Photos: Des Moines salons and barbershops offer free hair services to trans and nonbinary students

Legislation making its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk has LGBTQ Iowans concerned for their future in the state.

Owner of Elevencherry Salon, Lindsey Mollenhauer, thought of a new way to encourage gender expression with free haircuts and hair color. She calls the project I AM ME.

Offering free hair services is her way of giving back during a contentious time for trans freedom, and Mollenhauer believes it’s important and “universal that every human being can feel that feeling of feeling dignified in your own skin.”

Many salons and barbershops around the metro quickly joined Elevencherry to offer services to trans and nonbinary students of all ages, affirming their businesses welcome and support LGBTQ customers.

The idea came from one of Elevencherry Salon’s stylists, Tisha. She started giving free services more than a year ago to trans and nonbinary customers once a month, open to those who want to express their queerness through their hair.

Mollenhauer said these appointments with Tisha were some queer customers’ first positive experience in a hair salon. The need for non-gender-specific hair services was clear, and Elevencherry kicked I AM ME into gear about a month ago.

“We wanted something that felt identifying and powerful and claiming your own self,” Mollenhauer said.

After creating a plan with assistant manager Bailey and deciding on the title “I AM ME,” proposed by the salon’s graphic designer Jamie, Mollenhauer just had to decide when to launch. March 31, the Friday before Trans Day of Visibility, seemed to be the perfect day to host the city-wide event.

In just a week’s time, about 12 salons and barbershops joined Elevencherry Salon’s initiative.

“We were surprised at how many salons!” Mollenhauer said. “Salon[s] that don’t have necessarily a well-known name in the community for helping out queer folks — it was those salons. They were so impressed that they stepped up to the plate and they’re like, ‘Yes! We want to put our brand behind this event and show support.'”

Many other salons and barbershops wanted to participate, but were already completely booked on the day.

Participating barbers and stylists include Elevencherry Salon, Aveda Institute, Skywalk Barbershop, Trixies, Serenity Valley West, Serenity West Glen, Serenity Ames, Oliver+ James, Sage and Strands, Salon Vici, Angela Peterson Hair, Alivia Kain Hair, Identity, Dapper, Salon Vienna, Wicked Beauty, High Five Hair and Madilyn J Salon Studio.

Supporters include DSM Queer Youth Resource Center, Iowa Safe Schools, DSM Capital City Pride, Iowa Trans Mutual Aid Fund, Girls Rock! Des Moines, and Central Iowa Rainbow Families.

In addition to the commitment to give free services, participating stylists and barbers received training on how to better service genderfluid clients to affirm their identity and provide a safe space.

Elevencherry Salon located in downtown Des Moines on 11th and Cherry. The salon is a coworking stylist space with 11 independent stylists. The salon has won awards over the years including the 2019 Midwest Hairstyling Awards, 2021 Avant Garde Stylist, the 2022 Textured Hairstylist of the Year, and others.

Plans are set to extend I AM ME into the future, allowing more trans and nonbinary Iowans to become aware of the promotion, especially as threats to free gender expression continue to mount. At least 492 bills targeting trans and gender-nonconforming Americans were introduced this year, according to Trans Legislation Tracker. Iowa LGBTQ+ nonprofit One Iowa Action deems about 30 of those bills especially dangerous to Iowans.

“I think that the legislation is really overreaching and discriminatory to a vulnerable group of people who may not have a lot of resources, especially if their parents don’t understand what they’re going through,” Mollenhauer said. “We wanted to let the community know that a lot of people do understand and a lot of people are here to support you.”