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Rainbow Closet opens with free clothes, support for transgender community

Money raised from a virtual drag show in March allowed the organizers of the Rainbow Closet to purchase clothes for the trans community -- and distribute them, free of charge, in Lexington July 1.
John McGary
Money raised from a virtual drag show in March allowed the organizers of the Rainbow Closet to purchase clothes for the trans community -- and distribute them, free of charge, in Lexington July 1.

“We have some jeans and sweatshirts and sweaters. We also have handbags of various kinds. And over here we have some women's clothes and everything from dresses to, we actually have a dress over here somewhere with crinoline, actually, which is really cool. If it was in my size, I would probably interested in.”

That's Patricia Hinds of Open Doors Counseling, who came up with the idea of free clothes for trans folks. She sorts through clothing purchased with the proceeds of their virtual drag show in March. The virtual drag show came to be after the planned Prestonsburg live event was cancelled due to threats of violence. Corabelle Hall, who also works for Open Doors, was the event’s hostess.

“We would go into like my office, switch costumes come into like the conference room, then get on the camera perform, then go back switch costumes come back. And so it was different, but because you couldn't interact with the audience like face to face, but it was like so rewarding, because you got to focus more on like the art itself.”

4-thousand dollars in donations later, Hall and her sisters raised enough money to purchase clothing – just ordinary clothes, as Hinds points out – to be given away at the Rainbow Closet’s reveal. The Rainbow Closet is a pop-up shop of sorts, using space donated by Ahava Center for Spiritual Living. Ahava is the Hebrew word for “To Love.” That’s the church Kyle May, a licensed counselor for Open Doors and its owner, began to attend last year after troubled childhood experiences in a conservative Eastern Kentucky church.

“And for a long time, I would have never walked into anything that even look like a church. But you know, back around summer or fall, I started thinking like, I wonder if there are some affirming churches to try because I had heard about them. And then I started trying a few. And this is the one that I felt like, for me was the most affirming and emotionally safe to attend.”

Mays says some people who are transitioning are uncomfortable shopping in a so-called normal store – that they are occasionally harassed or bullied. The Rainbow Closet, like the church it borrows space from, is designed to make them feel safe. Betsy Packard, who’s accompanied by her service dog Corey, appears to be the first customer to arrive.

“What did you expect to find when you walked in this morning?”

“I had no expectations. I was just like, I want to go and see what they're doing. Yeah, I think this is great.”

Packard says she’d like to volunteer.

“I have a degree in fashion design and clothing construction. So I think I'd be a good person to, to help people out with finding what they need. And if it needs a hem or if it needs, you know, a tuck or snip here or there, I can do that.”

The Rainbow Closet’s first pop-up lasts five hours and a dozen guests stop by, several of whom leave with free clothing. After a first half of the year that saw several pieces of what critics called anti-LGBTQ legislation passed by Kentucky’s General Assembly -- one of which was partially overturned a few days before – and a drag show that went virtual for safety’s sake, Hall says Saturday is a triumph.

“What I want everybody to understand out of this is life begins where fear ends, and being able to confront your fear and being able to stand up for what is right and do what you believe in your heart is right. That's all that matters.”

Kyle May says the Rainbow Closet will open again and they also hope to have one in the Big Sandy region, where he grew up and where threats pushed the drag benefit online.

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John McGary is a Lexington native and Navy veteran with three decades of radio, television and newspaper experience.
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