I meeting with the Deputy Executive Director of Programs at the Ali Forney Center tomorrow to discuss the organization’s treatment of transgender clients.
For those of you don’t know, not long after my father, who I was living with at the time, found out I was transitioning, I became homeless. I crashed on the couch of a friend for a couple weeks, then took an 11-hour train trip to New York City, where there’d be more resources for homeless LGBTQ youth (more as opposed to, y’know, none). This was December of last year.
The first organization I hooked up with when I arrived in New York was the Ali Forney Center. The organization takes its name from Ali Forney (who also went by Lucious), a homeless transgender youth who was found murdered in 1997. His killer has never been found (and I’m sure the NYPD tried real hard too).
Despite naming itself after a transgender person and using that same name to raise money for their organization, AFC is remarkably cis-centric. Like many so-called LGBT organizations, the Ali Forney Center is more than willing to use our dead to line their pockets but when it comes to fair and equal treatment of transgender clients, they come up short.
In my time at AFC, I have not met a single openly transgender staff member. I have met a couple of stealthers who shall remain nameless, but I only found out about them being trans through my own intuition and confirmation with other trans* clients. Whether or not their stealth status is due to their own personal decisions or from outside pressure, I have no way of knowing. Either way, it sends a bad message to the transgender youth AFC serves.
I’m honestly not sure if there are any openly transgender persons working for AFC, let alone in positions of power. I will bring it up at my meeting tomorrow.
The vast majority of the programming is aimed as cisgender gay males, even though they make up a minority of clients. Programming aimed specifically at lesbians, bisexuals and/or transgender people is non-existant.
Cissexism and transphobia from clients is a daily phenomenom. Liberal use of the slur tr***y, refering to cisgender women as “real girls” (as opposed to the fake, i.e. transgender, ones) and cheerful chanting of “titties on your back” (a phrase used to mock trans women who are “tops” and men who associate with them) are but three of the most common examples. While outright transphobia or cissexism from the staff is rare, much of what occurs from clients happens with a staff member present. Staff member correcting or even commenting on said transphobic language is, again, rare.
The staff is also remarkably ignorant on transgender issues. For example, a Black History Month display honoring important LGBT figures in the black community not only did not include a single trans person, but managed to work in not one, but two cisgender gay men with a history of transphobia, those being RuPaul and Don Lemon. Apparently, no one on staff knew of the troubling statement from either man (and, yes, though RuPaul is a drag performer, he does identify as a cisgender man).
When I found out about AFC hosting a weekly hour-long group dedicated to Dan Savage and the podcast version of his Savage Love column, it was the final straw. Let me be clear, the group was not a comprehensive look at Dan Savage’s extensive history of transphobic, biphobic, misogynistic, racist, ableist, rape-appologistic or otherwise bigoted statements. It consists solely of playing the podcast (a.k.a. Savage’s official mouthpiece) and light discussion. Increasing the fame and influence of a hate-monger seems like less than ideal use of AFC’s limited time with clients.
In an attempt to quell my outrage at the group, the staff member running it promised me that she would remain “neutral” to anything Savage spouted via the podcast. To quote Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
I have personally suffered many indignities at the hands of or under the indifferent eye of AFC staff. I originally wished to wait until after my meeting to publicly write on this matter, but one such indignity this very morning persuaded me otherwise.
If the meeting does not resolve to my satifaction, I plan to immediately withdraw from all AFC services. Since I am currently staying at an AFC shelter, this will include going back onto the street. I will also begin an extensive media campaign to bring light to AFC’s under-service and under-representation of its transgender clients. If this is unsuccessful (and given the media’s general indifference to the plight of transgender people, this is not unlikely.), I plan to start a hunger strike, alone if need be.
I have plans for what to do next if I am still unsuccessful but I’ll keep that under my hat for now.
Transgender people make up a large percentage of AFC’s clientelle, if not an outright majority. That the vast majority of AFC’s resources go towards programs target gay men is not right. That transgender youth cannot step inside an AFC facility without expecting gross disrespect and borderline hate speech is not right. That AFC is doing virtually nothing to change this situation is not right.
Experience has taught me that I shouldn’t expect much to come of my meeting tomorrow. Let’s all hope I am wrong.