The namesake of Marsha's Closet is Marsha P. Johnson, said Erin Lowrey. Johnson was an important activist who participated in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that motivated the first pride marches in 1970. Lowrey said it was important to honor that history and pay homage through the naming of the gender-affirming closet.
Not long after Erin Lowrey began working as a behavioral health specialist at the Transgender Center of the Rockies in 2020, she came across a collection of abandoned clothes in the back of the center. Lowrey asked a colleague what the clothes were for and was told it was the remnants of a previous gender-affirming clothing closet, and if she wanted to, she could organize them.
Knowing how difficult the shopping process can be for a person who is exploring their gender identity and expression, Lowrey worked with colleagues to organize the clothes for people to browse, as well as donate clothes they no longer needed or wanted.
It marked the start of Marsha’s Closet, a free gender-affirming closet that celebrated its one-year anniversary June 15. Rainbow-colored streamers decorated the center as a group of about 20 people gathered to commemorate the closet’s anniversary and its growth over the past year.
“It’s surreal,” said Lowrey, whose pronouns are she/they. “I was really glad that the community cared as much about it and thought it was as worthwhile as I did.”
Marsha’s Closet is a free collection of donated items including clothing, shoes, hygiene products and chest binders, which help flatten breast tissue, Lowrey said. The closet aims to offer gender-affirming clothing, which Lowrey defined as items that make people feel like who they are on the inside is represented on the outside.
It is one of several resources offered by the Transgender Center of the Rockies, a program of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, located at 3460 S. Federal Blvd. in Sheridan.
“We provide holistic, gender-affirming resources to trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming, and, you know, gender diverse folks from all over,” said Elliott Weil, a social program coordinator at the center. The center serves people statewide, Weil said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs, research shows gender-affirming care improves the mental health of gender diverse children and adolescents, who are at a higher risk for mental health issues, substance use and suicide. A 2021 national survey by the Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
“Marsha’s Closet is a place for people to have the freedom and support to explore gender expression and find fun clothing accessories in a space where the people uplift them,” Lowrey said, estimating that between 20 and 50 people visit the closet weekly. “They are provided the warmth that I think everyone deserves when they are going through something as difficult as transition.”
Shopping can be scary and intimidating for people who are exploring their gender identity and expression, Lowrey said, as people will often get judgmental looks and comments directed their way while shopping in public. It’s something Lowrey has witnessed while helping her partner, who is genderqueer, shop for clothes.
“Clothing can be such a deeply crucial part of gender expression and gender discovery. I know it was for me,” said Weil, who is transmasculine. He said it’s been amazing and refreshing to witness people find clothing in Marsha’s Closet they feel validated in.
“There’s such a cultural emphasis placed on gender dysphoria as the catalyst for discovering that we’re trans, or whatever, but I am a really big believer in gender euphoria, and like, demonstrating that what makes you feel comfortable and safe and validated and confident can be even more important,” Weil said.
The growth of the closet over the past year is because of the community, Lowrey said.
The center has luckily had a lot of community partners host clothing drives and fundraisers to help support the closet, Lowery added. Clients and community members have also helped donate clothing racks and clothing items, which Lowrey said can be a healing experience for them as they pass on clothes to others.
“The way our growth has happened, really, I think, speaks to the strength of the community that we’re in,” Weil said. “They believe in us and uplift us.”
Sam Wilde, a nonbinary person with the pronouns they/them, looked through the closet for the first time during the June 15 celebration and brought some clothes to donate.
“I’m kind of a year-and-a-half into my transition, so finding clothes that align with that is difficult. So, it’s nice to have something like this,” said Wilde, who began volunteering for the center this year.
Wilde said the range of sections in the closet was really cool, and it was great to see binders and packers, which are placed in underwear, given that those items can be hard to find. The best part of the event, though, was being with others.
“It’s nice to be surrounded by people in the community,” Wilde said. “Because, like, throughout the pandemic, I was pretty isolated, so it’s nice to be around other folks, especially in a safe space.”
Erin Lowrey, whose pronouns are she/they, is a behavioral health specialist at Transgender Center of the Rockies.
Elliott Weil is a social program coordinator at the Transgender Center of the Rockies.
Looking to the years ahead, Weil said he hopes to see more donations of higher-priced items such as breast forms as well as packing and tucking underwear. Lowrey also hopes to see more donations of toiletries and cosmetics, as well as clothing for young people.
“I would really love to have, you know, clothing available all the way down to, like, preschool, because children can label and describe their gender as young as 3 or 4 years old,” Lowrey said, adding that the free resources would be helpful to parents who cannot afford to buy a new wardrobe.
However, one of the current challenges the closet faces is limited space, Weil said.
“Between our staff and between the closet, we’re just kind of outgrowing where we’ve lived for so long,” Weil said, adding that the location of the center can also sometimes be difficult for people to get to.
Danielle Bono, the director of the center, said she hopes in the next year, the closet will have its own designated space.
“We would love to have more of a physical space that could really showcase different outfits, different styles,” Bono said, adding she’d love to see more higher priced gender-affirming items, like wigs, be donated.
Overall, Lowrey hopes people know that Marsha’s Closet is a free, safe and friendly space for anyone who may be exploring their gender identity and expression.
“The clothes are here, whenever they’re ready for them. We would love to see them,” Lowrey said. “It’s never too early to come see what makes you happy — or too late.”
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