By Liz Massey - Jan. 15, 2015

As part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service in Phoenix, Human Rights Campaign Arizona and Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ (UCC) are partnering with employees from Coca-Cola to create a boutique for homeless and at-risk transgender youth to select and try on clothing that matches their gender identity.

The event will take place Jan. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at First Congregational UCC, 1407 N. Second St. in Phoenix. The three organizations will work together to transform a church classroom into a safe space for homeless and at-risk trans and genderqueer youth to “shop” for and try on clothing, and pick up other items they may need.

According to Gary Brewer, co-chair of HRC Arizona’s community outreach and diversity committee, the national office of HRC had been encouraging local affiliates to work on Martin Luther King Day of Service initiatives involving homeless queer youth for the past several years.

This year, Brewer said, HRC Arizona’s leadership was able to work with the other two organizations to craft an event that will involve several of the community outreach committee’s “pillar” constituencies, including the faith/religious community, the trans community and the corporate community of Phoenix.

“It’s incredible that we’ve blended [the involvement of] our pillar communities this year,” he said. “We’re hitting the trans and faith communities head on; to be able to involve the corporate community, too, that feels tremendous.”

Coca-Cola plans to have a rally this month to kick off a clothing drive to stock the boutique and may also have volunteers working at the event. HRC Arizona will provide volunteers to run the boutique Jan. 19.

Rebel & Divine UCC, which has a mission to serve the Valley’s LGBT homeless and at-risk youth, will provide youth volunteers who will be working on a mural – one which incorporates the transgender flag and the Rebel & Divine logo – at the boutique site on the First Congregational campus, according to Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim, founding pastor and executive director of the church.

According to Dirrim, the focus of providing a safe place to try on clothing congruent with a trans youth’s gender identity became a priority after his organization hosted prom events for youth who attend Sunday night dinners with the church. Adding that he had gone clothes shopping with trans youth who wanted to attend the prom, and was “upset and disturbed” by what he saw them go through.

“I was mortified by their experiences – they experienced belittlement at best at the shops we went to,” he said.

By contrast, he noted, when Rebel & Divine gave the prom-attending youth a place to try on outfits, the change in the trans participants’ physical demeanor when they were able to wear something that looked wonderful on them was striking.

“I didn’t realize until that moment how important that was,” he recalled. “That’s what we’re creating – that’s what I want to give to the youth who attend this event.”

Brewer agreed that the event would create an important experience for young trans attendees.

“Every person deserves the dignity of having a space where they can try on clothes that express their identity,” he said.

Additionally, Brewer said community members interested in donating clothing for the Jan. 19 boutique event could bring them to First Congregational UCC during the event.

VITAL STATISTICS

Martin Luther King Day of Service in Phoenix

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 19

First Congregational UCC

1407 N. Second St., Phoenix

Sign up to volunteer at hrc.org/events/entry/mlk-day-of-service-in-phoenix or email gary@hrcarizona.org.

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