Interview: An LGBT Master Barber in Her Own Words

by Malavika Kannan

The Homegirl Project interviewed Khane Kutzwell about her experiences opening a barbershop as a black, queer woman.

Why are you passionate about creating LGBTQ+-friendly spaces, specifically when it comes to barbershops?

Barbershops are traditionally male-dominated, male-owned and testosterone-filled. This makes for a very intimidating environment to walk into. I don't like the term "LGBT-friendly" or "tolerant". I choose not to refer to my shop as that because I believe businesses should just be "people-friendly" in general. I actually thought about putting up a sign that says "Straight-Friendly" to show how ridiculous the statement is. It comes off like a business is doing us a 'favor' by saying that they are LGBT friendly, as though we should be grateful for that statement. It's just plain human decency that should not have to be announced, but rather expected. So, at my shop, it's an expectation, a rule.

Who inspires you in life?

I'm inspired by anyone who has a story about a major life transformation. I'm inspired by self-made business people. I'm inspired by kids who are entrepreneurs. I'm inspired by musicians, athletes, artists, tech gurus, anyone who has a goal and goes hard to achieve it. I'm inspired by motivational speakers such as Les Brown and Lisa Nichols.

Can you share your story of starting your movement for inclusive barbershop spaces?

My passion for creating a better experience at barbershops for the LGBTQ+ community started after hearing stories from friends about the sub-par treatment they were getting. They were being refused service, not getting the type of haircut they asked for, being questioned about their cut choices in regards to their perceived gender, being talked about or having to hear derogatory remarks--you name it, I've heard a story about it. Getting a haircut is a service and the practitioner's personal opinion about the client's sexuality or gender should not play a part in [their service]. The client isn't paying to be insulted or disrespected, the client is paying to get exactly the type of cut they asked for. 

What are your thoughts on the intersection of racial and queer identities?

 There are plenty of times when racial and queer identities intersect for me. One major point was when it came to finding funding and space for my shop. I'm a dark-skinned black gay woman. There's a lot riding against me with those three categories. I'm automatically assumed to not be able to handle store rent. I was questioned over and over as to my knowledge about business, even with a detailed business plan. It took A LOT for me to get my shop's space. Thankfully I had some terrific backers who truly believed in what I was doing, and to be totally frank, I believe that them being Caucasian is what really helped me. We are all aware of it and ok with it, because the ultimate goal was to get me in and make sure I was successful. There are many other intersections that deal with race, queerness and money.

The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?

Barbering is a male dominated business. It's important for me to put myself out there as female Master Barber, as well as a female barber in the LGBTQIA community, to show that we're out here and doing just as great a job as the guys, that we can own thriving barbershops and not just beauty salons. In everything I do I make sure to "go hard" for myself, but also because you never know who's watching and what terrific impact you might be having on that person as they watch you succeed.

What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

One issue I would want to change about the world is homelessness. I just don't understand why there are homeless or hungry people in the world. We've got SO MUCH food and SO MUCH available space to build on.