Not far from Skid Row, the neighborhood at the epicenter of Los Angeles’ homelessness epidemic, a queer-owned-and-operated hair salon and non-profit offers over 700 free haircuts to LGBTQIA homeless youth a year.
Members come in when they want to clean up and look sharp—before job or housing interviews—and for gender-affirming haircuts or new styles while they transition. For bigger requests, like labor-intensive braids or a wig install, ProjectQ offers a volunteer currency system: Come in, sweep up, and help out in exchange for time in the styling chair.
Lopez, who uses the pronoun they, knows what it’s like to be young and queer without a support system. Physically abused and kicked out by their family after coming out at age 12, Lopez started styling hair at 16 as a way to stay self-sufficient.
ProjectQ was a way to help other young people navigate homelessness and sexual identity.
“I wanted to give this community a stepping ladder to leverage themselves out of homelessness,” Lopez says. “Working specifically with queer youth of color was important to me because they will get kicked out of their homes for saying, ‘I’m gay.’ Expressing and exploring who they are—all of these things will cost them a roof over their heads. They’re just trying to be.”
“Hair is a big part of identity when you’re a queer, black person,” says Sabine, ProjectQ’s Program Director and Lopez’s wife. “Just being black and figuring out how to do your hair can be a challenge. Add gender and it can be complicated.”
What’s now a bustling and multipurpose brick-and-mortar space began on wheels. Lopez first offered cuts in a beige, 1977 Airstream trailer, a mobile salon they parked outside the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Youth Center in Hollywood and took on a cross-country road trip last summer.
The current salon offers weekend workshops in computer coding, money management, and yoga and meditation sessions, all led by volunteers who identify as queer people of color. “We want the youth to be able to see their future selves,” says Sabine.
As the organization grows, Lopez and their team hope to host workshops several times a week and to grow a collective of queer artists who work from their space. On-site showers and a therapist, available to counsel youth during workshop hours, are also on the wish list. “It’s nice to be in a place where we can dream big,” says Sabine.
According to Lopez and Sabine, the best way to help out is to make a donation or become a sustaining member.
For a donation that comes with a dance party, tickets for ProjectQ’s 3rd Annual Fundraiser Ball on June 16, hosted by activist and astrologist Chani Nicholas, are available here. All proceeds will benefit the ProjectQ Salon & Community Center and their 2019 US Tour.