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How Strands for Trans built a movement for transgender-friendly barbershops

More than 7,000 salons and barbershops in the U.S. and abroad are now part of this global campaign.

Strands for Trans, a campaign that maps transgender-friendly barbershops and salons, launched five years ago as stories of trans people facing discrimination in these spaces surfaced online. 

Now, amid a surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation, the organizers behind the campaign — including the owners of the gender-inclusive grooming salon Barba in New York and employees of the New York-based advertising agency Terri & Sandy — say businesses have been signing up at an accelerated pace over the last few weeks as a way to signal support for the transgender community. 

“People are looking for ways to show how they are allies,” said JP Gomez, co-founder of Strands for Trans and the creative director at Terri & Sandy. He said these businesses want to voice their opposition to the legislation, “to help those people out there and say, ‘Hey, you’re still safe in my chair.’” 

Strands for Trans.
Strands for Trans.Courtesy of Terri & Sandy

So far this year, state lawmakers have proposed at least 238 bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans, with about half of them targeting transgender people specifically, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans

Today, the Strands for Trans map includes more than 7,000 businesses across all 50 states — even Florida and Texas, which have recently been at the center of heated debates over LGBTQ rights — and several countries, including the Netherlands, Finland and Australia.

As the movement grows, organizers say they are seeking to expand to provide barbershops and salons with LGBTQ-inclusive classes and other educational materials to combat transphobia.

“Now that we have all these salon owners being part of the network, we want to give them tools,” Gomez said. “The educational piece is very essential to this. … That’s our next evolution.”  

History of Strands for Trans

Barba owners Gomez and Xavier Cruz joined forces in June 2017 to launch Strands for Trans. In the campaign’s early days, the organizers recalled frantically calling up salons and barbershops to join. 

“We really made this enormous thing just out of will and being scrappy,” said Sam Mazur, a creative director and copywriter at Terri & Sandy who was among the creative leads behind the campaign. “It’s just amazing to see how big it’s become.” 

Shortly after the launch, fashion designer Marc Jacobs pledged his support for the campaign in a video posted to YouTube, and it took off from there, according to Gomez. 

“He really helped us to make it even bigger,” Gomez said. “Everyone wanted to be an ally … to do their part to show how their salon or barbershop could be a safe space.” 

Key to helping the trans community identify gender-affirming barbershops and hair salons that are part of this movement has been a sticker that businesses can display inside or outside of their space that features a barber pole with the colors of the Transgender Pride flag. 

Gomez recalled receiving a note from a trans person saying they drove six hours to go to one of the trans-friendly salons listed on the Strands for Trans map. 

“That was the first time someone ever touched their hair after transitioning,” Gomez said. “It’s very touching.” 

'Untapped community'

LGBTQ barbers and clients alike say the campaign is closing gaps in the lack of trans-inclusive hair salons and barbershops in the U.S. It can also connect transgender people to each other, stressed Ru Arana, a nonbinary barber at The Barbashop in Austin, Texas. 

“This is an untapped community,” Arana said. “To be somebody’s barber and take care of their hair … might be the only space where they might feel seen, and that can literally save lives.” 

Ru Arana, a nonbinary barber at The Barbashop in Austin, Texas.
Ru Arana, a nonbinary barber at The Barbashop in Austin, Texas.Courtesy Ru Arana

Arana, who uses the handle @queerfriendlybarber on social media, said the campaign also defies gender stereotypes, which have unfairly targeted transgender people in these spaces. 

“In the barber world, traditionally it’s catered to cis men,” Arana said. “Hair is hair; there is no gender to hair.” 

Two LGBTQ barbers from Hairrari, a Strands for Trans-listed gender-neutral barbershop with locations in New York and California, said their clients know this experience all too well. 

Prince is a transmasculine barber at Hairrari.
Prince is a transmasculine barber at Hairrari.Courtesy Prince

“I’ve had a few clients say they want a fade and the barber says, ‘Oh, you want a pixie?’” said a transmasculine barber at Hairrari, known professionally as Prince, who said his clients have been misgendered at other barbershops and salons. “I really love that I’m in a space where I’m helping. … I’m part of the movement of, ‘We’re not going away. We’re staying in these spaces.’” 

For Arana, the Strands for Trans initiative helped them identify inclusive workplaces where they could openly express their identity. 

“For anybody who is trans, especially trans youth, I would say don’t be afraid to do your research,” Arana said. “The people who are protective of you and the people who are here for you aren’t going to be afraid to loudly, proudly or even discreetly mention that they’re for you, that they’re for the community.” 

They added: “I also would not be afraid for anybody who is trans to mention their pronouns and to see how that might be respected or not. That’s one way that I kind of learned for other spaces if I’m going to have to code switch or not.”

Arana said they want other barbers and stylists in Texas to speak up in support of the trans community, noting that it gives them space to be seen as who they are. 

“Suddenly somebody asks your pronouns,” Arana said. “Like that suddenly brings so much light to something that wasn’t always the case.”    

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