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Phoenix Boutique Offers Free Clothing To Transgender Youth

I Have a Dream Boutique
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
I Have a Dream Boutique in downtown Phoenix.

A new clothing boutique  that aims to serve transgender youth recently opened in downtown Phoenix. I Have a Dream Shoe and Clothing Boutique opened March 10.

Volunteers spent Martin Luther King Day transforming a church classroom into a small clothing store, complete with dressing rooms mannequins and full-length mirror.

Something you won’t find here are signs identifying men's and women's clothing racks. It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge for many transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Ryan Mehler, a transgender man, said clothes shopping can be a negative experience for him.

"It’s just, it’s not fun. It’s not fun, I hate it," Mehler said.

Mehler said he knows what it feels like to go into the men’s section of a department store and get weird looks. People assume he’s in the wrong section. That’s why he wanted to help start I Have a Dream Boutique.

"Going into these places and being able to look at clothes and try on clothes without fear of being judged, being able to take away something that will make them feel good about themselves - it’s really the little things that make us feel so much better," said Mehler.

But a safe space for shopping is just one part of the project.

Pastor Jeffrey Dirrim is one of the boutique’s founders. He estimates it will serve many homeless transgender youth, a demographic he’s been working with for years.

Dirrim said LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless youth population, often because home can become an unsafe place after a young person comes out to family members. Once this happens, it can be a struggle just to meet their basic needs.

"I just noticed a lot of them didn’t have shoes. Or it was really cold and wet out and they’re wearing flip flops because that’s all they can afford," said Dirrim.

Another thing you won’t see at the store is price tags. It’s a take-what-you-need system, at no cost.

But volunteer Mickale Burns said it’s not designed to feel like a clothing bank.

"I want it to have very much that store atmosphere where these are not charity cases, these are customers, these are shoppers," said Burns. "It’s going to be a very dignified experience for the shopper to come in."

The turnout was low on opening day, but the volunteers hope the shop, which is open on Sundays, will become a regular destination for transgender youth.

Annika Cline was born in Germany, raised in California and transplanted to Arizona. She studied at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Cline produces and reports for KJZZ’s original production, The Show, covering stories from all corners of the Valley as well as bringing listeners a slice of their own community in the weekly Sounds of the City series.Cline also volunteers as an art instructor for foster youths and their families.