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Hairstyles are a staple of the queer community; you can send all kinds of messages with how you wear your hair. Crazy colors, shaved sides, undercuts, queer bobs, and more can be used as a mating call, a queer beacon, or a freak flag to the rest of the community.

But not everyone has the funds to drop major bank on a snazzy cut or the perfect dye job, and trans folks and other marginalized members of the community don’t always feel safe going to the salon.

That’s where Bishops Cuts/Color come in. Rather than calling themselves a salon, they are a barber shop, and they don’t break their cuts into male and female gender boxes. Instead, they just offer short and long cuts, and let the customer choose what that means in terms of style.

A Unique Approach

“We want you to be happy being whomever you want to be, and we are happy to do that for you from a looks perspective, and empower you to be you, judgement free,” explained Tristan Bryan, who runs the Bishops shop in Highlands Ranch, and plans to open two more, in Lowery and Stapleton. “The franchise is minority-owned, and women- and LGBTQ-led and staffed.”

Started in Portland, Oregon, the formula of Bishops is simple: come in, relax, and get styled. They offer sodas and waters to patrons, and are working on getting liquor licenses so they can also give their thirstier customers a free beer with each appointment. The idea is to set the mood of friends hanging out and doing hair, rather than the often off-putting vibe that salons can give.

Their pricing is right in the middle range, averaging $20 or $30 for a cut and $40 or $50 for a dye. This offers a solution other than the cheap salons that give bargain cuts and often lack quality, or the expensive, sometimes snooty salons with the big price tags that require appointments made weeks in advance.

To further level the playing field, Bishops doesn’t allow appointments, but does everything on a walk-in basis. Customers can either book an appointment immediately before coming in using their phones or computers, or on a tablet once they get to the store.

Focus on Inclusivity

Bishops also strives to offer a more inclusive environment to employees. In addition to encouraging individual expression, they aim to pay a fair wage, and discourage some of the harmful practices found at some salons, which require stylists to meet a certain, often very high, quota of hourly haircuts before they can make commission. They also make it a point to feature local artwork and allow stylists to pick their own playlists for the workday instead of blaring corporate radio. On a corporate level, they also strive to make sure only those who align with their values get to open franchises.

“They had a big developer from Texas and he wanted to buy all of Texas, 50 licenses, and he made a racial slur during drinks. They asked him to leave and did not invite him back,” said Bryan. “He was a multi-millionaire, but they said ‘we don’t want you.’”

While not every owner of Bishops is queer or a minority, those who run the shops try and understand the struggle that LGBTQ people face fitting into society.

“My daughter was trying to decide if she identified as gender neutral, and when I first went to a Bishops I got a little misty-eyed, because I felt like it was a place where she could go and wouldn’t feel judged,” said Bryan. “She identifies as female and bi now, and I’m just glad she is able to be herself, and I want there to be places where she will be accepted.”

A Place for Everyone

The franchise already has some success stories of helping to express and lift up queer identities.

“There is a woman who works at the Superior shop, who has opened the door to the trans community there,” said Richard Lyford, who manages stores in the Highlands and RiNo, and plans to open a store on Colfax. “She has given so many people their first ‘female’ haircut. She said a lot of time trans women come in and don’t really know how to talk about haircuts or more feminine haircuts and styles, and this person walks them all through it. We all got a little choked up because it is really cool; after you’ve transitioned, not everyone has resources;  you grow out all this hair and then you’re like ‘what the hell do I do with it?’ Having someone to walk them through the process has been really great.”

On a typical trip to Bishops, you will see all kinds of folks both working and getting their hair done. It’s not uncommon to see punks, hippies, and folks with crazy hair of all kinds doing the cuts and colors, or trans folks sitting in the barber’s chairs because they feel safe and accepted.

To make it known that they are here to show support to the LGBTQ community, Bishops even turned up at Pride this year with a booth offering temporary rainbow color jobs to anyone who wanted to rock Pride hair. And all year long, they are willing to do just about any cut, style, or color imaginable to help folks express who they are.

“This is a new way of looking at the world; you don’t have to make judgements just by looking at people, and people can do whatever they want,” Lydford added. “It’s been a lot of fun to me to start experiencing humanity in a different way. I have employees I think are hilarious and amazing, but when I was 20 I may have been more critical of them. I’ve learned a lot, and I think it’s great.”

Walk into any Bishops Cuts/Color around town for a haircut, or learn more at bishops.co. Look for stores all around the Denver area, and expect locations to offer beer with haircuts in the near future.