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The Chinatown Salon Where LGBTQ Kids Can Let Their Hair Down

Madin Lopez (above) gives a haircut to Andre Vargas in May 2019 inside ProjectQ, a Chinatown salon that serves LGBTQ people. (Leo Duran/LAist)
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When the sunlight hits the window of Chinatown's ProjectQ salon in just the right spot, it shines rainbows all over the airy space.

"It happened the first day that we moved in, and we were like, 'What?! Gay!!!!,'" said owner Madin Lopez.

A sign inside ProjectQ, a Chinatown salon that serves LGBTQ people, explains the pronouns that owner Madin Lopez uses. (Leo Duran/LAist)

ProjectQ is a salon that specializes in haircuts for LGBTQ clientele. Lopez is non-binary, meaning they identify as neither male nor female, and they post a preferred pronoun poem by their workstation.

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They said getting your hair done can be very personal. Having it done by someone who is also LGBTQ can lead to fewer misunderstandings, and make someone look forward to getting a new do.

"If you happen to look like a female person, and you want to have a masculine haircut, going to any old place, they're probably going to still keep your sideburns a little light and feathery, and keep your neckline feathery," they said.

Lopez aims to make sure a person gets the haircut that reflects their style, gender identity and more.

ProjectQ moved into the storefront of Chinatown gallery last year, but it started small inside an Airstream trailer. The mobile salon was often parked outside of places like the shelter for homeless youth at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

"I was, like, always sweaty and smelled like motor oil," said Lopez.

The haircutting tools inside ProjectQ, a Chinatown salon that serves LGBTQ people. (Leo Duran/LAist)

They wanted to help kids in dire circumstances feel loved and accepted, and the haircuts they offered were as important to their clients as food or having a roof over their heads.

"It was a lot more than haircuts," says Simon Costello, director of Children, Youth and Family Services for the L.A. LGBT Center. "Anything that you can do to make these young people feel less than 'throwaway youth' is a benefit to them."

Still, many of the kids could not afford it. That was another motivation for Lopez to offer their services. Instead of full payment, Lopez would ask for something simple in return. Maybe it was to help clean up, or to answer a question like, "What's something you love about yourself?"

"It was always about, like, self care, self improvement," says Andre Vargas, a transman who first met Lopez when he was staying at the shelter. "Those are some of the things that we've always talked about consistently at ProjectQ."

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Madin Lopez, owner of ProjectQ, a Chinatown salon that serves LGBTQ people. (Leo Duran/KPCC)

Lopez is a former foster child, and has developed into the kind of role model they never had. Sometimes, it's similar to the relationship between a parent and child.

For example, they advised that Vargas should probably take the colored hair streak out of his hair before an upcoming job interview.

"I don't want to tell my youth or my people, like, 'don't be yourself,' you know, but at the same time, choose how many battles you want to fight that day. If you're just trying to get a job, then maybe having to fight the 'queer battle' and the 'trans battle' and the 'colored hair battle' - there's one that you could probably let go of without sacrificing anything about who you are too much," said Lopez

ProjectQ has been able to expand on the services offered since moving to the Chinatown space. In addition to haircuts, there are youth events and workshops. Some of the past subjects included a lesson on personal finance and how to legally change your name.

"They taught me how to save and how to have enough food to eat, enough stuff to take care of myself, like hygiene products and stuff," says Vargas.

Andre Vargas (L) and Madin Lopez in front of ProjectQ, a Chinatown salon that serves LGBTQ people, in May 2019. (Leo Duran/KPCC)

And earlier this year, ProjectQ was able to take over the whole lease of the space to offer more even more. It's now a community center where other LGBTQ businesses, like Jovan Wolf Leather and Sharpe Suiting, can thrive and grow.

ProjectQ is located in Chinatown at 818 N. Spring St. #101. Hours vary.