Why I Ran Out Of Pride
By Chrysten Jackson
I remember when I received my first pride guide. I remember keeping an ultra secret profile when I returned to my fundamentalist Christian parent’s house. And I remember seeing the Evergreen advertisement. I remember the overwhelming feelings of hope, that I could escape the terrors I was living in at the time. That there was a place in my city where I could be myself. It was a powerful moment that I knew would shape my present and my future. I regret how right I would become…
Allow me to introduce myself.
I am a rusty child of this rusty town. I have seen faces come and go. I know the meaning of a ship going down. The feeling is similar to an elevator gone awry, not knowing when you’ll feel solid ground again. I am a child of the east side, a child of the nineties. I am black, I am trans; I identify as genderqueer and bisexual. My schooling has taken me all over the city; from the Charles R. Drew Science Magnet, to the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts; from the Community Music School, to Canisius College, and most currently, the University at Buffalo.
In the years following my self-actualization and coming out, my main goals and talents have aligned themselves in my current endeavors; to help lgbtq* youth, and LGBTQ people of color, and other marginalized communities. I want to help people, as people have helped me in this journey. To make this world better. To make this community, this Buffalo; better. Nearly a year ago, I accepted a position in a local non-profit/health services organization with the idea that I was making a difference.
Let’s start with some backstory.
This story begins a little over a year ago in the last Saturday of March. That day was the first night that the Pride Center’s/Evergreen Health Services “Vogue Night” event took place. I was excited as per usual during that time; I was dealing with the very real issues of being trans in a workplace that was hostile. And, as any standard mall job, the entire structure is rooted in a capitalism that intersects with patriarchy, and cissexism and transmisogyny in the form of well-established policies and procedures that define any given day. I was desperate to leave; I had nowhere to turn, and my yearning of self-validation was growing stronger. The local Pride Center, and more specifically, their Transgender Health Initiative (THI)peer educator position appeared to be my only salvation from a framework of erasure and exploitation, and when I was offered employment as a peer educator for their THI program I was relieved. It appeared that my dreams were coming true.
I had been familiar with the THI program before as I had been attending “Tranzgeneration”, a Trans and GNC (gender non conforming) support based community group that the THI staff initially co-facilitated. It was at this group that I first met Frank Goldberg, the group’s facilitator at the time and a local activist. It was particularly empowering to meet such a dynamic mentor and presence in Buffalo, and I cherished my time spent with Frank. I first began to notice that there were some peculiarities within the Pride Center/Evergreen when Frank suddenly resigned from the position and severed all ties with the org shortly thereafter. I didn’t understand this at first but I came to realize through information gleaned from multiple sources, that Frank was the person responsible for the THI grant awarded to the region, and presumably due to internal bias/friction disguised as requirements, Frank severed ties after realizing that this organization does not have our best interests at heart. I have been witness to this firsthand.
In the years since, as I had continued being a member of this community group, I began to see staff change as well, and noticed several people quitting under dubious circumstances. Ever the curious Aries, I soon learned the reasons. The numerous problems and concerns had been voiced before; I had been privy to a lot of information from a lot of former employees, prominent community members, and clients concerning how Pride/Evergreenactually operated. I received the bulk of this information prior to my official employment. I was not ignorant, however I could not foresee nor fathom the levels of incompetence many community members and I would receive.
Following my employment I struggled to find my place within the program/organization. I was part time, a maximum of ten hours a week, and the bulk of my work was to take place out in the field, in the form of outreach toward trans people here, to inform them of the services Pride/ Evergreen offer as per the grant. Outside of that, my services and opinions seemed to matter very little. I soon began to regret my employment here as well as my status as patient within their medical services for my transition (HRT). Following a request from my former boss at Pride, a UB Law professor; I am speaking out. I am ending my silence. Because I do not have a choice anymore. And too much time has passed, and no action has been taken.
When I say I have ran out of pride, I mean it wholeheartedly.
This sentiment has been a long time coming and I think it bears repeating especially in this area. I have ran out of pride because I realize that “pride” is nothing more than empty sayings meant to convey a false sense of community and unity. I have ran out of pride because time and time again it has been proven that the marginalized in our acronym of LGBT do not matter, beyond profits and quotas. I have ran out of pride because this organization has a history of inhibitory practices and procedures that do little to benefit trans and GNC communities here, and there is an extensive history that details it. I, as a former employee and as a “client” of their so called medical services can attest to all; because it is one of the major defining reasons that led me to quit Pride at the end of February (Feb. 20).
My resignation at the time was hard to do but was necessary for my well-being. You see, my personal experiences as a client and an employee remain unsatisfactory and have been wrought with negligence and incompetence at every level, a similarity I share with many across this city. The beginning of February 2014 was particularly eye-opening, between group meetings in which people voiced how their access of care was being hindered primarily by Evergreen, and when I received knowledge of a promotional campaign to advertise Evergreen’s pharmacy toward my community, for transition related services. It was then that I requested time be taken to address the issues that existing clients are facing first. As per my job description to be an intermediary between the community and the organization, it seemed logical to address the issues first and to include someone who experienced the intersection of employee and client. However when the time came to address these issues I was not included nor consulted. Furthermore, I discovered my medical issues with Evergreen took a bigger turn when I was informed in a work meeting that my doctor was switched without notice. This was the same doctor touted as knowledgeable and competent toward trans clients in the area. From the feedback I continuously receive, the replacements are neither fit nor competent to serve trans clients. To me, this was a major indication that the affairs of this organization do not have our best interests at heart; much less representation.
I could no longer turn a blind eye. I had experienced issues with my care during most of 2013; prices going up without notification, misgendering labels, miscommunication between departments that led to me having to go months without HRT etc. It was enough. My own Partner has documented cases of issues with this organization. I even had to get my boss involved on two separate occasions, which shouldn’t have to happen.
Competent trans care is necessary care. Anything less is violence.
I label Evergreen/Pride as a “structure of violence”, a modified name of the concept proposed by Jean Galtung, which states that a social structure or institution who inhibits the basic needs of it’s people, or of the community though racism, cissexism, classism, institutionalized elitism, and also transmisogyny, meaning that this organization inhibits our community from accessing our basic needs (medical care, social services etc.) This designation stems from a wider issue, the very real and familiar issues of the non-profit industrial complex. Despite the outward appearance, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite the growing sense of complacency, stagnancy and an undeserved sense of accomplishment, we need to stand up to those who hide behind shiny, glossy ideas and expensive ideologies. We need to be made aware how the voices of the marginalized are whitewashed, sanitized and reprioritized into a palatable, corporate “Gay Inc.” image that has dotted the Western New York landscape for some time. And how the very real concepts of privilege and erasure help to maintain a nice and neat hierarchical structure of hegemonic practices that do little to benefit the communities they purport to serve.
I soon realized how little our community meant in the macro sense; that without state tax money funding trans* related “services” we truly do not mean much in the scope of the cisgender-homosexual-white-male atmosphere I felt and saw every day I was employed there. And to be completely honest, it’s offensive, triggering, belittling and above all, transmisogynistic to impede “care”, and then not have affective avenues to voice concerns and to be then included in on decisions directly affecting the trans community. And no one seems to understand this; beyond the “we’re not perfect” corporate reply I was given. I would say this is a prime example of an organization failing to meet the basic needs its mission statement declares.
This is a prime example of an organization only relying on a community when they are receiving state money in the form of funding for HIV and department of health programs.
When an organization can “Facebook share” a TDOR event but only have three employees show up is proof of the extensibility of our community and how much we are valued. When a trans employee wants to schedule a meeting to address various issues that are affecting not only members of the community but the employee themselves and they are met with insults and badly constructed and out of context straw-man arguments to cover themselves from any reprimands; that’s violence from multiple levels. I have to quote a former Buffalo resident and activist when asked to describe her experiences with this organization:
“The Pride Center sucks the souls out of trans people and then wants you to thank them.”
With what little time and resources I was afforded I tried to do my best, but that didn’t matter. I had no avenues in which to cope. And this became exacerbated when I began to be privy to my former coworkers complaining about the conditions we were working in; on the absenteeism of my former boss, of the chronic mass disorganization that plagues that organization like a virus. Of figures in place who are ultimately inhibitory gatekeepers to change and progress, directly in our communities. And intimately I have had enough. Enough of being misgendered within the organization multiple times and out in the field for Vogue Night events. Enough of being tokenized and forced to essentially “sell a product” using actual retail methods to bring trans people in tot fulfill the quotas demanded by the health dept. I felt like a shepherd herding sheep and then using community safe space to prep them for what I dubbed ‘the Evergreen Pipeline’, the entry point of their incompetent medical services. And the fraudulence of it all is that trans people are being duped into choosing Evergreen (myself included), as it is the only local org that touts itself as an inclusive space with diverse services for our needs. That attraction is the snare of the trap that is unsuspecting. And I believe the reason of the lack of attention being raised to this issue. That this organization is giving us the runaround, providing corrupt services and then taking more of the money out of our pockets (via their pharmacy) than what they get from tax dollars and not pumping it back into the community.
Here on out, I intend to take an oath of #ownership and #responsibility to break my own personal silence. It has become too deafening and has rendered my life and those around me inaudible, invisible, and full of strife. My story is not only my story, it is the story of countless individuals; still present and driven out by oppression. This is a story of privilege and erasure. Of silencing and systemic stagnancy. Of cisgender people’s prominent voices drowning out our own, not realizing the harm and violence it perpetuates. Of an ongoing system of exploitation and tokenization. A system of silence.
Will you help me end it?