Trans LifeLine

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Trans Lifeline[1] (TLL) is a "Suicide Prevention Hotline" that bills itself as a suicide prevention hotline specifically for transgendered individuals, by transgendered individuals.

The organization is controversial because of many issues with its day-to-day operations and concerns with the activities of its founders, Greta Gustava Martela and Nina Chaubal. The organization has been repeatedly criticized for many reasons, ranging from a purported complete lack of desire to actually take calls calls (to the point where almost no calls get a response,) to open bias on the parts of its founders, to charges of rudeness and outright bad advice stemming from poorly-trained staff. Accusations of inurement surround the organization as well. A common claim of those who have dealt with the organization has been that it is little more than a cash-grab scheme for its founders. Almost all of its money comes from private donations, as it is largely ineligible for the them due to its business practices.

In addition to the allegations of corruption, inurement, and malfeasance, there are multiple accusations of criminal negligence. Trans Lifeline is not accredited by the organizations normally responsible for setting standards for suicide prevention organizations. Its staff uses under trained individuals as operators, has refused to tighten its training guidelines, and has a policy to not call police or medical personnel unless specifically asked by the caller. The lattermost point is the main reason they have been repeatedly denied accreditation and grant money.

Because of this, Trans Lifeline has faced considerable criticism. The founder of the organization, Greta Martela, has repeatedly shown herself to be willing to silence good-faith negative coverage of the organization, going so far as to threaten critics with violence. The organization's official website was made private in an effort to stop by activists to spread awareness about the site's alleged crimes.[2]

Corruption and Malfeasance

Trans Lifeline's 2015 Expenses.

One of the most serious accusations against Trans Lifeline is that it is nothing more than a source of money for its founders, Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal. Despite considerable and successful publicity efforts on social media and both Martela and Chaubal repeatedly appearing at events and meeting with various celebrities ranging from social justice advocates to transgendered porn stars as part of an effort to promote TLL's services, it has almost always been awash in accusations of misuse of funds and outright malfeasance.

Even a cursory examination of their own 2015 annual report reveals massive irregularities.[3]

Among the cited expenses are $26,000 for travel and a $24,000 salary for the executive director. This totals over half of their estimated 2015 budget. However, the organization's founders claim that it barely stays in the green through donations. The financials are further complicated by listing volunteer work as "in-kind contributions," including over $80,000 for the "Director of Operations" (accounting for roughly one third of the "in-kind contributions" and one half of all the operators combined). Trans Lifeline's own statistics claim that over half of its work comes from volunteers. TLL claims that volunteering to Trans Lifeline and donating money are two of the most important things supporters can do for the service. One might believe that Trans Lifeline used its sizable "transport expenses" budget to travel around the country for fundraising. However, its head, Greta Martela, has been repeatedly accused of using it to finance personal trips around the country.[4][5] Greta also bought a "Beaver Box" - a sort of trailer for cars - using TLL's money,[6] only to sell it later on Ebay in an effort to recoup some money for Trans Lifeline.[7]

Elizabeth Waite, who would kill herself in November of 2016, had used Trans Lifeline several times.

Trans Lifeline has been completely unable to account for massive gaps in its bookkeeping, further indicting possible inurement.[8]Evidence suggests that Greta Martela was unemployed before founding Trans Lifeline, which provides a motivation for inurement.[9]

Despite claiming to have a full-time workforce and that enables Trans Lifeline to operate 24/7, investigations by concerned citizens have shown that the organization very rarely actually answers calls to its crisis hotline, the main reason for the charity's existence. When individuals investigating it called to assess how quickly TLL responded to calls, the vast majority of calls were never answered. Evidence suggests that Trans Lifeline has a fraction of the workforce it claims to have, or possibly none (besides the founders and a handful of unpaid volunteers) at all. Investigations have shown varying rates response, but virtually all of them show over 80% of calls went unanswered. Those calls were usually automatically directed to an answering machine that tells callers to call back later. Activity for the hotline tends to spike on Fridays and before holidays. During such periods, as few as one in eighty calls may be answered.[10] Other suicide prevention services have referenced transgendered callers to Trans Lifeline in the past, only to discover that Trans Lifeline often does not answer their phone. Automated bots set up to monitor call answer rates from the service have backed up these statistics,[11] and reports by third parties who have called Trans Lifeline in the past have further confirmed this information.

This information alone would be damning, painting Trans Lifeline as run by individuals with no qualifications but decent PR skills, but it actually manages to gets worse: Within Trans Lifeline's own report, they indicate that they are responding to less than 19% of the calls on their own service as of December 2015. The report further goes on to explain that the "operators" that the service uses are trained for approximately two hours and have no credentials with any legitimate psychiatric or medical organization. In comparison, other suicide prevention services insist upon 40 or more hours of experience prior to being an operator, and extensive vetting for said operators. Trans Lifeline's only requirement is that its operators are transgendered.[12]

Trans Lifeline has openly admitted to employing illegal immigrants. Founder Greta Martela has violated immigration laws on behalf of her associate and fellow Trans Lifeline staffer, Nina Chaubal,[13] who is in the country illegally and working without a permit.[14][15] Nina is paid by Trans Lifeline and has also worked for Uber.

Trans Lifeline does not have any link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Trevor project, or any similar suicide prevention organization. Additionally, no contact information for any other suicide prevention organization listed on TLL's website as an alternative to Trans Lifeline nor are there any contact numbers to call in the event that Trans Lifeline cannot be reached. Trans Lifeline's answering machine, arguably the most-common response to calls, does not give any additional contact numbers either.

Alarmingly, Trans Lifeline has admitted to bias against certain people's race and gender identity when deciding which calls to answer. TLL prioritizes black and latina transwomen over transgendered men.[16] In their FAQ, they specifically state that they will prioritize identity politics over actual lifesaving:

“Q6: How do we handle a caller saying something bigoted without appearing to agree with them or affirm that view? A: Please see Training 3 Dealing with Difficult Callers (Abusive Language) -- text in section 1 of your Handbook-- for some practical tips. We are also working on developing additional role play examples beyond those in the Training 3 slideshow. We have to remember that our callers come from every walk of life and stage in transition. Most people don't actually know the correct terminology we use and that terminology is ever changing. As a policy we do not talk "Queer Politics". The best advice I have is to remember everyone has the right to their own opinions/thoughts/lived experiences and to speak from the place of love to point out how our community is affected by certain points of views.”
—Trans LifeLine

Third-party critics of Trans Lifeline have told stories of the organization's operators flying off the handle for using words they do not like.[17] In many conversations with Trans Lifeline's staff, callers found them to be rude, unhelpful, and unsympathetic. One might imagine that all of this stems from a lack of training opportunities, but this, too, is false. The Trevor Project, an anti-suicide project which is has been accredited, once offered to help Trans Lifeline train their volunteers to the Trevor Project's standards. Instead, TLL chose to develop their own unique training program, which may be contributing to its embarrassingly low call response rate and staff completely unprepared for the job asked of them.

Trans Lifeline's own newsletter declares that it is "currently ineligible for accreditation through the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) because we do not force people into emergency care without their consent." This means that the group not only is not properly trained, and has no oversight from any mainstream medical or psychiatric agency, but is, in fact, not accredited by the American Association of Suicidology and will refuse to call Medical Personnel in the event of a suicide in progress[18] - meaning that they will not call 911 if someone on the line is actually dying. Trans Lifeline goes so far as to refuse to rescue children in such a situation.[19] Even more bizarrely, the reasoning behind this that is cited by Nina Chaubal in the article she herself links advocates abolishing the police entirely, and Chaubal claims that this article is "part of Trans Lifeline Training."[20]

The combination of a lack of training, lack of vetting, and a complete lack of AAS certification means that Trans Lifeline is unqualified to handle crisis management to the degree it claims. As previously discussed, AAS certified crisis centers only use operators with over forty hours of experience, the bulk of which is hands-on work to get the operators ready for actual crisis management.[21] In contrast, Trans LifeLine has operators trained mostly through a 4-hour course consisting largely of Powerpoint presentations. Trans LifeLine's insistence on not vetting its operators is another black mark against it. AAS certified crisis centers are required to put operators through a particularly ruthless process because people with psychological problems are much more likely to exacerbate a situation when answering phones. Trans Lifeline has no screening process.

A former operator for Trans Lifeline, has, under condition of anonymity, claimed they were not paid by Trans Lifeline, which declared that their work was volunteer-based and thus that they did not need to pay provide compensation. Said alleged former staffer has gone on to state that this is why the call response rates for Trans Lifeline are so low; the organization is completely unwilling to compensate operators for time spent, resulting in a general inability to retain employees.

Criminal Negligence and Victim Exploitation

Note the highlighted text.

As covered above, Trans Lifeline has a terrible track record, even by the standards of independent charity groups, with a history of not answering calls more than 80% of the time, staff who are completely unqualified for the job they're doing, and moreover, a no professional accreditation with the American Association of Suicidology. However, there are two far darker, far more disturbing aspects to this group which have made it the target of criticism and threats of legal action.

First is the reasoning that Trans Lifeline claims is the reason behind Trans Lifeline's lack of accreditation:

“Trans people are at a chronic and acute risk for suicide. When a crisis line uses a risk assessment calibrated for the general population to assess the risk of a trans person, operators frequently call emergency personnel to intervene. Unfortunately, many trans people face violence at the hands of emergency personnel. Fear of that violence prevents transgender people from reaching out for help in their hour of need. Informed by firsthand experiences of our board members and anecdotal evidence from the trans community, Trans Lifeline decided that that our operators would only call emergency personnel with the consent of our callers.”
—Trans LifeLine

There is no citation for this claim. There's no numbers or no proof. Upon closer examination, however, a pattern quickly begins to emerge: Trans Lifeline is a firm proponent of the belief that one does not require a medical diagnosis of dysphoria to be transgendered. This belief structure is not supported by the medical establishment, because it does not have any basis in scientific fact. There is, no legitimate platform covering this view of transgenderism backed by the American Medical Association.

Trans Lifeline's intolerance of opposing viewpoints is characterized by Jacqueline Andrews, who committed suicide after a lengthy argument with Trans Lifeline staff. Jacqueline was a transgendered rights advocate who was opposed to Greta Martela's aforementioned non-scientific beliefs on transgenderism and demanded background checks for Trans Lifeline's staff.[22] While most of the posts involved have been deleted, all evidence suggests that Trans Lifeline supporters conducted a hate campaign against Andrews in retaliation, and may have been a contributing factor in her suicide.

Trans Lifeline's acting director turns on the mother of a suicide victim after she demands some respect for the dead.

Second is Trans Lifeline's horrifying and shameless attempts to exploit recent suicide victims for money and support for Trans Lifeline, including now infamous suicide victims Leelah Alcorn, Julie Terryberry, and Elizabeth Waite. Trans Lifeline has a reputation for attempting to exploit such tragedies for their own purposes. On multiple occasions, Trans Lifeline has latched onto a recent suicide of a transperson, even if that person clearly had a long history of psychological problems far deeper than mere trandgenderism, had nothing to do with Trans Lifeline, or may have committed suicide because of Trans Lifeline. Instead, Trans Lifeline's founders have attempted to use their political opponents, such as TERFs or groups and people critical of Trans Lifeline, as scapegoats for the suicide, despite ample evidence that they were not involved. They also use these opportunities to try to get obtain donations and support. In November of 2016, Trans Lifeline began circulating the repeatedly disproven claim that the election of President Donald Trump led to the suicide of eight transgendered teens, again, milking an alleged tragedy for support and donations.[23] Though this story has been proven false, Trans Lifeline has continued to push it as factual.

On November 23rd, 2016, Elizabeth Waite (a transwoman) left a series of posts indicating that she intended to commit suicide on her Facebook. Waite had been in contact with Trans Lifeline previously, but due to their "No Active Rescue" policy, was left to her own devices despite her history of suicide attempts. Kiwi Farms user Smutley proceeded to report Waite's account to the authorities for the suicide claim, immediately earning the ire of Trans Lifeline's staff, who proceeded to claim that it was Smutley's concern for Waite's life was, somehow, directly responsible to her suicide.[24]

The aftermath of this incident is chilling. Within hours of the suicide becoming public, Greta was arguing that Elizabeth's death was the fault of the Kiwi Farms. When Amanda Waite, Elizabeth's spouse, took issue with this, the pair attempted to browbeat her into accepting their claim that the Kiwi Farms was somehow responsible for Elizabeth's suicide. Amanda wasn't having any of it, and the pair proceeded to then block Amanda, stating that she was "not welcome here" for defying their narrative.[25]

LordKaT's podcast and research

Jason Pullara has devoted two episodes of his podcast to Trans LifeLine. In the second episode the result of a semi-extensive research project taking place from 12 September 2016 to 6 January 2017 was publicized, which came to the conclusion that TLL only picks up around 7%, or 5 of 83, of the calls made during business hours on weekdays[26]. This is congruent with previous intensive analyses from other people in August 2016 which found that less than 10% of all calls were taken. Worse yet, 2 of the 5 answered calls were responded to deplorably according to him. One of them put him on hold and then they were disconnected. The other immediately asked if he was trans, was told by the researcher he didn't know, and responded he should figure that out before terminating the call.

While him directly calling the hotline and utilizing the system without a genuine need for their services may invite criticism that he placed additional demand on an overburdened system, he stated in the report he intentionally engaged the operators he did connect with for a minimal amount of time so that the burden he placed on their system was negligible.


References