Debunking Misinformation, a response to a recent Tumblr article

A Tumblr article by LordHuchefant has been getting shared recently that makes a number of untrue claims about the Trans Lifeline. We decided to go through line by line and debunk post. You can view the original article here.

“Ever since the Presidential Election results came in, there’s been post after post of people spreading around the phone number for a supposed suicide hotline for trans people, called Trans Lifeline.
What people don’t know is that this “hotline” is a huge scam meant to fund the founder’s’ personal lives,…”

Nina Chaubal and Greta Martela are two trans women who were software engineers in San Francisco. When Greta was suicidal, she experienced ignorance, mistreatment, and abuse while trying to get the help she needed. They decided they needed to do something to help other suicidal trans folks, so they left their jobs where they made a combined income of $260,000 in order to found the Trans Lifeline. In 2015, the both dedicated themselves full time to the Trans Lifeline. Greta collected a salary of $28,800 that year, and Nina worked without pay for the first fifteen months of Trans Lifeline, living entirely off of her savings. In 2016, they are each collecting a salary of $30,000 (since they work 70 hours per week on average, that is practically minimum wage) for a combined income of $60,000.

“…and that the hotline barely answers their calls, if ever.”

Since Trans Lifeline launched in November of 2014, we’ve answered 17,064 calls.

“A twitter was made a while back to cover the small, almost nonexistent amount of operators on the line, but it is now inoperable because the founders found out and shut down the source of the twitter bot’s information, because how dare someone provide the truth.”

Kiwifarms is a website dedicated to harassing autistic trans women into dying by suicide. Kiwifarms launched a personal attacks on staff of Trans Lifeline including Greta, Nina, and an intern. This attack included leaving explicit harassing messages, death threats, and attempting to disclose their personal addresses online. Frustrated that their attacks did not dissuade us from offering life-saving support to trans people who were suicidal, Kiwifarms supporters created a twitter bot to defame Trans Lifeline and spread lies. Kiwifarms is being investigated by the federal government as a hate group in connection with this incident and a number of other alleged malicious crimes.

“The founder, who is also trans, frequently posts pictures of her weapons,…”

As a U.S. military veteran, Greta is trained to use weapons responsibly. She sometimes receives death threats from hate groups and individuals because she is one of the most public faces of our organization. Occasionally, Greta posts photos of her weapons as a means of self-defense. We stand by the right of Greta and any other trans person to defend their lives, and we acknowledge that sometimes that may entail the use of force or weapons.

“…and even showed up at someone’s house…”

After speaking with suicidal trans women who had been triggered by being harassed at the hands of Kiwifarms, Greta did some investigating. She visited the business address of LOLCOW LLC, which is the company that runs Kiwifarms in order to have a conversation about the damaging impact Kiwifarms was having on the community Trans Lifeline serves and to convince them to stop harassing Trans Lifeline staff. This address turned out the be the home of Joshua Moon, the person who runs LOLCOW LLC and Kiwifarms. Joshua did not come to the door, but his mother did. Greta urged her to address her son’s behaviors.

“…because she didn’t agree with what they had to say about her hotline and her “friends”, then proceeded to make vague physical threats at them on FB. As a mentally ill person,…”

Trans Lifeline believes that we need people who are most impacted in leadership to address the issues confronting our communities. Greta is proud to be a person living with a mental illness and offering support to other people from a place of lived experience. Trying to discredit someone because they have a mental illness is ableist.

“…she seems unfit to be handling such a lifeline that barely answers their calls in the first place.

Everyday Trans Lifeline volunteers answer dozens of calls. Between November 8th and November 15th alone, our volunteers have answered almost 500 calls.

She also spends the organization’s money frivolously, going from one state to the next for who knows what.”

Trans Lifeline is a national organization. Instead of investing in a brick-and-mortar office that can only serve one location, our staff works from home, and we choose to invest in travel. Travel is crucial to our successful growth because is helps us spread the word about our life-saving services, forge partnerships in underserved communities, and recruit supporters such as volunteers and donors. We are governed by a board of directors and as a 501©3 our budget and expenditures are a matter of public record.

Here’s their 2015 annual report.
And here’s a claim that 6,000 hours of volunteer work equals up to $197,000. This is incredibly inflated.”

This figure is a modest calculation based on how much we would have paid our volunteers if we compensated them $15 per hour. This number reflects the fact that we were largely unfunded in our first year, and we continue to be majority volunteer organization whose success is due to the commitment, dedication, and generosity of the many people who give their time to support other trans people in crisis. Volunteer hours include conducting and receiving trainings, outreaching at community events, and posting on social media, in addition to all of the hours spent on the line providing real-time crisis support.

We used $15 per hour as a standard unit of compensation even though many of the skills our staff and volunteers bring to the table (such as coding, web design, and Information Technology) typically cost $50/hr or more.

THEY ARE ALSO NOT ACCREDITED BY THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF SUICIDOLOGY AND REFUSE TO CALL MEDICAL PERSONNEL IN THE EVENT OF A SUICIDE IN PROGRESS. THIS MEANS THEY WILL NOT CALL 911 IF SOMEONE ON THE LINE IS FUCKING DYING.”

Trans Lifeline is not accredited by the American Association of Suicidology because we do not believe in calling 911 on a trans person without their explicit consent. So-called active rescue is the standard AAS upholds, and it is the practice of calling 911 when we believe a person is a threat to themselves. This standards is actively harmful to many marginalized communities including trans people, especially trans people of color.

Majority of the time when 911 is called, the first responders are police officers. 2016 study shows that mentally ill people are sixteen times more likely than the general population to be shot by the police. Read the report here.

Moreover, many of our callers report suffering abuse in psychiatric hospitals, so we cannot presume these institutions will be healing to our community. We conducted our own small scale research (about 300 respondents) and found that 40% of trans people said they would not call a hotline if there was a possibility that the police would be called on them. This research along with high profile incidents of the police shooting people experiencing mental health crisis, informs our policy — We do not call 911 unless a caller specifically asks us to do so.

We enjoy the support of many of the people in leadership at the American Association of Suicidology, and we have presented research at their annual conference. We are working on long term research studies with Rhodes College and University of Minnesota so that we can gather information about how to address the unique needs of trans people who are suicidal. We are also working with the National LGBTQ Task Force to create the first and only Transgender Mental Health Survey. Armed with more information, we will work to change best practices for suicide hotlines, AAS Accreditation Standards, and psychiatric hospital policies.

Only about 19% of incoming calls were being answered.”

This number was taken from our first-ever annual report. As an emerging organization, we are improving our reach and efficacy every day! We have been working tirelessly to create more effective structures, recruit more resources, and develop sustainable practices — to build our capacity to serve our community. To date we’ve answered 17,064 calls. We are continually expanding and improving service.

“This is a suicide prevention non-profit where they are only answering less than 19% of calls as of December of last year. When someone does get through, according to this report, they are talking to someone who has only received TWO FUCKING HOURS OF TRAINING.

Our training is four and a half hours with ongoing mentoring afterwards. We are recognized leaders in offering training with regards to trans people in crisis. As such, we actually offer trainings to other suicide prevention organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to help them serve our community better.

They train people for two hours, only answer 19% of calls and when that 19% do get through, the policy does not follow the AAS crisis standard with regard to emergency personnel.
Here is a link to their IRS exempt form.
The 2015 submission indicates income of $129,922 and total assets of $22,255 so their income was about 47% more than budgeted.
The 2016 budget is far more interesting given they are expecting $200,000 worth of grants.

Trans Lifeline started in November of 2014. As an emerging organization, it is difficult to predict how much support we will receive or where it will come from. We doubled in size in our second year with 90% of our support coming from own community! The fact that we have grown so much so quickly is a testament to how deeply our work touches people’s lives. Every dollar we receive goes to serving our mission and saving trans lives.

The average suicide hotline in California has a budget of 4.7 million dollars. Our organization stretches every dollar to it’s limit. We spend a fraction of what other hotlines spend per person we help. We need more resources to help more people, and we are working to build that capacity everyday.

The travel bill is also surprising for a non profit, I realise there is a need to engage potential donors but there comes a point where the figure is just ridiculous and it would appear that that point is about a third of that budgeted total.

In addition to the crisis line Trans Lifeline also engages in education and advocacy around mental health. Greta is currently on the consumer/survivor committee for the National Suicide Lifeline. She speaks at conferences, universities, and even the White House to help mental health providers, trans people, and policy makers address transgender mental health issues. We we travel, we make every effort to save money — driving as often as possible, staying with community members instead of staying in hotels, etc. Again, we are a 501©3 and we are regulated by a board of directors.

I see the director of operations “in kind” contributions have been reduced from $80,000 to receiving an actual salary of $28,800 and she is bringing in a personal assistant for herself.

We ultimately decided to recruit for a Director of Communications and Marketing instead of the role of Executive Assistant. Our staffing is reflective of the most pressing needs to grow and sustain the Trans Lifeline. We’re proud that we’ve created jobs for five transgender people. Many of the volunteers in our organization live at poverty level and sacrifice to do this work. We gratefully look forward to a day when we can create more opportunities for good people to do good work and get paid.

There could be a fucking body count and nobody would know.

There is a body count. Trans Lifeline was founded in response to trans people dying of suicide. We are working day and night so that more people can get more support, and we hope that means we can make a dent in that body count today. One day, we hope we can eliminate it all together.

The only source for majority of these claims in this article is the aforementioned site dedicated to driving trans women to suicide. We hope you will join us in the fight to save trans lives, and use your platform to that end.

Sincerely,

Trans Lifeline

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