See more of the story

There are suit jackets and flowered shirts, jeans and dresses, children's clothing and a cocktail dress with ruffled straps and an elaborately beaded hem. Also, appropriately enough, a casual shirt with rainbow-colored stripes.

The Rainbow Wardrobe, a small room packed with clothing at the Twin Cities Pride offices in Minneapolis, has all of these items (at least did, as of earlier this month) among many others. The wardrobe is a place where transgender and nonbinary visitors in need of apparel that matches their gender identity are invited to shop for free. Other items available include jewelry, toiletries and gender-affirming undergarments.

Though the term "gender-affirming care" tends to suggest medical procedures, clothing is another way people affirm their gender — whether they're trans, nonbinary, or cisgender, said Maddy Loch, program coordinator.

Twin Cities Pride opened the Rainbow Wardrobe earlier this year to celebrate Minnesota's new status as a trans-refuge state. The room is stocked with donated clothing, mostly from individuals but also from a couple of local businesses, including Target, which provided items from its Pride Collection.

"It's been growing ever since then — it's almost bigger than the room it's supposed to be in," Loch said. (It could use more donations, though — particularly cold-weather clothing and outdoor wear, as well as children's clothing of all kinds.)

The Rainbow Wardrobe has averaged about one visitor a week since it opened, Loch said; for now visits are by appointment (make one by emailing This past June, Pride's leaders took racks of clothing to the annual Pride Festival in Loring Park, and they were quickly cleared.

"It was a huge hit; it was really amazing to watch," she said. "People shared some really inspiring stories about what the wardrobe meant to them."

Twin Cities Pride is among a number of local LGBTQ organizations making special efforts to support people arriving in Minnesota since it became a trans-refuge state. Gov. Tim Walz signed the status into law in April, guaranteeing that anyone traveling to Minnesota for gender-affirming care will be shielded from legal consequences in other states where it is banned.

Twenty-two other states, including three bordering Minnesota, have passed laws or policies restricting access to that care for minors, despite its endorsement by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other medical organizations. Several states, including North Dakota, have made providing such care a felony, punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment and a $20,000 fine.

'Refugees in our own country'

Nobody knows the exact count, but local LGBTQ leaders say they've seen signs of more trans people arriving in Minnesota since the law passed. Some are coming just to access medical care and return to their home states; others have picked up and moved here from states where the care is prohibited.

"There's this very real thing that's happening right now, where we are having refugees within our own country," said Hannah Edwards, executive director of Transforming Families Minnesota.

Transforming Families is part of a network of organizations that offer services to the LGBTQ community or referrals to resources, and that are working together to help newcomers to the state.

"We're all doing bits and pieces and we do them really well; we thought it would be useful for us to come together in coalition," Edwards said. "We're really in the very early days of having it. What it's really doing right now is helping us realize where to send people."

Transforming Families operates peer-led support groups for youth, parents and caregivers, with four in-person meetings every month and one online, and another group for children under 11 (that one is also open to friends and other relatives). Participants share information about everything from medical care to trans-friendly school districts.

"The best answer is always asking other parents and families who've had that lived experience," Edwards said.

Some young people are here without families and need help finding housing, said Ryan Berg, program manager for ConneQT, a program specifically for LGBTQ youth that's part of Avenues for Youth, which helps people ages 16 to 24 without homes. ConneQT recruits and trains families to become host families willing to provide housing for LGBTQ youth for one year. The organization is looking for more hosts.

"We have definitely seen an uptick of youth calling, looking for resources around housing," Berg said.

Trans people are often wary of staying in homeless shelters for fear of encountering transphobia, Berg said.

"There's been a lot of great work done in shelters to make sure it's a safe environment," Berg said. But sometimes there are problems, he said, such as "misgendering folks, not using their appropriate names, minimizing who they are, trivializing their experiences, sexualizing them, objectifying them, sexually exploiting them."

Also seeing more business is Rainbow Health in Minneapolis, which offers case management for LGBTQ clients and mental health services that don't require insurance. Through its Free to Be program for teenagers and young adults, it can perform diagnostic assessment for gender-affirming medical care.

"We've been seeing there's a huge need to connect to the youth who are wanting access to gender-affirming care, especially those who are traveling across states," said Sabrina Leung, the program's marketing and communications manager.

Rainbow Health hands out care packages containing essentials, including socks, underwear and hygiene products, as well as security and utility deposits, public transportation passes, and cellphones for job and housing searches.

"There's already a huge barrier that they're having to cross to come from somewhere else and trust us with these services," Leung said. "The more spaces that are welcoming and inclusive to this community, the better."

Hostility hasn't disappeared

But even with Minnesota's new refuge status, opposition to care for trans and nonbinary young people still exists here. One local organization that supports trans people declined to comment for this story to protect the safety of its clients.

About a week before Walz signed the trans-refuge legislation into law, several bills were introduced in the state House and Senate "prohibiting therapies and procedures performed for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors" — including two that would make it a felony for health care providers to perform the services. Both were referred to committee.

Meanwhile, OutFront Minnesota, a St. Paul-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, has seen even more need for support than previously expected, said Executive Director Kat Rohn.

"There are three main factors," Rohn said. "One is calls from outside of Minnesota we wouldn't have received before, from folks suddenly seeking refuge in our state" for health care purposes.

The second factor is "an "outright uptick in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, making people feel more unsafe," and the third is that "with more visibility for the LGBTQ community, more people are coming out and more people are experiencing challenges," said Rohn, who worked with lawmakers on the legislation. The help line can be reached at 1-800-800-0350 or by email at

OutFront provides crisis intervention, crisis counseling and other advocacy services for victims of anti-LGBTQ violence and harassment. The organization's Anti-Violence Program assists with more than 1,000 incidents a year of anti-LGBTQ bias and violence as well as relationship abuse and and sexual assault.

OutFront helped conduct a study by the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health that found the number of trans youth living in the Dakotas and Iowa, neighboring states that ban gender-affirming care, to be around 3,000. Another 3,500 live in Minnesota.

"It is difficult to estimate exactly how many youth will actually come to, or might come to, Minnesota to seek care," said Meghan Ford, program manager at the U's Youth Health and Housing Lab.

Rohn said early estimates suggest that probably a couple hundred families already have either transferred their gender-affirming care here or have moved here.

"We've doubled the number of help line calls over last year," Rohn said. "I think it's hard to overstate both the level of fear that particularly supportive parents have right now, as well as trans people themselves."

One helpful resource is a comprehensive list of trans-friendly community resources, from health care and legal aid to restaurants, stores, manicurists, gyms. It's an updatable Google document maintained by Ly Baumgardt of Transgender, Intersex, Gender-Expansive Revolutionary Resources & Services.

"No one knows when you first get here the places that are safe as a trans person," Baumgardt said. "If you aren't plugged into community you can't ask around, 'Is there a mechanic that's safe to go to?' ... If you're visibly trans and your car breaks down you still have to deal with the fact that sometimes people are going to discriminate against you."

Still, Minnesotans are more accepting than residents of many states, Baumgardt said. They have a trans friend who moved here from Tennessee because of the trans-refuge bill and has expressed amazement at how comfortably trans people can live here. "I couldn't even imagine having a life like this before," the friend told them.

"We're so much better than a lot of places," Baumgardt said. "Overall, Minnesota supports this. People who hate us are just a vocal minority."