On Trans Organizations and The Meteoric Rise Phenomenon
When I first started doing trans advocacy, one of the first non-real-time projects I started was an information repository for advice on transition, and to outline the relevant laws and processes in the province of Alberta. When I finally got to buying a domain for the website, I’d purchased albertatrans.org, sort of thinking that I’d like to grow it into a functioning organization someday. You don’t have to be a registered organization to get a .org domain, I never presented myself as such (and clarified any confusion when it came up), but it still gave the impression at times that there was a functioning organization in Alberta that I was part of, and I won’t deny that it helped get my foot in some doors. Even so, none of those things developed overnight, and even now, being employed full-time and living in a rural area that limits my involvement in city activities (a conscious decision, to help avoid burnout), there are a lot of things that I would have liked to do that are undone, and a lot of connections I’d have liked to make that are as yet unmade.
In 2009, the community perspective about developing a formal trans-specific organization had changed, when the province delisted health care funding for GRS, refused to include trans people in it’s human rights charter changes and introduced a parental rights clause that practically erased us in schools and made it next to impossible to do any education on why it was wrong to bully people for their gender identity or expression. A long series of talks began with several community advocates, most of whom had been working in the same way that I was — in satellite manner, occasionally crossing paths but not in any concerted collaborative way. Our unreadiness for 2009 resulted in the formation of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA) as well as a trans-queer Edmonton group named Queer Allied Network (QAN) — I contribute to the work of the former but not with the latter, though I look forward to working with them if I can, whenever we might cross paths.
New organizations can take a considerable amount of time to get to a place where they’re able to be effective. They’re limited by volunteer time, funding and people-power, especially in the beginning. This is also complicated a bit when there is a lot of distance involved, and especially when there is distance between board members / planners, and meetings require travel for at least a few people. A year and a half later, TESA, for example, has been able to do some good work (including some behind-the-scenes efforts that will hopefully bear visible fruit), but is still trying to cobble together things like a developed website and newsletter. Doing things right takes time — sometimes a lot of time, and the incorporation papers are only a small part of it. It’s not always what we want to see in our results-oriented instant-expectation world (and it can be frustrating!), but quite often that’s what’s needed to have a framework that’s enduring.
That’s one reason why I hadn’t really followed what was going on with the Gender Identity Empowerment Coalition (GIEC), when it grew out of a Yahoo Group some time ago. [In the interest of full disclosure: I also kept some distance because I was attacked by someone affiliated with it at that time, when they tried to construe an article (I think it was Destigmatization vs. Coverage...) as being transphobic and trying to enforce the idea that gender identity is a mental disorder. But I don't attribute to GIEC the attitudes and behaviour of one of it's participants, especially since I'm not sure this person is even part of GIEC now].
Originally named the Gender Identity Coalition, and now on Facebook as Gen Id / Gender Identity Empowerment Coalition, (GIEC) there have been a number of questions raised about their legitimacy. Monica Roberts reports:
When Gina Morvay and I started asking tough questions about the claims that GIEC has given emergency financial assistance to transpeople for various purposes, a Katerina G. du Lac popped up, claimed that she was the VP of the org, and posted an IRS Employer Identification Number as ‘proof’ the organization was legit.
That EIN number she gave (272340079) when I checked it on the IRS website and a nonprofit verification website called Guidestar drew a blank. When they were called on it, that number and the FB post trumpeting it as ‘proof’ of GIEC’s existence suddenly vanished off the page.
There’s also no record of GIEC’s existence in the real world except on its Facebook page.
The Trans Strategy Conference it was supposed to be sponsoring last weekend on the Soka University campus in Aliso Viejo, CA is not only NOT listed among the university’s upcoming events, it has been postponed twice.
There were also claims made of a long list of noted GLBT organizations that were allegedly partners in this ‘invitation only’ conference.
Monica describes GIEC’s rise as “meteoric,” as having happened over a few months, although the Gender Identity Coalition Yahoo Group goes back a couple years. Of course, there is a huge difference between a Yahoo or Facebook group and a functioning advocacy organization, and it does seem like what GIEC has promised and claims to have delivered has changed significantly in a short while. Usually, the rule-of-tumb is that if an org starts out with little funding and is driven by volunteer work, it’s not going to rocket into immediate effectiveness. The one possible exception might be GetEqual, but for something spanning the entire US (much like GIEC apparently aimed to do), I’m betting there’s a lot of sweat going into it that we’re not seeing, and a benefit of many years’ experience from those involved.
“Trust But Verify”
I’m not really in a position to further the investigation that others are doing, and I think those who are looking into this for their efforts. For the moment, Monica is channeling Ronald Reagan in suggesting a “trust but verify” approach, and that’s excellent advice.
I do ask that regardless of what happens with Gen ID / GIEC, people not be quick to anger and infighting, and measure their reactions in a balanced manner. It is possible, after all, that there were people at the core of GIEC who honestly intended to make a positive difference and form something enduring, and that one or some of them grew impatient, or felt pressured to show results and energy. It’s possible that someone might have wanted to meet growing expectations, or perhaps wanted to get people excited enough to donate or get involved so that maybe they really could do something. Or perhaps someone got lazy and failed to file the needed paperwork. I don’t say this to excuse what might have happened, but to merely offer reasons to put the anger on hold until we know more. That might sound like a naive speculation, but the point is that we just don’t know as yet 1) what the story is, and in the end if it’s not legit, then 2) what the motive was.
“Trust but verify” is also excellent advice for any other area in trans activism. Should GIEC turn out to be a fraud, one of the worst things that could happen is that those budding trans advocates who were putting efforts behind it would become disgusted and walk away. This would be a lesson, yes, but not a lesson about all advocacy — only a lesson about how we need to make sure that our efforts, money and hopes need to be invested wisely. Trust but verify.
The Consequence of Fraud
It’s important to carry ourselves as honestly and transparently as we can, and to hold our organizations and advocates accountable. When frauds occur, they sow disinformation, create distrust and discredit the trans movement. Social justice movements have long faced these kinds of attempts to destabilize them, and we have to be on guard not to be undermined by these tactics or inadvertently cause them ourselves, by allowing ambitions to run ahead of abilities.
The flip side of that is when we discover organizations and advocates who are on the level, accountable to members and especially if member supported / funded / driven, they need either participation, funding and volunteers to accomplish the kind of meteoric advances we’ve grown to expect, or else a whole lot of patience. Most times, it will end up being patience.
As this is being written, someone identified as Katerina Guinevere du Lac is responding to criticisms as someone who recently assumed the role of GIEC Vice President/Acting President Pro Tem, following a founder’s stepping down due to claimed health problems that have been remarked on long before this began. Du Lac appears to be a new name. There are some recognizable names listed in GIEC’s board, so I do believe that at least some of the people involved or working with GIEC were acting in good faith. Du Lac has indicated that “We have a business EIN Id #, however as of right now there is no non profit tax exempt # that has been applied for… unfortunately I have seen this as a problem countless times with most organizations in which their intentions are valid, however they lack the understanding to understand how a nonprofit works or the Tax ID….” I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of American Non-Profit status to know if this is an acceptable partial explanation, but so far, it doesn’t look like a verifiable IRS Employer Identification Number has been posted.
And unless verification can be made:
That said, if it’s gone off the rails, the best thing that could happen now is for someone to ‘fess up, make what reparations they can (especially to anyone who has donated money!) and move on — failure to do that would only be further subterfuge to legitimate trans organizations and the trans rights movement overall.