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.

Get Empowerment

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.

Currently

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.

    • Cynthia
    • September 9th, 2010

    I have been with the GIC since it’s inception. It started out being an organization to protest the planned changes to the DSM-V. We did circulate a petition to that end, and it was submitted to the APA. However, the organization has suffered in leadership, and accountability, and transparency. It has been particularly frustrating to me in that regard. I still receive their emails, but my participation is light. We had some really great people to start, and we still do. I have stayed with them in the hopes that what it started out as, would come to fruition. This is even the first time that I have heard of the leadership changes…I am unsure about the GIEC’s ability to go the distance.

  1. Well…

    As an Executive Director of an org myself, lol, I can say that the problem noted of people wanting to do a good thing but not knowing how to go about getting the charitable and tax deductible status is pretty true. The process isn’t complicated, but the knowledge of how to do it isn’t widely available and is made more complicated by the fact that any church gets the same status and doesn’t have to go through all the rigmarole that a church does.

    That said, an organization can start acting *as* a charitable one while they develop the paperwork and raise the filing fee to do so. They have to note that it is provisional, but doesn’t change the deductibility until the IRS says they are denied.

    Can take 3 to 9 months to get the review and approval. Experience helps in speeding that up, as well, so most experienced folks are in high demand once they’ve done it.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • September 12th, 2010

      Thanks. I was assuming that there would be differences between Canada & US, plus we were fortunate to have our legalities done through a lawyer. I think the “acting as” a charity is a bit different here, with stricter rules. Most LGBT orgs I know of have difficulty ever acquiring charitable status, because they’re always deemed “political,” even though there is some provision for lobbying for on-topic issues in the law.

  2. Arianna Davis, same person that was supposed to run California Chapter of TAVA 2006-2008 but was just using the title to practice law without a license (or a clue) by charging fees for erroneous legal transitioning advice. In 2007 she had not even changed her legal name or done other entry level transition steps, yet was presenting herself online as otherwise. My last email conversation with her was in 2009 when she decided to request help (and funds) to start a women’s motorcycle club by using MC names already registered with IRS and had merchandise licensing. Seems to be a pattern here. Yep, yep, lock your wallet and close the door.

  3. “….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”

    Sage advice from up yonder in Canada. I have been friends with many in the GID leadership for a year or so. GID was capable of placing advocates when I was actively arranging protests for that despicable trash TO#WK. I appreciated that effort by them but other than that I have kept my distance from the group as a whole.

    Meteoric rise?

    The now defunct Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies struggled to amass 200 members in the two years I had it on line. The DTAA’s main contribution was to serve a additional platform for amplifying our agenda but as a functional advocacy group it was not viable. It is hard time consumming work to assemble a advocacy organization with real live folks on the ground.

    In other efforts…

    TranAction ConVergence on facebook grew to close to 5000 members in under a year with minimal effort on my part. When there is a need I can get the word out to 7000+ peeps and get hundreds of signatures in hours. But we are not promising anything other than we will continue to offer every member the same advocacy options in the groups fb page as the admin has.

    I pray that in the event GID turns out to be void of deed our community does not become even more disaffected because we would lose our most valuable asset, passionate people who listen to the call to advocate.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • September 12th, 2010

      “I pray that in the event GID turns out to be void of deed our community does not become even more disaffected because we would lose our most valuable asset, passionate people who listen to the call to advocate.”

      Definitely agreed.

      Re: DTAA, I guess that can depend on objectives. I do know that there are some things we can do as TESA where we wouldn’t even get a foot in the door as individuals. There might also be some expectation from the people we speak with to deal with organizations rather than individuals, so that could be different regionally, I suppose.

  4. Mercedes, there’s a distinct difference between organizational growing pains or maybe optimistically trying to wish out loud for your group’s future and that of a repeated pattern of lying, fabrication, creating an endless stream of fictitious Internet sock puppets to give the impression your group has more supporters than it does, creating make-believe board members, listing people as board member/advisors who have no idea what your organization even is, lying about your non-profit status (and continuing to lie about it even after being called on it), making up (not just ‘optimistic padding’) your professional credentials and committing mail fraud. That is the reality of Ms. Davis. While her lies and fabrications might involve a dream of a better world for trans people, her actions have a rather more sinister bent. She’s a classic con artist. Don’t compare her pathological need to falsify information (the right word when you examine the period of time she’s done it and the mountain of lies she’s told) to sincere people who are trying to accomplish legitimate activism with minimal resources.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • September 12th, 2010

      This was originally written when the questions were surfacing, and it wasn’t clear enough to know that that was what was happening.

      That said, I still think it’s important to remember that it’s possible or even likely that not everyone who’d invested energy into GIEC was not in on the deceptions.

      And that said, I’d still expect to see more getting-$#!t-together before recommending that anyone invest further time and energy there.

  5. I reserve comment.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • September 13th, 2010

      Why reserve it? Whatever your personal differences are with us, you can’t really argue with what I said above. We’ve taken care to get a solid working foundation and be responsible to our members and donors, and I stand by that.

      The issue you’d left over ended up being pretty easily resolvable too, and probably more equitably than you’d expected, when it came down to it.

      • Oh, you mean the people who had nothing to say the first time the President of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta said he would call the police on someone in high-femme dress with visible facial hair entering a women’s washroom, because ‘that’s where you take kids’ would have nothing to say the second time. Perish the thought… why it’s almost as miraculous as a sitting president being renominated by her or his party!

        All is forgiven… if there was any change… oh wait, there wasn’t.

        ffs… I mean… wow.

    • dentedbluemercedes
    • September 19th, 2010

    @Valerie, I don’t really have the time to get in a mudslinging match. If you would have said something at the time instead of stewing for a month and then blowing up, it might have been apparent earlier that how you’d interpreted what was said was not what was actually said / meant.

    My opinions on washrooms etc are on record; people can judge for themselves who’s got it misconstrued.

    • I said something and got shut down mid-sentence with a littany of how genderqueer supportive the organization was. You just told me to speak up. I gave a verbatim summary, and you called it mudslinging.

      I would be most appreciative of you picking one form of verbiage other than duckspeak.

    • Further, you’re not the president of TESA, last I heard, but your acquiesence to work with him speaks volumes. That’s why I left. I didn’t want to rehash this, but again, people are insistent that nothing wrong happened here… I’m sorry but there’s no way to positively construe the context of that sentence other than, ‘I don’t like that mouthy chick with the beard yet to be killed…’ and that’s not very positive, as it denotes not being transmisogynistic, merely painfully unprofessional.

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