Last August, Tristan Vaught shared a meme on Facebook about how the concept of baby shower gender-reveal parties could be used to help transgender people get the clothes, makeup, and accessories they need to celebrate their transitions. BRIDEface founder Nancy Dawson, mother of a transgender child, was the first to comment. “She was like, ‘I’ve been wanting to do this!’ ” Vaught recalls. A month later, Transform Cincy was born.
Cofounded by Vaught and Dawson, with Dawson’s daughter Ella acting as teen stylist, the nonprofit began accepting donations of gently used clothes, shoes, and more, and creating a personalized experience for trans youths to pick out a whole new wardrobe that fits their needs.
“When your kid comes out, and you’ve already bought an entire wardrobe for the school year, you want to be able to support them, but that’s expensive,” says Vaught, who’s worked with Cincinnati LGBTQ+ youth for almost 15 years. “They already struggle to get medical access, they struggle to have community, they struggle to be accepted. So, when Nancy and I launched this, it just blew up.”
In less than a year, the Transform model is already being used to launch offshoot nonprofits in Minneapolis and Nashville. The Cincinnati location has also expanded to double as a safe place for LGBTQ+ teens to talk, sip coffee, and build community—a vision that Dawson and Vaught had shared since the beginning. Sadly, Dawson passed away from breast cancer this April.
“We got close really quickly,” Vaught says. “She was very ambitious—she wanted to see us with a building and a youth center, and I think that’s something we can pull off eventually.”
Vaught plans to honor Dawson’s expansion dreams by launching community outreach programs, offering hair and makeup tutorials, and more. Besides becoming a resource for local kids and teens, Vaught says Transform Cincy has also grown into a supportive home for their parents.
“Having other parents that have had trans and queer-identified youths, who have gone through this before, be around to mentor and build community with the parents who are just now dealing with this has been really important,” they explain.
Although Transform Cincy’s doors have been closed due to COVID-19, Vaught is now making preparations to safely reopen, so they can get back to supporting Cincinnati kids.
“It’s amazing to see the quick shift in their confidence. They walk in not making eye contact, barely talking to you, and you can see the complete shift,” Vaught says. “We see that transformation and it’s very, very powerful.”
Transform Cincy, 139 W. McMicken Ave., Over-the-Rhine