Creating Safe Spaces for Queer Self-expression

Creating Safe Spaces for Queer Self-expression

Pantene is supporting the effort to make all salons queer-friendly, gender-affirming places.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

It’s a common question — especially from a hairstylist — but it makes Bret Senior’s heart sink. As a gay man, Senior, the brand manager for Pantene North America, is no stranger to questions like this and the discomfort they can bring.

“I have to make the decision to come out to my hairdresser, or to lie,” he explains. “It’s a really awful feeling. Their hands are literally in your hair, but a barrier has been created between you and them.”

It’s uncomfortable moments like these that Pantene wants to help salons navigate and avoid. As a brand that firmly believes everyone should be able to feel like their authentic selves, Pantene partnered with the Dresscode Project in their mission to make more salons queer-friendly, gender-inclusive places.

As part of the campaign, Pantene awarded eight salons $10,000 grants to help support small businesses during this difficult time and enable change that will lift up the LGBTQ+ community. Pantene also made a $30,000 donation to the Dresscode Project to enable salons to become members for free.

“We have a huge responsibility as one of the biggest beauty brands to always authentically reflect the U.S. consumer, including the LGBTQ+ consumer,” Senior says. He feels the Dresscode Project is an ideal partner because “they continue to show the LGBTQ+ community as authentically beautiful and let us feel beautiful as we are.”

How the Dresscode Project Helps Create Safe Spaces for the LGBTQ+ Community

The Dresscode Project is a global alliance of salons and barbershops committed to providing positive, gender-affirming services for LGBTQ+ clients.

For many transgender, gender nonconforming and gender fluid individuals, hair is an essential part of their identity. It plays a critical role in helping ensure what they see in the mirror accurately reflects what they feel on the inside. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many to find a hairstylist that truly celebrates and expresses their identity. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that 93% of transgender women were not comfortable going to a salon for the first time — and Pantene believes the numbers to be similar in the United States.

Kristin Rankin, founder of the Dresscode Project, shares the experience that inspired her mission: “I am a queer salon owner. I opened up my salon in a very diverse and inclusive neighborhood. One day a transgender woman walked into my hair salon, and I cut her hair. It was just like any other haircut except the next day she tweeted that it was the first time she’s ever had a haircut and felt like a woman. She had been out as a transgender woman for five years.

“I just knew that in those five years what she must’ve experienced must have been excruciating. I wanted to make sure that every single person regardless of how you identify was able to go into a hair salon and get a haircut that made you look the way you feel.”

Hairstylists can inadvertently cause their clients discomfort or accidentally make them feel unsafe. Innocent questions like, “Do you have a girlfriend?” or the use of gender-specific pronouns can turn a simple haircut into an awkward experience. “It’s even more exacerbated in the transgender community,” Senior says, “because they are more susceptible to violence and backlash when they come out.”

The Dresscode Project is dedicated to changing the way salons interact with their LGBTQ+ clients. Membership provides in-person and online training, as well as access to the Dresscode Project global community. Stylists receive training on language and pronoun usage, how to ask certain questions and how to help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and comfortable.

The Dresscode Project is also planning several Gender Free Haircut Club events around the country, in which members of the LGBTQ+ community can get a free haircut and connect with their community in a safe space.

“This is a long-term relationship,” Rankin said of the partnership with Pantene, which started in Europe. “As we see the need and demand, we realize that there is a lot more work to be done. By doing it together, we believe it will be more effective and create change faster and more authentically. We can speak with a louder voice together. There is still a lot of negativity and stereotypes. We are trying to highlight the positive stories.”

Learn more about the Dresscode Project’s mission here.

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