When Brendon Lynch visited the Los Angeles LGBT Center in November 2016, he got his first glimpse into the lives of homeless LGBTQ youth.
"I thought I knew a lot, and as a gay man — I thought I knew it all, but I learned so much more," Lynch told NBC Out.
The Rudy's Barbershop CEO said the company, which has an ongoing partnership with the It Gets Better Project, was looking for new ways to help the LGBTQ community. After touring the center, Lynch was saddened to hear that many of the residents in its transitional housing program were thrown out of their homes after coming out to their families.
"They end up on the street, and they're homeless," he said, adding some even "become addicted to drugs, because they need to stay up at night to protect their belongings, so they turn to drugs to keep them up at night."
He called the spiral "sickening."
"You think that with how much progress we've made in this community, with people being more open and understanding and empathetic that there would be fewer kids being thrown in the streets by their family and friends for being who they are," he said.
Lynch realized homeless people don't just need food and clothes — they need toiletries to get clean and feel dignified. It was clear to the CEO that Rudy's Barbershop was in a perfect position to pitch in.
"Almost 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, which is a staggering number," Lynch said. "So we recognize that that's part of the community that we wanted to help out."
Lynch worked with the It Gets Better Project
In March, Los Angeles-based shelter My Friend's Place was the first to receive a donation.
"To help [LGBTQ homeless youth] have more dignity just to start their day feeling clean feels good," Lynch said.
The CEO joined Rudy's in 2014 after spending 20 years in the retail industry, including as head of global retail for Anthropologie. Before Lynch took the reigns at Rudy's, he was a regular in the barber chair.
"I've been a customer of Rudy's now for probably about 18 years, and I always felt that they did a great job with my hair, but my loyalty was also driven by the company's culture, its soul, the unique team of stylists and barbers in the shops and also they're activism," he said. "They've always been a strong ally and part of the LGBT community, which meant a lot to me as a gay man."
The barber chain has been a safe space for the LGBTQ community since its first shop opened in Seattle in 1993, according to the CEO. Founded by a trio of gay barbers, it was one of the only unisex barbershops at that time, he said. The shop's welcoming culture has always appealed to LGBTQ customers, according to Lynch.
The 44-year-old splits his time between his home in Los Angeles and his apartment in Seattle near the company's headquarters. He said both cities have large homeless populations.
"Every morning I walk to work, I walk past people
To date, 12 homeless shelters have received ongoing donations from the barber chain.
"It's [about] making these homeless kids feel a little bit better and feel good, and it's making the people that work at Rudy's and our customers feel good," Lynch concluded.
OutFront is a weekly NBC Out series profiling LGBTQ people who are making a positive difference in the community.