The axiom “nothing for us, without us” has never been more important. As LGBTIQ perspectives enter the mainstream more and more (especially around Pride Month) it becomes increasingly crucial that the narrative is controlled by, and in service of, the people it’s about. And that those who want to help do so by listening, not by talking—and by putting their money where their mouth is.
That’s why Miss Grass has decided to donate 10 percent of all our June profits to an organization that’s truly on the front lines of trans lives; those lives most affected by social and economic inequality and marginalization.
While Pride Month may be on the calendar, it’s not lost on us that injustices like police profiling, employment discrimination, criminalisation, and incarceration—all issues faced disproportionately by trans people of color within the LGBTIQ community—do not sleep. In 2019, trans lives are being lost—and taken. Over 10 trans women of color have been murdered this year in the US alone. They need to be protected and cherished 24/7, 365 days of the year. It’s time we all did more to make it so.
Meet Trans Lifeline
Trans Lifeline is the first, and only, crisis service in the US in which all operators must be trans people themselves, allowing for peer support through shared experience. It’s also the only service in the country with a policy against non-consensual active rescue. This means that if a caller doesn’t want emergency services or law enforcement to intervene, they won’t be called.
Why is this important? Because interactions with the law are in many cases, simply not safe—with a quarter of surveyed trans callers having been placed in involuntary psychiatric hold following a call to a non-trans-run crisis hotline. And if trans people don’t feel safe enough to call a suicide hotline, their risk for suicidality naturally increases. Trans Lifeline is a safe space for these people.
“Historically, trans people have been pathologized and criminalized when they reach out to support services,” says Trans Lifeline’s development director, Bri Barnett. “These experiences create collective trauma caused by medical and prison systems that treat trans people experiencing crisis as problems to be corrected.”
Across the US and Canada, the organization has trained over 500 people in peer and crisis support. By the end of 2019, they’ll have answered nearly 30,000 calls and given 700 trans people money, as well as creating an international network of community-based care focussed on self-determination. This “offers an alternative to the ways trans people have been institutionalized and pathologized by cis services,” says Bri. “This is what it looks like when a community cares for and empowers itself.”
And on the money front, Trans Lifeline offers microgrant programs to battle economic justice in their community. In 2017, they merged with the Trans Assistance Project to offer low-barrier grants to trans people in need for legal name changes and updated government ID, as well as offering specialised assistance to incarcerated and undocumented trans clients.
But of course, providing these free services is far from easy, especially in the current climate.
“The greatest challenge we face is the sheer scope of demand for our services. Every year since we were founded, our call volume increases 20 to 30 percent,” Bri says. “This problem has been compounded as trans communities have been targeted by the Trump administration through a series of policy announcements attacking the ability of trans people to access employment, education, and health care.”
“It’s estimated 29 percent of trans people live in poverty and 67 percent lack access to identification with proper gender markers,” Bri continues. And the ripple effects of that make Trans Lifeline’s microgrants invaluable to the people who need them. “The average grant is just $363, but the impacts are massive. Proper IDs are required for employment, housing, government benefits, banking, health care, voting, and so much more,” they say. “They're a basic requirement to participate in civic society and every time a trans person uses an ID with an improper gender marker they run the risk of discrimination.”
As with the racially-based criminalization of cannabis, trans people of color stand to lose the most—facing disproportionately high levels of profiling and incarceration, as well as abuse in prison. That’s why the Trans Lifeline’s microgrants program also puts money directly into the commissary accounts of trans people facing incarceration. Bri says the organization is currently increasing Spanish language hotline services too.
“We’ve been receiving more calls from detention facilities from trans immigrants seeking asylum ... In addition to dealing with the increased transphobia impacting the entire community they also have to navigate new restrictions on the asylum process, increased militarization of the border, and indefinite periods of detention.”
But whether incarcerated, in prison, or not, trans people of color face added burdens on their mental health, says Bri.
“Among callers who discuss their race with us, 10 percent are Indigenous and 20 percent are black. That’s four times, and two times, the mental health issues facing US population as a whole. We have to be talking about the societal discrimination that causes Indigenous and black trans communities to face such a high incidence of suicidality.”
How You Can Help
Allyship as a term is gaining mainstream acceptance, but translating it into meaningful, needle-moving action is another thing. So how can cis cannabis users do a better job? It really does start with listening.
“The most important thing allies can do is trust trans people to properly identify and address what their needs are,” says Bri. “That means seeking out trans voices and trans perspectives on transphobia. It means giving trans people what they ask for without thinking that you know better. Find the local trans activists in your community and support their work. Another powerful way to get involved on a broader scale is to support our work at Trans Lifeline.”
As a grassroots organization with an ever-increasing demand, Trans Lifeline relies on donations and is primarily funded by individual donors. That means donations of all sizes (recurring or one-off) are not only appreciated, they’re essential in keeping this vital service alive, thriving, and connecting trans people to those most qualified to help them—members of their own community.
“Over 77 percent of our funding comes from gifts under $250, which means the average person's donation completely powers our work,” says Bri. “$25 connects one trans person to the hotline, $50 is the cost of operating the hotline for one hour, $110 provides peer support for one person to update their ID, $363 is the average fee for one person to legally change their gender, $1,200 funds the hotline for a whole day.”
You can help provide by crisis and financial support by giving whatever you have to Trans Lifeline right now.
Miss Grass are doing our part by donating 10% of all our sales to Trans Lifeline for the entire month of June—so anything you buy from us will automatically support them too. And remember, you can always spread the word and amplify the work of Trans Lifeline and the voices of the trans people that need them. It all counts.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or need to talk to someone, Trans Lifeline is available at 877-565-8860 (US) and 877-330-6366 (CAN). You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.