When Cute Nail Studio, the rainbow, Instagram-whispering salon on Seventh Street, opened this summer, it promised a safe space for LGBTQ clients seeking nail and waxing services.
Taking steps to fulfill that promise, the studio recently partnered with Out Youth, a local nonprofit supporting the queer youth – and parents – of Central Texas, to provide free, weekly salon services to youth enrolled in the organization’s Transgender Wellness Program.
The partnership, which has been operational since early November, was initiated by Cute Nail Studio co-owner Jason Darling because of his own experiences seeking gender nonconforming beauty services. Darling says that’s led to an understanding of the barriers LGBTQ youth face when attempting to access salon care. In a press release sent out last week, Darling wrote that one of Cute’s main goals is to “create a safe space for genderqueer people to come and feel beautiful.” Noting how “scary it can be to ask for beauty services that don’t conform to social norms,” Darling reiterated: “I wanted to make a place that helped people fearlessly pursue their personal definition of beauty.”
Kathryn Gonzales, Out Youth's operations and program director, echoed Darling’s sentiment, noting that – for trans and nonbinary folks – getting something as “simple” as a manicure can be a lot more complicated “when you're afraid of what people are going to be thinking of you. It doesn't always feel safe to do these things that may seem minor.”
Out Youth’s Transgender Wellness Program, operated through Kind Clinic, provides a variety of services to trans and nonbinary youth including free counseling, help changing gender markers, and a weekly support group. The program did not previously offer aesthetic services, like nail art or waxing, before Darling approached Out Youth. Gonzales, however, described the partnership as a “no brainer” to help youth “feel a little bit more like themselves.”
The “free” part of Cute Nail Studio’s offer is also beneficial. Out Youth serves clients between the ages of 12 and 23, so many youth don’t currently have jobs. As Briona Jenkins, Out Youth’s development coordinator explains, providing these services for free allows kids and teens a chance to access something they otherwise couldn’t afford. “It’s a really great thing to be doing, especially during the holidays,” she says. “It’s something that’s going to be free for our youth and they’re going to be feeling great afterwards.”
And the partnership sets an example for other service providers, says Gonzales. “Stating [you are] a safe space is one thing. Actually proving that you are is entirely different.” Calling it a “multistep process,” Gonzales applauded Cute for going beyond lip service – “they actually came and met with us.”
Out Youth clients requesting waxing or nail services must make an appointment through the organization. Jenkins said partnerships like this one do get the word out about Out Youth’s work and programs, which potentially helps more queer and trans kids find the organization and take advantage of its support services. Gonzales agrees. “Any positive experience that we can get our clients just gives them more reason to tell others about the work that we do and the people that we partner with.”
As for Cute Nail Studio and Darling, they’re just excited to be supporting trans and nonbinary kids. Darling says, “We’re really grateful to Out Youth for doing awesome work for our community, and we’re super excited that they’ve given us the opportunity to help out.”
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