CSD project provides free clothing to LGBTQ+ students

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The 'trans locker' opens at the start of fall 2019 semester at the Campus Center. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

The Center for Student Diversity at the College of William and Mary is unveiling a new project aimed to assist transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students in acquiring clothing items that correspond with their gender identity. The “trans locker” is located in the basement of Campus Center and will be available to students at the start of the fall semester. 

The clothing locker will serve as a safe haven for transgender students to shop for clothes that otherwise may be difficult to obtain, due to difficulties shopping publicly, financial burdens or certain home situations. Director of the Center for Student Diversity Kimberly Weatherly noted that LGBTQ+ students may face prejudice and feel unsafe when shopping in public places like malls, especially because of limitations incurred by the store forbidding them to try on clothes in a dressing room adhering to their identity. 

CSD Summer Intern Kirstin Byrd said that the new locker will be a safe space for expression.  

“When a trans student wants to shop in a mall or a department store, there is always an issue of finding a fitting room [and] there is always an issue of being in an area that is not your gender area,” Byrd said. “There are burdens everywhere they turn, so we wanted to have a place that’s home so that they can express themselves.” 

Over the summer, Byrd helped accept locker donations and organize the items. She said that the locker offers an opportunity for the center to further support transgender students on campus who face more challenges than others when it comes to everyday tasks like purchasing clothing. 

“With their gender identity, a lot of times there are pitfalls and obstacles that the normal college student does not face on campus,” Byrd said.

“With their gender identity, a lot of times there are pitfalls and obstacles that the normal college student does not face on campus,” Byrd said. “That leaves our LGBTQ students, especially transgender students, it is pretty hard on them sometimes, so we want to support them, make them know that their campus more than supports, but loves them and supports who they are. … We are acknowledging that they go through extra troubles than average students, so we want them to feel comfortable.” 

For Weatherly, the summer months were full of preparation for the locker’s anticipated opening. In June, the center advertised their clothing drive on William and Mary Digest for faculty and staff members, and Weatherly said that the response to this advertisement was overwhelming. The story soon got picked up by the Virginia Gazette and ABC’s 13 News Now as donations poured in from staff, alumni and community members throughout the Williamsburg area. 

“It’s just been awesome,” Weatherly said. “I’m so humbled by the kindness of people within the community, within the William and Mary community and outside.” 

 Research conducted by the CSD led to the implementation of a transgender clothing locker. Weatherly said that the center wants to be in alignment with the best practices nationally conducted at universities to ensure that all students feel welcomed. 

College is often a time for students who are not out at home to freely be themselves, and Weatherly said that the office strives to aid students in their pursuit of a happy, healthy university experience during their time in Williamsburg. 

“Students normally are successful when they are happy, when they are evolving in a positive manner,” Weatherly said. “A lot of students who are on the LGBTQ spectrum sometimes they are not out at home to their parents and friends. Therefore, when they come to college, it is an opportunity to finally live their authentic self.” 

The locker is currently full of hanging clothes and has a large selection of items, all of which are either gently worn or new. The clothing will rotate seasonally. 

“We have a couple formal, professional things … but mostly t-shirts, jeans, sweaters and slacks and things like that,” Byrd said. “Just simple things, nothing really out of the ordinary. Some of the stuff is really nice, leather jackets and different, really unique items which I think the students will love. It’s a good representation of everything.” 

Weatherly added that items including accessories like jewelry, makeup and chest binders are still needed to complete the locker. Discussions regarding its operating hours are still underway, but current plans are that the closet will be open a couple days each week, and that students will be able to schedule private appointments. 

While the response from the surrounding College’s community and faculty was widely supportive with hundreds of donations being received so far, the CSD awaits student input. 

“My first reaction was that I was pleasantly surprised,” Lambda New Student Representative Jonathan Newby ’22 said. “I wasn’t expecting them to open up a trans locker, but when I found out that they did, I think it will be a really positive thing for trans and non-binary people on campus to have clothes that reflect who they rightfully are.” 

Newby suspects that the trans locker will be utilized. He said that he does not expect there to be much student opposition, and that the locker is an encouraging resource for transgender and non-binary students. 

“As far as the LGBT community overall, … I would say that the campus environment is fairly positive,” Newby said. “There could be some improvements, and I think that the locker can go a long way in making the LGBT community seem more open to certain people.”

“As far as the LGBT community overall, … I would say that the campus environment is fairly positive,” Newby said. “There could be some improvements, and I think that the locker can go a long way in making the LGBT community seem more open to certain people.” 

Looking forward, Weatherly said that she hopes to transition the locker into a newer, larger space that is more accessible. In addition to the trans locker initiative, the CSD is expanding its efforts to help all students feel comfortable and embraced on campus. The CSD will hold a coat and blanket drive this fall for international students and those from tropical areas who may not be adequately prepared for the winter or who may not have the financial capabilities to purchase such items. The center also partners with the Cohen Career Center in their work to lend professional wear to students for job interviews. Weatherly said these projects offer students the opportunity to be prepared in all capacities, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender identity or ethnicity. 

“Clothes reflect what we think our place in society is, and for a trans person to wear clothes that tell the world ‘hey, I am of this gender or this gender expression,’ it really is a boost to their self-confidence and their well-being,” Newby said. “It validates them as not only a trans person but a human being in society, not some other.”