate ally, or creepy hanger-on?

First, let’s get this out of the way: Any company that comes to the defense of our community deserves commendation. For every outfit like American Apparel that lauds The Gays with attention and good vibes, in good and bad times, there are thousands that ignore us, even when attacks against us happen in our own communities (see: Target, Minnesota).

But is anyone else a little skeezed out by a company that’s using a violent gay bashing as a means to market itself? The t-shirts themselves don’t carry any American Apparel branding, but I’d bet most young gays who see the shirts known where they’re from. Moreover, AA is touting its activism by buying ads to promote itself — which could be seen as a healthy showing of support, or if you’re a cynic, a gross misappropriation of a disturbing event for a corporate marketing opportunity.

It reminds me of how the Human Rights Campaign is using recent bullycides to solicit donations (without any transparency about how those funds will be used in “HRC’s fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.” By paying Joe Solmonese’s salary?) Raising awareness: Good. Murky attempts to profit off violence? Upsetting.

You tell me.

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