The Manifesto Blogs – Part 4: How we involve brick-and-mortar LGBT+ Organizations

In the past 3 [ 1, 2, 3 ] manifesto blogs we’ve published, a lot of heat has been placed on the brick-and-mortar LGBT+ organizations and the grant foundations that fund them. We criticize them in saying they are not proactively seeking to expand their reach to the ‘invisible’ individuals in need of it, but in this blog we at TYC want to make it absolutely clear that the LGBT+ organizations are not at all the problem. Rather, expanding their audiences is the solution to getting resources and support to the invisible community we feel needs them.

Partner organizations have thus far been unable to permeate the “closet barrier” – or access the invisible community of closeted, stealth, questioning, and under sourced – for a variety of reasons revolving around lack of resources of their own, lack of funding from organizations, the “overhead” myth, and traditional marketing, business, and media tactics that are not capable of reaching the invisible audience.

Trans* Youth Channel’s mission has been to get the invisible community these resources brick-and-mortar organizations have earlier in their journeys, but because partner organizations are just as limited as the invisible community and have their own communities in need, it is difficult for them to cater these sources directly; in reality they are simply too strapped doing their own thing. It is therefore better for us at TYC to provide services for the organizations to more easily provide their content while also benefiting the invisible LGBT+ community in our programs:

In our Weekly Digest Program we will provide partner organizations’ content and resources, while also opening up an anonymous channel for invisible community members to email organizations their questions and request more resources. In our Support Group program we are heavily integrating partner organizations into facilitator trainings and providing our trainings for free to those organizations who participate. And in our content creation program we are especially spotlighting the great work that LGBT+ organizations have done in a manner that invisible community members can take advantage of safely and securely at no detriment to them.

Are you an LGBT+ organization?  partner with us!

Our Weekly Digest Programnichole koester quote

Our weekly digest program seeks to keep the invisible community from having to dangerously search for scattered and difficult to find information online. We do the research for the invisible community, compile it, and send it directly to each invisible member’s private email address to save, download, and use however they wish.

How Partners Benefit

Partner organizations will directly benefit from this program in that we will offer each organization the opportunity to include their own expert content related to the weekly topic in the newsletter along with a link for members to contact them anonymously and inquire further about partner resources. Likewise if partners have any events or other things going on they can contact all 500 members of our list privately through our weekly digest to let them know quietly and discretely as opposed to often invasive social media and SEO tactics. The weekly digest is bound to be a boon for LGBT+ organizations and at the same time it provides the invisible community more opportunity to gain a trustworthy expert contact to help the invisible get over their hurdles.

 

Our Support Group Program

Our support group program – still in development – is intended for community members to have a safe space to talk, interact with one another, and get peer support without having to go to an LGBT+ organization or if you are unable to access physical resources or it is too much anxiety.

How Partners Benefit

Partner organization will be mostly involved in a fully comprehensive training that all support group facilitators will be required to go through. Partners can add input to the trainings themselves so that facilitators are learning about suicide from the Trevor project and Trans* Lifeline, or about domestic abuse from RAINN and SAVA. About race from #BlackLivesMatter and NAACP. Additionally, any participating organizations in the training will be free to send any volunteer they like through the training at no cost to them and allow them to jumpstart their own support groups quickly and at very little cost.

This partner organization opportunity benefits the invisible community by providing a huge community of professionally trained and certified support group facilitators to go out into local communities or to run groups online that closely emulate a real physical support group. They will have the confidence in a facilitator that understands and has the means to support them.

 

Our Content Creation Program

The content creation programs is a content development platform for V-logs and Blogs that will allow us to inform and educate the general public in addition to the invisible community about various identity related hurdles and how to face them. It is intended to be widely encompassing from “how to transition” to coming out and it is very “expert” driven with well researched, shot, edited, and developed works.

How Partners Benefit

This last program is a very wide and encompassing opportunity that will allow partner organizations far more agency in how they speak to and assist the invisible community. In Trans* Youth Channel curated and developed content we will carry ‘sponsors’ for our content, and exhibit organization’s content in our own. If a partner has an event going on for instance we’ll make a video on the topic for it and include its relevancy the invisible community. It works much like the old TYC, but it will be up to partners to contact us about any developments.

These great bonuses for our partner organizations are joined with a myriad of smaller bonuses including a Facebook group with every organization’s leaders able to communicate and talk with each other, direct social media advice and campaign development from us as an online social media driven organization, and more!

Our partner organizations are a significant part of our mission statement and our success hinges on the willingness and desire for brick-and-mortar LGBT+ organizations to care about the invisible community. We truly value our partner’s honest attempts to extend their reach to the invisible community and hope to continue facilitating this in the future.

Thank you so much to all of our partners.

 

Next week: Manifesto Blog #5: Funding our programs

The Manifesto blogs – Part 3: How we reach an invisible audience

Reaching out to an Invisible LGBT+ community – those who are closeted, stealth, questioning, or in under-resourced areas – is inherently problematic. If the audience is invisible how exactly does one create services that understand, reach out, and make an effort to support them? In traditional business the “market profile” solves the problem of not understanding the audience a product is made for by doing often costly research. By earnestly listening to people one hopes to reach, one can create a profile of their likes, dislikes or commonalities, and then cater the product or service to them. It is a wonderfully powerful tool that still enriches our businesses today and is responsible for the ridiculous amounts of Ragu spaghetti sauce or pepsi flavors on your supermarket shelves today.

On the other hand however, this “market profile” has come to be expected in the world of non-profits which has made things rather difficult for the community LGBT+ nonprofits seek to support. Grant foundations expect that when they give a nonprofit money to do a project that organization has already done the research necessary to accurately predict how well the service or product will be received by what audiences and to what end.

The invisible community on the other hand, is identified by way of not having a public voice due to hurdles and anxieties so the invisible community legitimately cannot inform foundations of their presence, who they are, and what they need to the extent foundations require. This of course comes to the detriment of this same community. Trans* Youth Channel happens to be the only organization catering to such a community almost precisely because all other organizations find it a risky venture to spend precious donation funds on. Although many programs are at the invisible community’s fingertips and a world of online sites have inadvertently provided parts of what invisible people need, no one makes or provides services directly for them so information is scattered, difficult to get to, and often comes with a mountain of hurdles and anxieties.

This narrative defines for us a dilemma: While Trans* Youth Channel’s mission is to assist the invisible community, and we understand what pressures have created the community, we cannot help them unless we consider three questions:

  1. How can we safely learn more about the invisible community,
  2. How can we reach that community to provide our services in a way that best suits them,
  3. And can we do it in a way that convinces public organizations to invest in them?

The 3rd question is large so it will be the topic of our 4th manifesto blog, but in this blog we will focus on the first two questions. In order to achieve our mission of getting resources into the hands of invisible community members, while helping those members overcome their hurdles we first have to think creatively about how to safely contact them, then how best to accommodate them, and ultimately we must rely heavily on the grapevine of community members we already have to make up any short sights and learn about them.

Getting in contact:

If you are a 15 year old questioning invisible member of the community still living with your parents and without a job it is remarkably difficult to attain resources. Despite this however the invisible community has flocked to YouTube,

matthewsplace.com, and many other sites to attain the information they need to learn about their identities, come to terms with them, and then determine whether to come out. Getting involved in communities online is a dangerous proposition with the advent of the “real names” policy put forward by Facebook, and the ridiculous amount of hoops you have to jump through to protect your private information. Googling “how to come out to my parents” could elicit weeks of ad marketing that if on a family computer, could spell a bad “outing” experience for many youth.

Fortunately, Trans* Youth Channel is cleverly taking advantage of this system by using those ad spaces to warn those who “trip up” on Google, Facebook, and other platforms that they could be outed and in 5 easy steps teaching them how to avoid it. In doing so we are also establishing a 2 way mode of communication that is anonymous secure and safe for them to use, which provides them access to our weekly digest and support group programs.

Accommodating Invisible Community Members

As valuable as using google and other ads is for keeping the invisible community from being outed unexpectedly on Facebook, Trans* Youth Channel’s services would be equally useless if the invisible community felt insecure, or scared using our services or if we imparted a very real danger of outing them by way of leaking information. Many find making an account dangerous, lurking on one page for much too long to be risky, and posting on pages worrisome due to the chance that a friend could come across it. So if we are to keep the community safe Trans* Youth Channel must ensure that all of our programs and online interfaces are made to suit this audience and that means refraining from a few key analysis methods.

Trans* Youth Channel's values to invisible members online
our promised values to community members

We at TYC are making a promise, right here and now:

We will not require any data on anyone – even for our own purposes – save for one email address (we recommend separate from your daily life) and an optional first name, unless it is provided directly to us for 1 time permissions, by survey, in the course of providing services, or if proactively offered to us by the legal owner of this information. We will rely as little as possible on any data or information provided to us by default from social media sites or other third parties, and we will not provide to other organizations any specific data on community members. Any data shared will be generic and with full confidentiality of those who provided it intact in accordance with university collection methods.

In this data driven world, businesses rely heavily on big data so such a promise is a big change, but for the invisible community, we feel it is a positive move in privacy that assists our community and the very intersectional net neutrality movement in maintaining a freedom of resources, community, and support that does not endanger them.

Relying heavily on the grapevine

Because we will be taking minimal information and all of that information can be entirely fictional in order to protect the security, safety and anonymity of the community, we are not going to be getting very much information on the invisible LGBT+ community unless we ask directly. It comes at a tremendous disadvantage and perhaps this is another reason organizations are so reluctant to help invisible members. Hopefully with the spreading of our word as a safe space, we can make up for that disadvantage through the grapevine; through people and word of mouth.

It is our take that the largest amount of contact anyone will have with the Invisible LGBT+ community will be interpersonal. It will be those individuals who are struggling to come out finding the courage and the opportunity to come out to one safe “out” LGBT+ individual in person or online. We’ve experienced this happen almost every day since TYC began and bloggers saw comments on our YouTube channels. There has always been a level of private mentorship that helped connect invisible members with ‘out’ LGBT+ individuals and we intend to better facilitate this very personal mode of assistance. By equipping those who are already connected to us and our partners with our programs and having them inform us on community needs, we can develop a stronger community of people who can speak with us anonymously through anonymous surveys and make up for what “big data” could immorally give us.

Even though there will be little grant funds and little assistance from big name organizations largely catering to an out community; even though little will be afforded to help us accomplish our mission of bridging the gap between the ‘out’ LGBT+ Brick-and-mortar nonprofits, we plan on having genuine safe, secure, anonymous and quality communication with the invisible community so that we can better understand them, meld our programs to their needs, and provide resources, community, and support sooner for them.

Next week we will discuss the third question put forward here and the other half of our mission statement: How do we convince public organizations to invest in the invisible community and in us?

The Manifesto Blogs – Part 2: who Where is the invisible community?

In our last blog post about the new mission of Trans* Youth Channel we spoke a lot about the need to assist the “invisible” community that we define as largely the closeted, stealth, questioning, and under-resourced, but in using this term many individuals we surveyed refused to accept it.  It was vague and they felt they weren’t “invisible”. They were Trans*, or black, or young adults who were “disadvantaged”.

Despite this however, in the equal right movements “invisible” is an important term. It can define entire populations, cultures, and sections of our world. It’s been equated to every identity in the LGBT+ community, (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, questioning and others), it has been widely studied in the prospects of feminism, has broad striking research in healthcare, it has been attributed to a swath of racial justice communities including black young adults, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, Hispanic communities, and even disabled individuals. It has been particularly used among age lines with youth and elders.

“Invisible” has become an emotive adjective equating to un-diagnosed oppressed minorities. It has become a knee-jerk call to action and an emotive appeal in marketing, advocacy, and more, but we at TYC feel, it’s become a place. We continue to use the term to describe our community because it has become an environment where if a precious few conditions are met they will make anyone invisible regardless of their identity.

The conditions can build up at any time, they can develop in any way, across any minority or identity, but almost invariably, what makes someone “invisible” is when they are placed in a circumstance where one loses control over their own identity due to a buildup of hurdles, resulting in perceived or real anxieties, fears, and mental displacement forcing them to hide who they are.

 

One is invisible when they are not in control of how they identify
Consider an LGBT+ youth under the age of 16. They cannot work, they cannot live independently, they have to go to school in most cases, and their parents have legal control over their healthcare, most finances, and the roof over their heads. Now consider their family being un-accepting of their identity; devout and harsh Catholics who go to mass every single Sunday with a priest who has a subscription to focus on the family.

If that teen were to come out how much control do you think they would have over their situation? Consider 17 year old internet user: RavenRiver’s story in an article from About: relationships on coming out experiences:

“When I came out my parents made me go talk to their church bishop. I was told I’m broken, that they were taking me to counseling to help fix me, and that if things got worse they would have to take more drastic actions. They told me it’s just a phase and that I could be “fixed.” They also forbid me from telling anyone. To this day they cannot accept that I’m gay. When I told my friends, everything seemed fine and dandy at first, then I found out a bunch of them were talking about me behind my back and they asked me to keep my sexuality to myself because it would be easier for them. It was horrible.”

They say the truth will set you free. Well when I told my family I was gay, I would up in the hospital.
Image from: http://www.queerty.com/16-of-the-best-and-worst-coming-out-stories-from-anonymous-sharing-app-whisper-20140820

Invisible community members in the LGBT+ community don’t normally express their identities “because they are not ready”, but because of some perceived or very real hurdle preventing them from coming out.  Because resources to overcome those hurdles are not in their control, such as finances, independent healthcare, or legal sovereignty from parents, their ability to express their identity is not in their control so challenging the status-quot is extremely dangerous.

This is called an “external locus of control” and it means you perceive or literally do not have control over your life. It is harder to get out from under an oppressive situation, and that means “covering” your identity at work, at home, with family, online, and in various other living circumstances. 

One is invisible when control of one’s situation is impeded by hurdles
By and large, the environments ability to control how you identify and when you “cover” your identity is composed of what we define as Hurdles; perceived or real elements of one’s life that impede the open expression of their identity. Hurdles are not always physical and are often subtle, but because of these hurdles one can be left powerless. RavenRiver’s family had full control over her religious beliefs and freedoms as well as her mental health. They had that control because she was under the age of 18 and bound to her parent’s household. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in most cases (we’re not condoning the removal of parental rights as a whole), but because she challenged the status-quot and came out, she wound up mentally and emotionally battered. Likewise her environment – her friends and family – controlled a social perception of her acceptance and held sway over her feelings.

If you are a youth hurdles can be fairly obvious such as your financial, healthcare, legal, and school concerns, but hurdles can also impact you at any time in life.  A prior volunteer of mine with Trans* Youth Channel for instance was a huge advocate for LGBT+ rights with her own YouTube channel, and she was our operations manager.   After she had made the decision to go into college, because of where she lived, she had to return to the closet and stop expressing her identity outwardly and publicly. She went to college in Waco, Texas where it was (rightly) perceived as dangerous for her to be out as a transgender woman.

It should also be recognized that hurdles are not always applicable at all times. They can be present in some areas of life, but not in others. I personally spent much of my time in the first year of my transition from male to female, in a “part-time” transition stage where I was female in most of my life, save for times when I went to work. I worked at a high end luxury hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming run by a Mormon family and it was legal to fire me for being transgender. I was constantly worried about informing my manager or coming out while working there because I had utmost understanding that I would be fired.  At the same time however they were not too fond of the eyeliner that wouldn’t come off, or the long hair, or that sometimes I would come to work with nail polish on since I didn’t have time to remove it. It was suffocating for me, but the job maintained financial hurdles and job security over me. It had to do with whether I would find another job, or how people at work would treat me if I did or did not come out.   These were not pressures I found outside of work and I was more than out around the town.

reality of coming out
Image from: https://rpseawright.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/reality.png

Anxiety, fear, and mental distress results from hurdles.

This same pain of being out – the discrimination, prejudice, and constant berating of your identity – can cause just as much pain and damage as not being visible. Hurdles cause very real fears of being stripped of basic life necessities before the age of 18, or losing control of your life without the resources you need all of which take precedence after coming out. Often, until you have a plan to overcome every hurdle it is better for others not to know. For your own safety, it’s better that some not know. For my volunteer it was better that she not come out in college. For Leelah, not coming out could have maintained friends, technological access to an online “invisible” community, and ultimately keeping her life.

Perhaps the best depiction of the feelings, anxieties, depression, and worries that come from hurdles built out of the external locus of control, are shown in the video “Spectrum” by Boy In A Band. The pain of your family keeping you in the closet, not being able to love the person you love or are, but only having one thought at your disposal, “hang on, it will get better, wait until your independent.”

These three elements that create the prevalence of “invisible” communities in all minority groups are well understood in psychological, sociological, and anthropological communities, but the non-profit industry has not been able to permeate the barrier that the “closet door” has developed. Because the invisible community is by definition incalculable, LGBT+ nonprofits have no idea how many closeted, stealth, questioning, or under-resourced individuals there are, and cannot afford to spend precious resources for the invisible community. Despite this one thing is very clear:

A large swath of LGBT+ individuals who are committing suicide, forced into conversion therapy, or are the victims of hate crime, are coming from the “invisible” communities and without reaching out to assist the community in breaking down barriers, helping them over hurdles, providing support to handle anxieties, and fostering an internal locus of control, the horrendous rates of suicide, hate crimes, and bad coming out stories will not decrease.

The invisible community is held back by issues outside of their control and it is hurting everyone. They are being held back in many areas of their life and many of them will remain there for a very long time unless something is done. These people are largely those who remain closeted, those who have to return to the closet as stealth individuals, those who are still questioning their identities, but have no resources to understand themselves, and above all, those in dangerous and remote environments where an LGBT+ facility is too far away.

Trans* Youth Channels Mission is to support this, and in next week’s blog, We’ll start talking about how.