Who Profits From Our Suffering? The Black Trans Housing Scam Taking Over Instagram

January 04, 2022

Monica Roberts Essay Contest 2021 Blogger Award
By: Lazarus Letcher

At the beginning of November, a stranger slid into my DMs. They shared a link to their website and asked me to donate to their cause – housing Black trans women. As a member of the Black trans community, I know how indebted I am to Black trans femmes and women for being able to live my life loudly and proudly and try to give when and where I can. I went to the website this person sent and felt uneasy – something just felt off. The next day I got a similar message, from a different account but with links to the same CashApp and website. I never want to get in the way of someone just trying to survive or help others, and felt ashamed when I wondered, “Is this a scam?”

Weeks earlier the incredible Black trans organization For the Gworls posted about the new vetting procedures they needed to go through to deliver funds to actual Black trans people after being scammed too often. Similarly, this tumultuous summer as millions of dollars began to pour into Black-led organizations, the largest benefactor was someone whose politics stand in direct opposition with the actual Black Lives Matter movement. #BlackLivesMatter was founded by Patrisse Cullors Khan, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza in 2013. The name has been hijacked since its inception, sometimes for clout and often for greed. Reporters at Buzzfeed helped to uncover that the largest GoFundMe for #BlackLivesMatter was in fact linked to an LLC, Black Lives Matter Foundation. The hashtag and movement built to fight white supremacy, especially as it manifests through police brutality, was now being co-opted by a man named Barnes that sought to work directly not to defund the police but strengthen their resources. The fundraiser passed the $4,000,000 mark before GoFundMe froze it.

2020 has brought more visibility to important causes like Black Lives Matter, and finally more folks are beginning to understand that means Black Trans Lives Matter. Seeing tens of thousands of people march this summer solely around the cause of uplifting the struggles and victories of the Black trans community left me in tears – I never expected to see it in my lifetime. But visibility is a double-edged sword. As the understanding begins to spread about how vulnerable our Black trans sisters and siblings are to homelessness, medical discrimination, and unemployment due to living at the violent intersection of white supremacy and transphobia – the more people outside of the community are cashing in. People are opening their hearts and wallets, but who they’re really giving money and support to might not be as clear as it seems.

With the memory of the summer’s fraudulent Black Lives Matter millions and the statement made by For the Gworls, I was curious about this new group claiming to be collecting funds for Black trans housing. I reached out to others in the community and found out that many had been solicited by several accounts with the same message and language, sometimes even being harassed when asking for more information about the organizers. I quickly searched “Black trans housing scam” and a legitimate organization and fundraiser had just published an announcement warning folks that my suspicions were true – we had a scammer on our hands.

The Homeless Black Trans Women Fund was started by trans Latina photographer and organizer Jesse Pratt López to raise money for her community in Atlanta. Since starting the GoFundMe in 2019 the fundraiser has blossomed into an organization with case managers and connections with other radical organizations like Someone Cares Atlanta, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, Southern Fried Pride, and the Trans Atlanta Housing Program. In their mission statement, they say, “our goal is and always will be to establish permanent housing in Atlanta for Trans people, particularly Black trans women who are experiencing chronic homelessness and to ensure they have the wraparound services necessary to thrive.” Their GoFundMe is nearing $3,000,000 as they continue their integral work of putting roofs over heads and cash directly into hands.

On November 3rd the real Trans Housing Coalition announced the fraudulent campaign running on Fundrazr and using Instagram to directly solicit donations from people, especially members of the trans community. THC has issued a cease and desist and continues to try and get the Fundrazr, which has passed the $400,000 mark taken down. The Instagram handles leading folks to the fake fundraiser continue to morph and metastasize as the community works to get them to shut down. THC is demanding “transparency and accountability from this person. If you are in direct contact with this individual, we ask that you please have them reflect on the harm they are causing, the people they are exploiting, and close out all fraudulent campaigns and social media accounts.” While the THC has engaged a legal team, the fake fund remains up – and even has the gall to state that “unauthorized use of the name Ⓒ Homeless Black Trans Women Fund isn’t allowed by third parties or individuals,” – while the real organization has existed a year longer. The Fundrazr is filled with unclear descriptions of where the money is going, statistics I’ve never seen before, and lists the cities of Portland, Austin, Los Angeles, and New York City as the places being served – while their PO box is in Miami. I appreciate the transparency the THC has operated with – I don’t need itemized lists of where money goes, but given the current climate I just hope at the very least the people benefitting and organizing are part of BIPOC trans community. Their defensive and contradictory language makes me worry that might not be the case, especially their penchant to disappear when people start to ask who the organizers are. What are they hiding?

I tried several times to contact the person or people running the copycat fundraiser and have yet to receive a response. Most of their Instagram handles have blocked me after I made a post warning others. I can not describe the anger I feel that someone is profiting so much, nearly half a million dollars, off of the suffering of Black trans women. Legitimate organizations like the real THC and the Homeless Black Trans Women Fund could change lives with that money, the Okra Project could feed thousands, the House of Tulip could continue to grow and house the TGNC community.

I refuse to let potential outsiders profit from the pain of the Black trans community. As I prepare the vigil for this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance I am haunted by the young, Black, femme faces that fill my screen. There is more than one pandemic happening: Covid-19, anti-Blackness, and its twin transphobia – and my trans sisters and siblings suffer from all of these more than anyone. To profit off this suffering, at this time, is simply evil. I encourage people to continue to report the Fundrazr, be vigilant of Instagram accounts sharing it that have the CashApp handle $HBtranswomenfund, and to donate to the legitimate Homeless Black Trans Women Fund or donate directly to BIPOC trans folks. If there are no Black trans people in your life to directly support, do some self-reflection as to why that is. The BIPOC trans and queer community is not new to mutual aid – we’ve kept each other alive for centuries. From balls to virtual fundraisers, we’ve always had each other’s backs – and we will not let others steal from the hard work we’ve done to not just survive but thrive.

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