Closet will offer services to trans- and gender-nonconforming people
ALMA — For trans- and gender-nonconforming people, shopping for clothes can be a difficult experience.
The men’s and women’s sections of mainstream clothing stores are usually marked off very clearly, which can cause discomfort for some. Replacing large amounts of clothing with items more suited for an individual’s gender identity can be very expensive, as well.
That’s why volunteers from Alma College, working with the coffee shop Highland Blush, located in downtown Alma, are opening a “gender-affirming closet,” believed to be the first of its kind in Gratiot County. The closet, funded in large part with a grant from the nonprofit Gratiot County Community Foundation, is set to open May 30.
Erin McCreedy, AmeriCorps volunteer coordinator for food insecurity programs at Alma College, is organizing the closet with help from staff at the college’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Damian Sanderson, owner of Highland Blush. McCreedy said the closet will help a population that is growing, both worldwide as well as in the local community, feel a deeper sense of belonging in Gratiot County and the city of Alma.
“Alma College doesn’t end at Wright Avenue. It’s important for us to do work that benefits not only our campus and the people who are on it, but also our local community,” said McCreedy, who came to Alma through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. “One of the ways we can do that is to recognize the barriers to success that people face, and work to remove them. That’s what this closet will do for transgender, nonbinary, two spirit, and queer folks.”
When it launches, the closet will be stocked with a wide assortment of donated men’s and women’s clothes, undergarments and accessories. Styles, sizes and colors will vary. Binders — an undergarment similar to a sports bra, often worn to minimize the appearance of having breasts — have been specially purchased for trans- and gender-nonconforming people to take.
All items will be free and available to everyone, regardless of their identity.
“It is very much ‘Come as you are,’” McCreedy said, “so it is focused on being a space for anyone to use where they will hopefully feel accepted and embraced for who they are. We ask people to be mindful and not to abuse the power of the safety that we are attempting to provide.”
The closet will look similar to a high-end thrift shop, with racks of professionally sorted and cleaned clothes, located in the rear section of Highland Blush, Sanderson said. It will be available to participants on a pop-up or appointment basis, in order to maximize privacy, and staffers will receive training on issues within the trans- and gender-nonconforming communities, to best serve the closet’s clients.
The initial idea for a gender-affirming closet in Gratiot County came from a similar concept in Bloomington, Indiana, home of McCreedy’s alma mater, Indiana University. It was strengthened this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when a clothing drive McCreedy co-hosted was met with outstanding results.
A donation bin was subsequently set up at the college’s Tyler-Van Dusen Campus Center; McCreedy said Alma students have continued to fill it up with clothes.
“On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we had bags and bags of clothes donated from people all over, both inside the college community and out,” she said. “It was very affirming to me, personally, and helped demonstrate that there was a need for this service locally — as well as a desire from people to help.”
Seeking a space to store the bounty of donated clothes, McCreedy reached outside of Alma College and into the greater Gratiot County area. She found a willing collaborator in Highland Blush, which has previously hosted drag shows in an effort to make the local trans- and gender-nonconforming community more well-known, as well as other gatherings for people across the spectrum of gender and sexuality.
“I see the closet as a safe space for vulnerable populations to come, whether they have money or not, and take items that are essential to their well-being,” Sanderson said. “It makes the city of Alma, and Alma College, better for it.”
Further solidifying the idea of a closet in Gratiot County was a grant from the Gratiot County Community Foundation (GCCF) for about $950, which was received in March. The closet also received startup funds from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Sheryle Dixon, assistant professor of philosophy and director of academic grants support at Alma College, coordinates the AmeriCorps VISTA program on behalf of the college. She said the GCCF gave Alma the full amount it requested in support of the closet.
“It wouldn’t have mattered how much money we received — to have a sign of that kind of support, it’s like saying, ‘We’re going to give you everything you’re asking for, because this is important to us,’ was a tremendous boost of confidence,” Dixon said. “We’re so grateful to the GCCF, as well as everyone who has worked with us to see this project through.
“At Alma College, we talk a lot about extending our reach and improving the community we live in. To see the community we live in reciprocate that sentiment shows that we’re doing something right, together.”
A grand opening for the closet is scheduled for Sunday, May 30 from 1-3 p.m. at Highland Blush, 118 E. Superior St., Alma. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/3gfFvy4 or @gratiotcloset on Instagram.