Center staff spent those first few months organizing and hanging clothing, displaying shoes and accessories and welcoming students to a positive resource and experience available to anyone who was needing affirming clothing.
“Our goal for the Lavender Closet is to provide inclusive, affirming and affordable clothing, whether that be ethnic, cultural or gender identities,” said Jay Cleveland, engagement coordinator for the center and upcoming senior in fisheries and wildlife and grassland ecology and management. “Dressing in ways that affirm your identity really does help improve people’s well-being and state of mind.”
But in March 2020, the pandemic hit and like the rest of campus, the center and closet closed. They reopened full-time in fall 2021, and the closet is once again available to students on the third floor of Nebraska Union. But staff also took the closet to the students.
“COVID really slowed things down, so the closet wasn’t being used very much,” said Cleveland, who grew up in Petersburg, Nebraska. “J.D. (McCown) and I were talking about ways we could promote the Lavender Closet and also help students on campus, and we came up with the idea of pop-up closets.
“We did a pop-up closet with Career Services during their Husker Suit-Up event in February. It was open for a few hours every day on those three days. And it was a really big success. We took a rack of professional clothing there, and it was a really good pairing with Career Services. I think we had about 25 students use it.”
Throughout the past academic year, use ticked up, as did donations. Cleveland, who worked about 10 hours a week during the fall and spring semesters, said overseeing the closet took up most of his time.
“We’ve gotten some really big donations, which we appreciated greatly, and we needed help from all the staff to keep it updated and organized,” he said. “It was mostly staff and faculty who donated, with a few students, and the UNLPD did a drive at the end of this semester. We’ve had a few community donations, too.”
The closet received donations from about 10 individuals a semester — donations that sometimes consisted of 20-30 items at a time. About 50 people utilized the closet this past year. Cleveland hopes to see that number grow.
“We are looking in the future to partner with more organizations on campus to do more pop-ups,” Cleveland said. “We’re still going to do more focused ones, but broader ones, too. Plans are still in the works, but we’re hoping to have a few next year.”
Cleveland said the importance of the closet resource on campus can’t be overstated.
“The LGBTQA+ Center is here to help students, and part of our mission is to improve their well-being,” Cleveland said. “We have trans students on campus, who either don’t have access to funds for thrifting or shopping or to leave campus, or their funds are tied to parents or someone else who is not accepting. It’s open to any student who needs it. Clothing is important to people, and the way they dress can help them present themselves in the way they want to be seen.”
The Lavender Closet can be accessed through the LGBTQA+ Center in 346 Nebraska Union during the center’s hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. It is a free resource to the campus and community. Non-students are welcome but asked to make a clothing donation. Utilizing the closet is confidential, with gender-neutral restrooms available for trying on items. Donations are being accepted but are asked to be limited to masculine clothing and summer weather clothing, specifically shorts and skirts. The closet also accepts binders, bras and accessories.