This online nonprofit is offering free clothes to trans and LGBTQ youth, and it could make all the difference

Teenagers navigate a confusing and difficult world of puberty, academic stress and identity crises. And transgender and gender non-conforming youth go through life with the added fear and stress of institutional discrimination, resulting in higher rates of depression and self harm. But, according to community members and the expertssimple, gender-affirming resources can make a huge difference.

Enter non-profit organizations like Changing Clothes Inc., which provides necessary, potentially life-saving, gender-affirming clothing for LGBTQ youth. Free.

The new nonprofit was started by married couple Amie and Matt earlier this year (they chose to keep their last name private to respect their child’s privacy). Amie, an English teacher, and Matt, a graphic effects artist, combined a desire to make their home a little more sustainable with one of their other passions: supporting the LGBTQ community. “We thought a lot, especially after the 2016 election, about how to engage our child in productive activism,” she explained. Amie says the nonprofit was the result of an impulsive thought process as she cleaned her family’s old clothes.

“There’s a lot of clothes to donate, we could keep clothes out of the landfill, we could hook them up to kids looking to change their wardrobes,” Amie said. “Not only are all children growing up so fast, but there are children discovering their identity and looking for clothes to affirm their identity. That’s so important when you’re a pre-teen – your clothes and the creation of your identity. more, how prohibitively all this can be, and how perhaps, psychologically, it could hurt.”

They first pitched the idea to their child’s school to see if there was interest from students and teachers. “Make sure we hit [there] first was important. It’s an age where you don’t feel good, no matter who you are! If we can ease just one little pain from this time in your life… You are welcome here,” the couple said. The response from staff, including the assistant manager and on-site social worker, was a resounding yes. After distributing flyers through their school and the district as a whole, they pitched the idea to their local Pride chapter, and it was met with overwhelmingly positive responses.

With that feedback and an inventory provided from their own local clothing and finds, they launched the official website on January 23.

The simple website provides an anonymous online shopping experience. Young LGBTQ people browse through a catalog of images of various clothes – pants and shorts, shirts, dresses and skirts – and write down items they would like. Provide an email and shipping address in the message box under the garments, and Amie and Matt will send the garments in discreet, plain packaging. Right now the inventory is really small, just what the family can maintain in their home, and made up of donations and finds. The biggest hurdle lately has been a brief battle with a broken washing machine – a problem since Amie and Matt personally wash all the clothes.

There was also an immediate online response to their launch in January, a response that extended outside of their expected local community, and got them started right away with a few out-of-state orders. If anything, the comments proved that there was already a demand in place, and probably even more need for a free, charity clothing closet that catered more to today’s online youth and was safe to order.

All young people deserve to feel affirmed in their identity.

Replicating the second-hand clothing and thrift store experience online isn’t necessarily new — Etsy accounts have long sold vintage markups, while second-hand sites like the hugely popular Depop, which allows users to create their own “fashion marketplaces”, are some of the first places young people go Shopping. And eBay is, of course, the wise grandfather of all these projects. But using this web-only format for free donations of gender-affirming clothing seems like a rarer move. Many closets operate from local LGBTQ organizations or nonprofits, relying on in-person pickups and browsing experiences. Others across the country have tried to combine pop-up style shops with online ordering options; many of them are based outside universities and colleges.

The Change of Clothes Inc. model is like an LGBTQ charity Depop for those disconnected from a local or college service, and it allows young people to have a bit more control when browsing through gender-affirming clothing. “Online shopping is familiar to people. You know, you throw it in your shopping cart and hopefully a week later it’s yours. I think it’s that accessibility that makes it a little less scary , or normalizing in some way,” Matt explained. .

Amie and Matt are still hesitant to say how much their nonprofit can handle right now, pointing out that it’s just getting started. “I think we’d be happy to move on if it’s something we can handle. But we’re just trying to get through that first month,” Matt explained. “We don’t have big plans to change the world, but if we can help a child here and there…I just hope [the site] is a safe place. Amie says there is a possible future where Change of Clothes Inc. partners with brands, like bookbinding companies, or organizations, like hospitals, to send packages of clothes home with people. trans post-op At present, the will operate on the mutual trust that it serves those who truly need it.

Even if the nonprofit remains relatively small, it can still serve as an effective role model for others and inspire larger nonprofits, and that could make a potentially life-saving difference. Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist at The Trevor Project, told Mashable via email that these initiatives are key to fostering a sense of safety and identity in those who turn to them. “All young people deserve to feel affirmed in their identity. Whether that affirmation comes from wearing gender-affirming clothing or using gender-affirming personal care products, we know that young people who feel affirmed in their identity have better mental health outcomes,” DeChants explained.

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The recent Trevor project National LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Survey found this to be true among trans and non-binary youth surveyed. “Transgender and non-binary youth with access to binders, shapewear and gender-affirming clothing reported lower rates of suicide attempts in the past year compared to trans and non-binary youth without access” , explained DeChants.

This is exactly where Amie hopes Change of Clothes Inc. can make a difference. “We’re very accessible. We’re just here to give you a little nudge and give you a safe space,” she said.

For more resources on trans and non-binary alliances, visit The Trevor Project’s Guide to being an ally of transgender and non-binary youthGLAAD’s Advice for trans allianceor the human rights campaign LGBTQ+ youth landing page. And if you’re looking for your own community support or other resources, DeChants suggests visiting TrevorSpacean affirming online community for LGBTQ youth to connect with each other and build support networks online.

Currently, Change of Clothes Inc. only accepts in-kind donations. They ask for slightly used clothing, such as pants, sweatshirts and t-shirts in all sizes. You can email them to [email protected] to arrange a local drop off or pick up.

Elizabeth J. Harless