Logo of the Trans Lifeline.
2443 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
|United States and Canada|
President and Executive Director
Director of Operations
|Greta Gustava and Nina Chaubul|
Trans LifeLine Although not officially a suicide prevention hotline, it is frequently advertised in a way that would indicate they are. Its policy only permits transgender operators and is founded by a transgender couple, Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal.is a registered charity and volunteer hotline "dedicated to the well being of transgender people".
Trans LifeLine and its founders have become a contentious topic in the transgender community. Trans LifeLine answers the phone as infrequently as 10% of the time, puts operators on the line with suicidal people after two hours of training, prohibits operators from calling emergency services without consent, and receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their completely volunteer hotline. Greta Gustava has shown up at critic's houses to physically intimidate them and is accused of misappropriating tens of thousands of charitable dollars on travel expenses instead of life-saving services. Nina Chaubal is an illegal immigrant allegedly salaried by Trans LifeLine and is currently facing deportation after a trip through Arizona resulted in being detained by ICE. The couple had not completed permanent residence applications, despite being together for years, claiming to be married and having raised hundreds of dollars towards that purpose illegally (through TLL's social media accounts).
- 1 Overview
- 2 Inurement, Self-Enrichment, and Corruption Accusations
- 3 Ideology and Doctrine
- 4 Training and Standards
- 5 Financial Statistics and Irregularities
- 6 Call Responsiveness, TLL's Attempts to Conceal Data
- 7 TLL's President Martela's Aggressive Behavior
- 8 Accusations of Misandry and Cisphobia
- 9 Unprofessionalism and Mismanagement by Founders
- 10 Immigration Saga
- 11 External links
- 12 References
The 2015 budget report and 2016 budget projection showed the majority of income being allocated towards salaries, payroll, and travel. 2015 spending was especially disproportionate and critics accused the founders of inurement. It has not been explained why expenses were allocated as they were when call answer rates fall below 20% (according to their own 2015 statistics report), or why external assessment of responsiveness placed TLL at under 15% in 2016 and under 7% in 2017. Trans LifeLine claims to have hundreds of volunteers and has stated it intends on hiring salaried professionals since 2015.
Trans LifeLine has not been accredited by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) because it forbids its operators to call emergency services. Volunteers are only required to take 2 hours of training, which involves reading a short word document and PowerPoint presentation. Despite this and the generous donations received periodically, TTL leaders consistently respond to criticism of the poor quality of their service by stating that they lack funds to train more volunteers. Meanwhile would-be volunteers complain they haven't heard from TLL in months after signing up and further doubt has been raised that the volunteers that do get to training are selected by the owners for personal reasons, not directly linked to the ultimate goal of helping callers. The AAS's training manual is much more comprehensive and useful to volunteers by comparison, but it is not suggested reading by TLL. Even if a child is suicidal, in an abusive household, or even being sexually abused, Trans LifeLine operators are not permitted to call the police or child protective services without consent from the caller. California law requires "mandatory reporters" to report known cases of child abuse, prohibiting California social workers, therapists and psychologists from working with Trans LifeLine.
Trans LifeLine's policy is dictated by its founders, Greta Gustava and Nina Chaubal, who both have outspoken personal animus of the police, men, and a general distrust of "cisgender" (non-trans) people. The public behavior of Trans LifeLine's founders are a notable focus of criticisms due to accusations of inurement and otherwise morally objectionable utilization of charitable funds. They are frequently using charity related social media accounts for personal reasons and blending personal opinions into the operations of their service.
Greta blocked the widow of a Trans LifeLine frequent caller on Facebook after she accused Greta of using her spouse's death to further political rallies against the Kiwi Farms. Despite protests from the widow, Greta and Trans LifeLine have brought up the death of this person in multiple interviews as a reason to give Trans LifeLine donations.
In August of 2016, Greta announced the purchase of a knife and that she had a crossbow she was "dying to try out". In the same Facebook thread, she claimed she was going to "find the name of everyone who ever participated on [the Kiwi Farms] and ruin their fucking life". Days later, she flew from California to Florida (presumably as a part of Trans LifeLine's travel budget) and made an unannounced visit to the family home of Kiwi Farms webmaster Joshua Moon. She staked out the address until the household returned from dinner and then rang the door. As Moon was in the bathroom, Greta instead ranted to his mother about the Kiwi Farms. After being privately contacted on Facebook, Greta publicly posted Facebook messages claiming she was "just getting started fucking with you boo". Soon after, Nina began posting videos of Greta firing weapons at a range and reminding people Greta is a military veteran. Plans to continue "fucking with you" were interrupted when Trans LifeLine was put on defensive by investigations into their service quality.
In December 2016 co-founder Nina Chaubal was detained by ICE for being an illegal immigrant. She was bonded out on January 3rd and is awaiting trial while they use Trans LifeLine accounts to politicize the arrest and fund their legal expenses.
Inurement, Self-Enrichment, and Corruption Accusations
There have been multiple well documented occasions where Martela and/or Chaubal have used TLL resources to enrich themselves or pay for services which don't benefit the organization. In one situation, TLL had announced the termination of an employee for using the TLL name to enrich themselves, and this prohibition explicitly included the Executive Director (which is Martela). Not long afterwards, the TLL social media accounts promoted a GoFundMe for Martela's dental care needs. On another occasion, Martela used her FB account (which she has asserted is used for work/TLL) to promote a GoFundMe for the immigration process costs of Chaubal, which raised over $700- almost 50% above the goal. Yet, it did not serve the intended purpose since she was arrested[Citation needed] for illegal residency almost 9 months later, and an explanation of the fate of that money has not been provided.
As Chaubal's work visa had expired and was not replaced or renewed, it was illegal for her to be employed at all until that was rectified. However, in 2016, she was made an employee of TLL and took in 24k per year along with Martela[Citation needed] and also worked as an Uber driver in 2015. It obviously is very complicating and also personally distracting when one of the founders of a non-profit is deemed an undocumented alien by a federal agency. Additionally, a fundraising campaign online done under the TLL name [Citation needed] was conducted to raise money to pay Chaubal's bond and first round of legal fees. Undoubtedly more such TLL-led fundraising for Chaubal's immigration legal fees will follow, which is utterly irrelevant to the reason for existence and mission of TLL.
In addition to taking in about 50k in 2016 in salary combined, they were paid a substantial amount of money by the organization to travel, which took the form of frequent roadtrips. It has never been explained beyond nebulous justifications of drumming up awareness and interest [Citation needed] how exactly they were benefiting the organization or its cause through so many trips, and rarely or never were specific legitimate events or objectives described. The tone of the many roadtrips was that of being on vacation rather than working for TLL. ~75k in 2016, and ~50k in 2015, was spent on the founders' salaries and travel, and what TLL has gotten in exchange has never been expounded. It is not unreasonable to assume donations to TLL mostly or entirely paid for Martela's knife and travel expenses during the August 2016 attempted confrontation of Null.
While it has been suggested numerous times by critics that TLL be reported to the authorities due to the abundance of evidence concerning misuse of funds, the fact is that the non-profit is just under the budget limit that would put it on the radar of most regulatory agents and stricter laws. The owners seem to be acutely aware of it, even deliberately setting their own salaries a mere couple hundred dollars below certain relevant legal limits[Citation needed] and abusing other similar accounting methods to evade serious examination as much as possible.
Ideology and Doctrine
TLL was founded on the core overarching principle that the transgender community has to empower and serve itself because society at large- even the LGBT movement in general- cannot be relied on to properly serve transpeople and that other established suicide prevention lines are actively dangerous to transgender people due to them possibly leading to police involvement or hospitalization, putting transpeople into allegedly serious risk of being mistreated or even met with violence. Thus, aside from a few board-level positions, all staff of TLL must be transgender. According to them, 1/3 of respondents in one of their surveys would not seek help if there was a chance of involuntary EMS. Using this premise, their policy is EMS services may never summoned to a caller without their consent. This is a highly controversial doctrine, and is contrary to that of major and reputable suicide hotline organizations. According to TLL, this bars them from gaining accreditation and grants from the American Association of Suicidology. While an effective defense of a no-involuntary doctrine for usual adult cases can be made, TLL's doctrine on this matter is absolute and extends to victims of ongoing sexual assault. Furthermore, TLL forbids active rescue for children under ANY circumstances. This seems to run in stark contradiction with entities and professionals in this field (and the morality of society in general). Depending on whether the operator is considered a mandated reporter in an applicable area, this is also potentially illegal.
TLL conveys a preference for transwomen of African and Hispanic descent. While those demographics indubitably fare worse than the general normal and trans populations, many have taken issue with a stated preference for and fixation on some trans people over others merely on the basis of race and gender. Co-founder Martela's documented hostility towards males in general  amplifies the impression of bias. Adding to that, individuals who are made to take calls are sometimes identified as having personal relationships with Greta, Nina or other people involved with TLL[Citation needed], while dozens of other volunteers never get around to receiving their training and start working on calls[Citation needed], despite the service's terrible response rates - further bringing suspicion that the non-profit is more of an entity that exists in order to better the owners lives financially and personally than an actual service for the trans community at large, despite that being their stated goals.
Training and Standards
Obviously, the task of being a suicide hotline operator is a high-stakes job, and can in some scenarios be very stressful or even highly traumatic. Thus, in a typical suicide hotline, operators are extensively trained to be suitably prepared and knowledgeable in a myriad of scenarios (presumably including LGBT and trans callers), and are given heavy oversight and care to maintain or recover their own emotional health. Sufficient training requires dozens of hours. Operators are also screened and vetted, so that they are confident their staff are morally and emotionally fit for the job. However, according to TLL's own report, operators are given only 2 hours of training. According to Martela, TLL turned down an offer by the Trevor Project to train their operators, insisting on doing their own training. Why they have refused to accept such altruistic offers- especially given their very poor answer rates and professed limitations- is unknown.
While a system which trains operators as rapidly as TLL's is supposed to could be defended on the basis it ensures maximal coverage so a caller will likely reach SOMEONE, TLL consistently lacks numbers AND quality for operators. The lack of vetting, structure, standards, and training likely contribute massively to the lack of activity by those who are on the roster. According to their own figures, their rate of call response plummeted over the course of 2015 to under 20%. Outside analysis of their responsiveness in August 2016 concluded it fell below 15% despite having over 300 volunteers on the roster and stated plans to pay for volunteers. Multiple people have complained their application wasn't responded to.
As stated above, TLL's policy on intervention is to refuse to summon EMS against the caller's will no matter what (excluding death and bomb threats). This is contrary to the generally accepted standards of this field, and TLL asserts this is why they cannot become accredited by the AAS or gain grants by major organizations. The extremely short training and minimal screening of operators certainly are additional and glaring deviations from the mainstream standards.
Financial Statistics and Irregularities
TLL has released budgets for 2015 and 2016, both of which were in their 2015 report. The 2015 budget projected income for Nov and Dec, while the 2016 one was entirely projected. Well under half of the income for both years was allocated to things which are directly related to hotline operations. Their 2015 budget stated an income of 88k, a travel expense of 26k for the founders, and a 24k salary for Martela, but only 11k was allocated to hosting and phone service, and zero for operator training and recruitment. Their projected 2016 budget asserted an income of 315k, and expenses for salaries, payroll (which was 28.2k, almost the same as the board members' salaries), and travel of 203.4k- nearly 2/3 of their expected income. No concrete budget for 2016, or a projected one for 2017, have been provided. No substantive explanation of the rationale or necessity for the various concerning expenses has been given, but only assertions of the need to have paid staff to oversee and train operators which nonetheless bring horrible results.
In addition to the above irregularities, the In-Kind Contributions of the operators somehow plummet from 168k in 2015 to 60k in 2016. Furthermore, these totals seem to be based on a massive hourly assessed value of $32.83, going by their estimates of 6,000 hours being donated and being worth 197k. That section also asserts 36% of hours worked were paid. Depending on how that and the aforementioned language are interpreted, either $70.9k or $110.8k was spent on manpower/salaries. As those figures would have reflected reality in late 2015 (the report states Nov and Dec's 2015 figures were extrapolated) and TLL was founded in November 2014, the 2015 expenses and other figures should reflect this. They do not. Additionally, the 2015 In-Kind Contributions are higher than the aforementioned stated value of donated hours. Finally, the 2015 In-Kind Contributions of all the senior staff but the Director of Operations are very low when considering the assessed hourly value of manpower and the obvious need of such staff.
Their own budgets within the 2015 report demonstrate some of their assertions to the IRS while applying for non-profit status in 2014 were false. They have paid staff, have provided compensation/funding for activities, have operated in another country, and have argued against legislation (the infamous NC NB2 bill). No report for 2016 or 2017 has been released, and no tax forms for those years have been submitted as of January 2017.
Call Responsiveness, TLL's Attempts to Conceal Data
Main Article: LordKaT's Experiment on TLL's Call Answer Rate
The rate of answered calls has been the subject of a great amount of speculation and analysis. TLL's 2015 report conceded this fell below 20% in the latter half of 2015. Various people sporadically have complained TLL hardly responded to calls. When interest in TLL and Martela greatly rose in the wake of the attempted confrontation of Joshua Moon, it was noted the # of operators on duty, a publicly accessible statistic at the time, seemed to most often be 0 or 1, occasionally 2 or 3. Curiosity was piqued further when TLL noticed the criticisms and disabled that feature.
A defector from TLL came to Kiwi Farms and granted Joshua Moon/Null access to their volunteer account and the intimate informationwhich is available to all such accounts, allowing him to both circumvent TLL's attempt at concealment and delve even deeper. This mole account was discovered and deactivated after several days, but the data Null derived from it was extremely embarrassing: Martela and Chaubal never went on-call, operators who were considered on duty typically weren't actually on call, and the general response rate was under 15%.
The user LordKat ran an experiment over a period of almost 4 months which ended in early January 2017, and this yielded results which were even more appalling: under 7% (5 of 83) of calls were answered, and 2 of those were severely mishandled.
The answering service message is extremely terse: "No one is available to take your call. Try again later?". This apparent lack of effort or compassion, and the refusal to provide secondary resources in that message to those in crisis who call while no one is available, are additional causes of disapproval.
Neither TLL nor any of its staff have given an explanation of any of the results. Despite having so many volunteers on their roster, despite raising a substantial amount of money in 2016 (including 200k in November), their response rate is near zero. Rather than account for this, information has been concealed and withdrawn, one critic was singled out in a misleading refuting article with disabled commenting which ignored many of his accusations and erroneously responded to others[Citation needed], and Martela has loudly blocked people for polite inquiries.
TLL's President Martela's Aggressive Behavior
Martela has displayed highly aggressive, combative, and provocative behavior on numerous occasions, during times when TLL badly needed more manpower on phones. The most egregious example of her tendencies towards violence and aggression is the chain of events over a period of a week pertaining to Kiwi Farms and its webmaster Joshua Moon a.k.a. Null.
On 5 August 2016 she broadcast on FB a knife purchase and that she carries knives in an unconcealed fashion. On 7 August she made a series of highly incendiary statements in one post. She declared, "I've got a cross bow that I'm dying to try out", admitted she began the conflict between she and Kiwi Farms and its webmaster, declared an intention to "ruin their [all KF members] fucking life" and "destroy these bastards", and announced she was sharpening her knives. On 10 August her partner Nina Chaubal posted a picture of Martela at a firing range which she shared the next day. These events clearly establish her motivations and demeanor, an important determination when considering the following event.
On 9 August, she made an unannounced and unwelcome visit to Moon's house after awaiting his and his mother's return from a dinner engagement. Moon's mother answered the door while he was in the bathroom, and lied about his current location to persuade her to depart due to fear and unease Martela engendered. Immediately after the house visit, she published part of her FB conversation with Moon which included the taunt "I'm just getting started fucking with you boo.". The weapons posts and her taunt made Moon feel threatened enough to report the incidents to police following a tense PM conversation with a combative Martela in which he informed her he would invoke Florida's "stand your ground" law if necessary. It should be noted that she was on a roadtrip during all of this, and the two founders not only draw salaries but also a travel expense. Thus, TLL donations ultimately funded these purchases and the excursion- all when very few calls were being answered.
Elizabeth Waite was a caller of TLL who committed suicide. Her death was erroneously attributed to harassment from users of Kiwi Farms. These circumstances prompted TLL and Martela to wage an angry campaign over Twitter aimed at Verisign and KF (Twitter exchanges one, two, three). The widow of the deceased disapproved of the accusations about the cause of her suicide and her name being invoked by TLL, and objected to TLL/Martela. Martela blocked her quickly afterwards rather than acquiesce or politely speak to the widow, behavior that is remarkably callous for a manager of a suicide line campaigning against needless cruelty.
Once Martela expressed a desire to advocate for violent rioting by transgender people, and a refusal to do so because of fears of extermination by the cisgender population in response. On another occasion, she herself implied she was almost thrown out of a DMV due to her truculence over their demand that Chaubal pull her pants up. There are innumerable other occasions too minor to mention. The effects such behaviors and expenditures of energy on personal conflicts have on TLL are substantial and detrimental.
Accusations of Misandry and Cisphobia
Various statements and documents have conveyed a level of animosity towards the general cisgender population, particularly towards the overall male population. The absolute refusal to allow allied non-trans people to be operators alone is widely seen as inherently exclusive and antagonistic, and on one occasion when such a person argued in favor of being allowed to contribute as an operator, other TLL followers shouted him down until he withdrew while TLL tolerated this. Comments from the co-founders and documents frequently convey a level of generalized mistrust.
Martela is more abrasive and vociferous than TLL overall. The most egregious example of bigotry from her is a Tweet of her openly praising misandry. There is a FB post where she asserts she would advocate rioting by transgender people if she didn't believe the cisgender majority would exterminate them. One Twitter exchange indicates she distrusts people who are on or naturally produce testosterone. As Martela is so associated with TLL and uses her FB for both personal and TLL matters, her commentary is especially destructive to TLL's reputation and rapport.
Unprofessionalism and Mismanagement by Founders
The founders of TLL- in particular Martela- have behaved in ways which an average person would deem irresponsible and reckless given their positions. The sense of being on near-constant vacation with TLL money is but one example. Martela's personal life seems totally intertwined with her professional life, so whatever she says or does as Martela is effectively done as/by TLL as well. This is extremely bad due to her temperament. A critical example of this was the case of Elizabeth Waite, a caller of TLL and acquaintance of Martela who committed suicide. A major furor erupted over who or what was responsible for this, amplified by her and TLL denouncing Kiwi Farms for its perceived role and starting a heated campaign through TLL's Twitter to have Verisign dump KF as a customer. When the grieving widow appeared and demanded Martela and another person cease invoking the deceased's name and case, Martela stated she was "no longer welcome here" and blocked her.
It was noted by the defector and by Moon/Null while he had access to the defector's staff account, that neither Chaubal nor Martela went on call despite serious shortages of operator manpower. Martela on multiple occasions asserted she was not on call for long periods of time, and few of either of their social media posts speak of manning phones. Martela once stated she hadn't checked her e-mail in 3 weeks. Martela often posts about traveling, miscellaneous subjects, or conflicts with people both online and face-to-face.
In August of 2016 when there was a high level of scrutiny on their operations and ethics, they responded numerous times by removing access to information and not addressing the criticism. Even the Staff and Leadership pages were withdrawn, and remain this way now (1/15/17). Some people who civilly addressed a concern (one, two) were angrily blocked by Martela. TLL once reacted to a Tumblr user's well-noticed compilation with rebuttals that frequently were contradicted by evidence and even their own previous assertions and figures, then deleted and disabled comments on their own article while the Tumblr user was barraged with hostile messages. Detailed sets of information akin to the 2015 report have not been presented since then, and what information is given is often implausible or self-contradictory.
Chaubal was a temporary resident of the US on a work visa with Google being the sponsor. In 2015 Chaubal's employment by Google ended, which ended Google's sponsorship and thus her visa's validity soon afterwards. In 2015 and 2016 Martela spoke of trying to complete an alternate path to legal residency and encountering problems. Chaubal worked for Uber without authorization in 2015 and TTL in 2016 or earlier, both of which were unlawful since she had become an illegal immigrant after her visa expired. Despite attempts to acquire needed documentation and raising $730 ($230 over the goal) for various immigration expenses, in December 2016 she remained an unlawful resident of the USA.
On 28 December 2016, while driving back to their Chicago home in the "Trans LifeLine Van" (it's unknown what exactly they were doing for the good of or on behalf of TLL) along a route very close to the Mexican border, they encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint. Chaubal was subsequently detained, and then transferred to ICE and the infamous Eloy Detention Center. On 2 January, a GFM was created, and it was promptly promoted by TLL. On 3 January 2017, $4,500 bond was paid and Chaubal left Eloy. Regardless of how the case plays out, TLL and its founders will be spending a great amount of resources addressing a preventable immigration status quagmire during a time responsiveness to calls is virtually zero.
- Trans Lifeline website
- Trans Lifeline on Twitter
- Trans Lifeline on Facebook
- Kiwi Farms thread where most of the information in this article was compiled from
- Guidestar profile on Trans LifeLine, accessed in 2017.
- "Trans Lifeline is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to the well being of transgender people. We run a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs members of our community might have"
- "We are currently ineligible for accreditation through the Americation Association of Suicidology (AAS) because we do not force people into emergency care without their consent.", Trans LifeLine About
- GFM For Immigration Costs
- 2015 Budget Report
- 2015 Trans Call Statistics Report
- 2016 Expose on Responsiveness
- 2017 Expose on Responsiveness
- "Now that we have upwards of 400 volunteers", Greta, Facebook 2016
- 2015 Training Report
- American Association for Suicidology Standards Manual: Twelfth Edition
- "We NEVER do active rescue", Trans LifeLine FAQ
- "We still do NOT do active rescue [even for sexual assault", Trans LifeLine FAQ
- California Mandatory Reporters law
- "In a lot of places, active rescue involves the cops and that is not a safe situation for large parts of our community - especially TPOC and undocumented immigrants." Nina, Facebook 2016
- "Totally. Male rage is the worst." Greta, Twitter 2013
- "Trans people are experts on trans issues. I'm not interested in hearing what cisgender people think Trans LifeLine needs to do to help trans people.", Greta, Facebook 2015
- Cisgender volunteer denied operator status. Told to donate money instead.
- "I've got a crossbow I'm dying to try out." Greta, Facebook 2016
- "I'm just getting started fucking with you boo" Greta, Facebook 2016
- TLL on Medium Discusses an Incident, 13 June 2016
- TLL's Twitter Promulgating Martela's GFM
- Archive of FAQ of TLL Which Demonstrates Several Assertions
- Training Manual #3, Which States Their Policies on Active Rescue
- Wikipedia Article on Mandated Reporters
- TLL FB Post Which Discusses Various Beliefs- 08/19/14
- Twitter Exchange by Martela- 11/22/13
- Twitter Exchange by Martela- 11/26/13
- Twitter Exchange by Martela #2- 11/26/13
- Personal Experience #1
- Personal Experience #2
- Description of Trevor Project's Standards
- Bay Area Article On TLL and Transgender Suicides
- Moon/Null Releases Unfavorable Findings- 08/19/16
- Archives of "On Call" Page- 11-15 August 2016
- Null Relays Preliminary Information
- Null Announces the Termination and Them Having 331 Operators
- Main Document of Report
- Twitter Exchange by Martela 01/15/16
- Account of Events by LordHaurchefant, an Independent Observer
- Chaubal Incorporates an Essay Advocating the Abolition of Police Into Operator Indoctrination
- Aforementioned Essay Chaubal Endorsed
- FB Post by Martela Expressing Reluctance to Refer Trans People Elsewhere
- Account of Events by LordHaurchefant, an Independent Observer
- Discovery the Hotline Domain Was Made Entirely Private
- Discussion of Volunteer List After It's Revoked
- Most Noticed in a Series of TLL Submissions by LordHaurchefant
- TLL's Medium Article Responding to the Above
- Quote in LordHaurchefant's Subsequent Submission
- Raw Story Article, 30 December 2016
- Chicagoist Article, 30 December 2016
- New York Times Article, 10 January 2017