Demand grows for gender-affirming clothes as more LGBTQ+ people find Minnesota a good fit

Racks of clothing line a room
Racks of clothing pictured at Rainbow Wardrobe in the Twin Cities Pride offices in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

For Maddy Loch, Rainbow Wardrobe is a simple concept. Every day, people wake up and decide what to wear based on their gender and what makes them feel comfortable. Some might need more help to access than others. That’s where Loch and the shop step in, providing advice — and clothes — for free.

Rainbow Wardrobe’s clients are LGBTQ+ people, who often don’t have many options when it comes to clothes. LGBTQ+ advocates are using donated items to help meet a need for business attire, androgynous jeans, larger sized women’s shoes and other items.

Supporters say it’s an important need to fill as Minnesota’s status as a trans refuge for health care draws more people to the state. Loch says more than half of Rainbow Wardrobe’s visitors are new residents who moved to Minnesota due to the transgender protections passed last year by the Legislature. 

“We have people coming from southern states who are like, ‘We need these things. This is why we moved here,’” said Loch. “So many nonprofits like ours are bending over backwards to try to accommodate the influx of need that has come into our state, which is amazing. Individuals having access to this can be life-saving.”

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A person poses in a room with large windows
“We have people coming from southern states who are like, ‘We need these things. This is why we moved here,’” says Maddy Loch, coordinator of Rainbow Wardrobe.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Kat Rohn, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, said the organization has helped hundreds of people since the passage of the trans refuge act last spring. Their helpline alone had more than 800 calls in 2023, many from residents of neighboring states inquiring about LGBTQ+ efforts and safety in Minnesota. Rohn expects those numbers to increase in 2024.

“Minnesota has a long history of welcoming different populations to the state — that’s not new for us,” she said. “But this is a new population with a new set of challenges and needs, and we’re hoping that we can meet the need. We really believe that Minnesotans do want to be a place of welcome for families.”

‘A right that everyone deserves’

The DFL-controlled Legislature last spring locked in key protections for LGBTQ+ rights, including banning conversion therapy for youth and vulnerable adults and protecting gender-affirming and reproductive health care for patients and providers.

States around Minnesota have gone the opposite direction, moving to ban or make it harder for health care providers to treat LGBTQ+ patients, specifically young transgender people. According to the Associated Press, at least 22 states have enacted laws banning or restricting gender-affirming care for minors.

Shoes sit on shelves and clothes on a rack
Shelves of shoes and racks of coats are available to Rainbow Wardrobe visitors at the Twin Cities Pride offices.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Rainbow Wardrobe launched as an idea during the Twin Cities Pride Festival in June. It started as a clothing rack and a couple garbage bags. After positive feedback at the festival, Loch, programming coordinator for Rainbow Circle, the community programming division of Twin CIties Pride, took charge of the wardrobe. 

Bags and bags of donations came in, Loch sifted through the items and began to create a customized experience in the basement of Rainbow Circle’s offices in Loring Park.

The shop is organized by garment, size, feminine pieces and masculine pieces. Shampoo, soap, menstrual products, laundry detergent and other donated items are also available. It sees about a customer a day.

With money donated, Rainbow Circle has been buying gender-affirming undergarments such as tucking underwear, menstrual boxers and binders, which are used in the practice of chest binding when a person may want to flatten their chest.

They’re some of their most popular items at the store. Loch provides education after guests take these items, specifically for binders as there are important instructions for their use. 

A closeup of laminated sheets of paper
Binding safety tips for users of gender-affirming undergarments are displayed in the Rainbow Wardrobe at the Twin Cities Pride offices.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Finding clothes that look right and fit well, she says, is a universal desire.

“When I woke up this morning and got dressed I put on gender-affirming clothing that made me feel feminine, but also comfortable. It is a ritual everyone takes part in,” she said. “Yes, this is a gender-affirming wardrobe, but it is also just a wardrobe for individuals to come in and find clothes that make them feel comfortable, because that is a right that everyone deserves.”

Rainbow Wardrobe is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After-hours appointments are available. The shop will also open this weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Correction (Feb. 1, 2024): Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified Maddy Loch in a photo caption.