As part of their Transition Closet project, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and Fran’s House are collecting clothing donations in the LGBTQ+ lounge (ELC third floor) for the remainder of the semester.
Clothing donations will be used to create a transition closet for any student looking for free trans-inclusive, gender-affirming clothing. In addition to everyday clothing, they are also looking for lightly used formal attire for formal events on campus like date parties or GSA’s Queer Prom that the club has planned for this winter.
“It is so important for students to have access to gender-affirming clothing the same way it is for a cisgender individual to have clothes that meet their style,” Fran’s House co-affinity leader Isabelle Levesque-Du Bose ’23 said. “Whether you realize it or not, what you wear is simultaneously how people perceive and treat you. By giving students access to clothes that allows them to wear what makes them most comfortable, this takes a lot of stress off of their shoulders and more time and energy to focus on other things that matter to them.”
While the clothing drive is an idea that the GSA and Fran’s House have wanted to do for a while, it was not possible last year due to COVID restrictions. They also had difficulty finding the proper spaces for storage and access to the clothing items.
However, according to director of the Office of LGBT Awareness Bill McCoy, the closet has been a need at the University for individual students.
“As students either transition or are engaged in a process of exploring their gender identity, there can be significant structural and financial barriers to find affirming clothing,” McCoy said. “While online shopping has made it a bit easier to access clothing, the process of exploring sizes that fit one’s body can be a challenge. Concerns about family support in exploring or transitioning and, in particular, financial support for these journeys can be a major barrier as well – so a student might be on their own to figure out how to pay for a new, gender-affirming wardrobe.”
According to the Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ+ students, more than 80 percent of LGBTQ+ students pay for school themselves; whereas 53 percent of non-LGBTQ+ students do. Similarity LGBTQ+ students across the country report higher levels of debt, about $16,000 more, than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
“We know that it is a privilege to even be able to go to the thrift store to get clothing that is affordable, fashionable, and gender-affirming, so we aim to make [the transition closet] a place where they can turn to,” Levesque-Du Bose said.
In addition to the clothing drive, the University offers other policies and practices in support of trans and non-binary students, including gender-inclusive and accessible housing policies, an initiative for all-gender bathrooms, new functionality for students to share and update their gender identity and pronouns with the University, and educational opportunities to learn about the trans community and gender more broadly.
The GSA also holds weekly breakout meetings for LQBTQ+ students with specific shared identities, including a Gender meeting for students in the trans and non-binary communities.
The Campus Pride Index, a national LGBTQ+ resource to advise colleges on how to make campuses safer and more inclusive, rated the University a 3 out of 5 for “institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program and practice.”
The score is calculated based on the presence and strength of the following: LGBTQ+ Policy Inclusion, Support & Institutional Commitment, Academic Life, Student Life, Housing & Residence Life, Campus Safety, Counseling & Health and Recruitment & Retention Efforts.
The University received a 4.5 out of 5 for LGBTQ+ Student Life and a 4 out 5 for LGBTQ+ Support & Institutional Commitment. Initiatives such as the transition closet clothing drive only improve upon these scores as they reinforce and expand student inclusion and equity efforts.
“While most of what the University can address is institutional structural challenges, the transition closet will add specific support for individual students’ specific gender journeys” McCoy said.
For students interested in being allies beyond the clothing drive, they can help by entering their gender identity and pronouns into the University system to help the school track recruitment and retention trends. Students can also ask and offer pronouns in introductions and take advantage of educational opportunities offered through GSA’s programming or even courses such as those in the Women and Gender Studies Department.
“By donating some clothes that you don’t wear anymore, not only do you free up space in your closet, but the clothes you donate can help one of your peers to feel as good as you once did in that outfit,” Levesque-Du Bose said.