One of Brooklyn’s worst slumlords is a man of many names

Landlord Barry Hers seems to use a variety of aliases to stay in business and continue profiting off of vulnerable families.

I’m about to tell you a complex, tangled story. It’s about a Brooklyn landlord whose history seems to include bankrupting an Israeli village, assaulting his own daughter, threatening tenants and leaving his buildings in deplorable conditions.

As his story unfolds, one thing becomes increasingly baffling: New York City’s homeless department seems to have either been indifferent to his heinous record or didn’t know about it when it entrusted hundreds of vulnerable families to his care.

This is the case against a man with many names. One of them is Barry Hers.

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I first became aware of Barry Hers in August 2005 when the New York Times printed a front-page story on a shelter he ran in my neighborhood. The article described the 83-unit building, which housed both shelter and rent-paying tenents, as dire:

Beyond the unlocked front doors of 60 Clarkson Avenue in Brooklyn, the lobby is a half-lit cavern, its ornate plaster moldings and patterned floor smeared with dirt. The windows gape onto a courtyard dense with weeds and trash. On the days when it comes at all, the elevator smells of urine.

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According to the story, the building had 213 housing code violations in 2013. Hers told the paper there used to be more but he worked hard with the city to correct them. Hers had reportedly cut security guard services despite receiving city funding for a guard, and a detective told the Times the building was notorious at the precinct house.

The Times reported that Hers also goes by Barry Hersko and Barry Hershko. Remember those names.

Hers created his own nonprofit, We Always Care, to provide casework services to residents, flouting city rules requiring DHS to find an independent organization. Hers claimed DHS underpaid We Always Care for rent and services, making it hard for him to maintain conditions at 60 Clarkson.

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60 Clarkson Avenue

The city acknowledged that 60 Clarkson was a problem and made plans to stop using it as a shelter. Unfortunately, this made life even harder for residents, who received multiple notices giving them only 24 or 48 hours to pack their belongings in preparation for removal. Residents said at least one of these notices was on Department of Homeless Services letterhead. Each notice was withdrawn after a burst of protest and media scrutiny.

60 Clarkson stopped serving as a shelter in October 2015, according to Gothamist. Things didn’t improve for rent-paying tenants after the homeless families left. Residents reported their gas and electricity was mysteriously cut off after some of them entered into a lawsuit with Hers. New York State’s Tenant Protection Unit is currently investigating Hers for allegations that include harassing tenents and skimping on maintenance.

Meanwhile, the city acknowledges that it still has hundreds of families in Hers-owned properties but says it plans to relocate them by the end of June. Hopefully the media will continue its scrutiny and follow up on whether the city keeps this promise. I have little hope that the press will look into whether families’ lives improve as a result of the relocations or if they’re simply shuffled to equally dilapidated corners of the shelter system.

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The tangle of names becomes confusing at this point: Gothamist reported that the nonprofit managing Hers’ property, We Always Care, was founded by one Isaac Hersko; and that residents of 60 Clarkson, their lawyers and housing organizers believed Hers and Hersko are the same person. Gothamist noted that Hers did not refute the claim that he uses this alias when asked about it. However, Gothamist later issued a correction saying state investigators think people identified in the story as Barry Hers and Isaac Hersko are two different people who are somehow related. An investigator also told Gothamist the state believed Barry Hers also goes by Barry Hersko and Barry Herskowitz. Further confusing things, the Times stated as fact that Hers, Hersko and Hershko are the same person according to records; the Times reporter clearly had extensive access to Hers and he didn’t refute this. A collection of stories about 60 Clarkson collected by the Legal Aid Society has people referring to him as Barry Hers, Isaac “Barry” Hersko and Barry Hershko.

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A photograph of a man identified as landlord Isaac Hersko

If all of this is giving you a headache, don’t worry. The point is that all of these names revolve around a single entity who identifies himself with either “Barry” or “Isaac” and a last name beginning with “Hers.” Since multiple sources say this person uses aliases, I’m going with the simplest explanation – that all of these names belong to the same person.

And he has a nasty history.

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Even though Hers and 60 Clarkson have been the subject of multiple news reports, nobody seems to have connected the dots in regards to his past. A few simple Google searches reveal a pattern of violence, lies, and scams that seem to have been committed by Hers under one of his aliases or names that are similar to them. The problem might be that it’s hard to prove these cases are connected – the fact that they involve similar circumstances and men with similar-sounding names is only circumstantial evidence. But if Hers is using aliases he’s presumably counting on reporters being deterred by precisely that problem.

We can’t let him get away with that. So I’ll simply present what I’ve found and let you decide for yourself.

• In 2010 a developer in Cedarhurst, Long Island named Itzhak Hershko, also known as Isaac Hershko, was sentenced to a month in jail and fined for building code violations. The judgements were dismissed by a higher court on 2012. However, the judge and lawyers in the original case noted that residents had been threatened, that Hershko had failed to pay fines and debts, and that he had created a blight. “The last few years have been hell,” one neighbor told the judge. Cedarhurst is near Brooklyn.

• According to the same article, Hershko faces an arrest warrant in Israel related to his 2008 conviction for involvement in a real estate deal that bankrupted an entire village.

• The article also says Hershko was arrested in 2007 for assaulting his own daughter.

• Fast forward to 2014 in Nyack, New York: Employees at a high-end restaurant show up to work but find the doors locked, a stack of unsigned, worthless paychecks inside. The owner’s name was Isaac Hershko, and the article used records to link him to the Cedarhurst charges. One employee who is an immigrant said he gave Hershko  $25,000 as an investment but that when he asked about payments Hershko threatened to call immigration. Follow the link to watch a man identified as Hershko yell at a news cameraman and physically push him out of the restaurant. 

• In May 2016 a tenents’ rights group called Stabilizing NYC released a list of some of New York City’s worst property owners. Among the 10 worst slumlords, according to the group: one Isaac Herskovitz. (Recall that investigators think Barry Herskowitz is a Hers alias).

Isaac Herskovitz, identified as a Brooklyn property owner, bought five buildings in Manhattan’s up and coming Hamilton Heights neighborhood for $31 million. If this is Hers he seems to be expanding into new territory – look out, Manhattan. Herskovitz was reported to own two dozen properties in Brooklyn and the Bronx, according to records.

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Like innumerable reporters before me, I’ve tried to find ways to contact Hers. A quick online people search turns up one Isaac Meleh Hershko, 58, in Hewlett, New York. Hewlett is only two miles from Cedarhurst. There are two Isaac Herskos in New York, both in Brooklyn.

Another directory lists a Barry Hers in Brooklyn with the phone number (917) 335-1537. The same number appears on a Legal Aid Society list of New York shelter contacts; the list says the number is for someone named Barry. The list shows this person is responsible for more than a dozen properties providing family shelter services in Brooklyn, including 60 Clarkson.

I have no doubt there’s more information out there – and more stories of human suffering.

°°°°°

It’s easy to demonize Hers – and we’re justified in doing so – but he’s successful because of a regulatory environment that doesn’t care about homeless people. Despite his abuses, New York City only took action about the horrible conditions at 60 Clarkson after sustained media coverage.

And Hers is only part of the problem. Approximately 3,000 families live in cluster site shelters, buildings like 60 Clarkson where the city pays landlords far above market rents to house homeless people in conditions that are often inexcusable. A city investigation in March found these types of shelters provide “nonexistent” security, minimal social services and poor conditions and are inferior to more traditional arrangements where the city owns and runs the shelter directly. This fits my experience as a social worker perfectly – if space permitted I’d share stories about incompetent, condescending caseworkers at cluster site shelters; unaddressed mold growing across walls and exacerbating children’s asthma; broken kids’ beds that don’t get replaced – all in apartments for which landlords collect more than they would if the city simply gave homeless people rent checks. It was in a cluster site building that I was assaulted while trying to prevent a sexual assault (the security guard hadn’t shown up for work yet).

Two additional things bother me here, and they both come down to the apparent carelessness with which DHS monitors abusive landlords. First, I can’t so much as take a leak without giving someone my social security number – was that not a prerequisite before Hers could start any of his projects? There’s a left hand right hand thing happening if Barry Hers and Isaac Herskovitz are the same person and he’s gotten permits under both names in New York City. It makes me think there should be a national database of landlords that all jurisdictions participate in.

Here’s my second concern: It took me 30 minutes to find all of this information and all of Hers’ aliases, using nothing more than Google searches. It’s upsetting that the city Department of Homeless Services wouldn’t invest half an hour on the Internet before entrusting the safety and wellbeing of hundreds of homeless people to a developer. Besides being immoral, it’s inefficient. Think how many hundreds of hours city employees have spent dealing with Hers’ crap – social workers for residents, housing court judges and lawyers, and other municipal employees are playing damage control because nobody did a simple Google search when Hers’ application to run the shelter was being considered. It was lazy, immoral and incompetent management on DHS’s part.

I can’t help but think that if we were talking about white middle class families in Park Slope the city would work harder to ensure their safety. Remember when I said the state Tenant Protection Unit is investigating Hers for abuses at 60 Clarkson? Well, that’s happening now that the homeless families have moved out and all the residents are fine upstanding rent payers. The unit was created in 2012, but they apparently couldn’t be bothered to investigate when it was homeless families who were suffering.

The fact that Hers is still in business proves we, as a society, are just as indifferent to those families’ plight.

Appendix: For anyone who wants to look into Hers further, here are all of the associated names and companies I’ve been able to find.

Barry Hers
Isaac Hersko
Shloimy Hersko
Barry R. Hersko
Barry Hers Clark
Barry Herskovitz

We Always Care
We Care
We All Care
Clark Wilson
Ettie Properties 

Why MRAs, radical feminists and Christian fundamentalists agree with each other about transgender rights

All three groups hate transgender people for the same reason – and that has important implications for trans activists .

Note: This article uses gender-appropriate language, so a transgender person who’s born male and identifies as a woman is referred to with “her” and “she.” A cis person is anybody who identifies with their sex at birth (the vast majority of people).

Take the Quiz: Can you tell the difference between a Radical Feminist, a Conservative Christian and a Men’s Rights Advocate?

I was both pleased and disappointed to read a recent article in State’s Outward section describing fundamentalist Christian opposition to transgender rights. Pleased because unpacking the motives of transphobes is necessary, if distasteful, work. Disappointed because the article overlooked some key players in the anti-trans backlash and, as a result, didn’t get to the root cause of transphobia.

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Conservative Christians have become the go-to bogeyman for LGBTQ activists, and for good reason. There’s no doubt that in churches and “conversion clinics” across the country religious doctrine is used to justify transphobia. But let’s be clear: religion never made anyone do anything. From the Crusades to 9/11, zealots have done whatever they wanted – looted, killed, lashed out in fear – and used religion as an excuse, not an inspiration. God doesn’t tell Christians to hate transgender people any more than Allah told bin Laden to destroy the Twin Towers. There are transphobic atheists and trans-inclusive Christians.

What really drives conservative Christian opposition to transgender rights? The answer becomes clear once you realize what Christian fundamentalists, radical feminists and sexist men have in common.

By rejecting the gender that society assigns to them at birth, transgender people are also rejecting the social norms that oppress women.

So-called Men’s Rights Activists, abetted by the Internet and driven by the ever-burning engine of male insecurity, have become known for their hatred of feminism; but they also tend to be antipathical to transgender people. When Facebook started allowing users to identify themselves as transgender, genderqueer and other non-binary genders, MRAs pitched a fit, surmising that the “retards” at Facebook had caved to feminist and transgender pressure.

Writer Stephen Marche has done a fantastic job of showing that MRA antipathy towards women and feminists is rooted in fear and insecurity. Now with Facebook’s change they fretted about which of the new gender categories “are safe to approach” (note to MRAs: none of them bite). They lashed out with the frustration of boys who didn’t know the answers to a test they thought they were prepared for. “Have we been invaded by aliens trying to confused the fuck out of us?” [sic] one wondered.

In their confusion and anger MRAs, ironically, joined a longstanding and odd subgroup of radical feminists, known by their critics as TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). TERFs have opposed trans rights ever since transgender women started trying to join the feminist movement, cloaking their hatred in the language of gender theory but essentially saying, “Ew gross, get away from me.” Soon after transgender women began trying to join events for “womyn-born-womyn only,” such as Michfest, founded in 1976, radical feminist Janice Raymond wrote 1979’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Today notable TERFs include Cathy Brennan, founder of a group called Gender Identity Watch, who has outed transgender people online, including at least one adolescent.

TERFs assert that transgender women are “men in dresses” who suffer from “autogynephelia,” a discredited, made-up disorder in which men derive sexual pleasure from viewing themselves as women. They believe these “men in dresses” are attempting to insert themselves into everything feminine – including the feminist movement and feminists themselves – and to make women’s issues “all about men.” When TERFs see a transgender woman complaining about abuse they see an entitled man playing the victim card, pretending he’s endured something that only happens to cis women.

As with MRAs, a strong subcurrent of fear runs through TERF writings – TERFs believe cis men support the trans agenda because, by blurring the line between women and men, the existence of transgender people hides the facts that cis men oppress and abuse cis women. They don’t explain why the cis men who oppose transgender rights tend to be the same guys who deny sexism exists and seek to roll back women’s rights, whereas cis men who support trans rights are more likely to condemn sexism.

Like MRAs, TERFs have come to view transgender people themselves as threats. With the ongoing debate about transgender people’s access to public bathrooms TERFs have circulated horror stories about “men in dresses” assaulting cis women in bathrooms. Google “cotton ceiling” and you’ll see TERFs believe transgender women are hell-bent on sleeping with lesbian women, using force or trickery when needed. One TERF describes her understanding of transgender people’s motives in this way:

Dammit you cis-sexist lesbians, if you are going to sleep with twanzmenz, then you had better sleep with cismenz too. Oh, and because you now have to sleep with cismenz, I have a cock too, so how about sleeping with twanzwomenz while you are at it?!… Dammit you stoopid lesbians, I will get you to like cock one way or another!” [Emphasis added]

I would have thought that men who want to get laid would have easier ways of doing it than permanently joining the most reviled and attacked gender minority on the planet.

The great irony is that TERFs and MRAs are not only obsessed with each other but blame each other for the trans rights movement. TERFs believe “all this cis-business” is “men’s rights rhetoric packaged up in a pretty pink bow.” MRAs feel that “this [transgender] shit is all very feministic.”

Transgender people – unlike other oppressed groups such as women and people of color – challenge the social structure simply by saying who they are.

This is where religion comes back in. Question: What do Christian fundamentalists, Men’s Rights Activists and radical feminists all have in common?

Answer: They all have a vested interest in existing gender roles –  roles they fear transgender people are undermining.

MRAs like to view themselves as “macho” men skilled in picking up women. An MRA discussion is as likely to center around tips for getting a date as the supposed feminist conspiracy. Ever since The Crying Game they’ve been afraid of the female sexual conquest who’s secretly a “man.”

Conservative Christians also tend to believe that “men should be men” and “women should be women,” a tradition that goes back to church founder and noted misogynist St. Paul, who wrote, “I suffer not a woman to teach, or have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12) – a passage often used to justify sexism.

And radical feminists base their entire worldview on gender, which they see as being more relevant to a person’s success in the world than their race, sexual preference or country of birth. They claim to be opposed to gender roles; but the truth is that if gender disappeared overnight they’d lose their entire map of the world, as well as the moral high ground and their go-to excuse for their personal failures and shortcomings. The world would simply stop making sense.

Some caveats to all this: I enjoy the luxury of analyzing this debate from a position of power – I agree with radical feminists on that. I’m a white man. I identify as bi but I prefer women. I suppose I could be genderqueer but the truth is I’m pretty comfortable with my male identity.

The other caveat is that in order to depict the views I’m discussing clearly I plumbed subreddits and barely-read Tumblr blogs for quotes – hardly traditional sources. But I believe these slimy pearls from the depths of the Internet represent ideas that have filtered into the collective unconscious. Just as Christians can be sexist without citing Paul, I believe men like researcher Ray Blanchard parroted MRA views when describing “autogynephelia” as much as feminist leaders like Germaine Greere voiced TERF views when she said a transgender man undergoing sex reassignment surgery is “horrid” being who “inflicts a horrific act of violence on himself.”

From my privileged, white man’s perch I have to say radical feminists like Greere seem more deluded than other parties in this debate. MRAs have an obvious incentive to defend gender roles – they’re men and they want power over women. The picture is less clear with Christians, since there are Christian women (and even feminists!), but the pattern of Christian men enjoying dominance over women is as clear as Joseph Smith’s fondness for polygamy.

But women don’t get any benefits from gender roles, except for the privileges granted to the oppressed – a common enemy and the moral high ground. It seems like a bad deal for them. And most women agree – despite TERF claims women are more likely than men to support transgender people’s right to use the bathroom of their choice, and NOW has stated that it advocates for “equality for all women,” including transgender women.

I hope radical feminists come to recognize transgender people as allies in the struggle against oppressive gender roles, instead of as threats. In fact, by rejecting the gender that society assigns to them at birth, transgender people are also rejecting the social norms that oppress women.

And that gets to the heart of why cis people hate transgender people. By rejecting their birth sex transgender people – unlike other oppressed groups such as women and people of color – challenge the social structure simply by saying who they are. In America minorities and women are tolerated as long as they “know their place.” Gay people become combatants in the culture wars when they have sex or get married. But transgender people become combatants simply by existing, by putting on pants or a skirt in the morning.

It took America decades to accept gay marriage, a relatively small change in the social fabric. For a person who’s genderqueer it will be even harder.

Ze’s going to need all the allies ze can find.

The secret history of mandated treatment

Mandated treatment is about society’s needs, not the mentally ills’.

On the evening of January 3, 1999 Kendra Webdale stepped onto the platform of the uptown R train at the West 23rd St station in Manhattan. She was 32, blonde and had a reputation for being kind to a fault, so it must have been typical for her to exchange words with the man beside her.

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Kendra Webdale

Then the man pushed her in front of an oncoming train, decapitating Webdale.

The man, Andrew Goldstein, had a history of hospitalizations for schizophrenia. When asked why he killed Webdale he later said he “just had the urge to push her.”

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Andrew Goldstein

In response to what he did that evening state lawmakers would pass Kendra’s Law, far-reaching legislation that lets judges mandate mental health treatment. But like any ambitious mental health program Kendra’s Law says as much about society’s fears as it does the needs of the mentally ill.

To understand what mandated treatment is really about, we need to understand those fears.

Kendra’s Law is a marketing tool designed to assure affluent white people that the problem of dangerous, crazed loners is under control.

Kendra’s Law is sweeping. It lets judges require people to submit to mandated treatment for up to a year at a time if they’re judged not to be safe without supervision and establishes teams of workers to provide services and monitor compliance. Though often justified with the rhetoric of public safety, a person doesn’t need to have a history of violence to be mandated under the law.

The law was used more than 8,700 times by mid-2007, with more then 5,600 of those people seeing their mandated services extended. Most people affected by the law (70%) are in New York City; many upstate counties don’t use the law at all.

That’s the law. Understanding the law’s purpose requires knowing a bit about New York – and Kendra Webdale herself.

Webdale was in many ways the prototypical New Yorker. An aspiring screenwriter from Fredonia, NY, she was drawn to the city by its parks and museums.

She wasn’t the first person to die on the subway tracks. Subway crime was down in 1999, but according to the New York Post, “even in safe times, a common fear haunt[ed] riders standing on a crowded platform. It’s of being shoved in front of a speeding train by a crazed attacker.” People remembered Renee Katz, who lost a hand in a similar attack, and several other people not named in the article (a 63-year-old grandmother, a Staten Island chemist, a 20-year-old mother described as having “cheap costume jewelry”).

Why did Webdale’s death merit a response from then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and eventually lead to a landmark state law while these other victims have been forgotten?

The numbers tell the story – a story of race, money and politics.

In the 1970s New York City was in trouble. Plagued by crime and a bad economy, white people and families fled in record numbers, to the point where whites were nearly a minority group. In the 1980s the population started to rebound, but the increase was driven by immigrants, who made up for a continuing exodus of white people. Crime was still rampant, and
the city’s image was reflected in the unstable loner Travis Bickle, Robert Dinero’s character in Taxi Driver. It wasn’t until the 1990s, the decade that Webdale moved to New York, that the city’s population really began to take off, growing by nearly 1%. By now the bleak image painted by Taxi Driver was being supplanted by Seinfeld and Friends – images of a kinder, more liveable city.

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I love New York!

However, crime still scared both current and potential New Yorkers. And even then a quarter of the city lived in poverty, up from previous years.

When a white woman who moved to the city in pursuit of her dreams was murdered by an unstable New Yorker, then, it must have been the worst publicity imaginable for city leaders.

They sprang into action.

After Webdale’s death Elliot Spitzer, then state attorney general and a city native, proposed legislation requiring mandated treatment, and the New York Times editorialized that such a law would be good for both people with mental illness and the city as a whole. Powerful New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represented a Manhattan district, introduced the bill that would become known as Kendra’s Law. Silver was clear that “the specific incident that inspired ‘Kendra’s Law’ accurately depicts this as a public safety issue” while noting that his bill would also benefit those with mental illness.

Kendra’s Law passed. But like other public safety initiatives it wasn’t applied evenly.

In 2005 New York Lawyers for the Public Interest condemned Kendra’s Law, stating that only 15% of people mandated to treatment under its provisions had a history of violence. NYLPI accused those implementing the law of bias – citing figures from the New York State government, they said black people were nearly five times more likely than whites to be subjected to Kendra’s Law orders (others would say this is because black people are less likely to receive appropriate treatment). They also noted a regional bias, stating New York City accounted for 76% of orders despite having only 42% of the state’s population – exactly what one would expect if the law was created to make the city seem safer.

The marketing seems to have worked. By 2007 the number of people moving to New York City from other parts of the country surpassed the number leaving, a “new pattern,” and immigrants from within the United States went from representing half of the inflow at the turn of the millenium to two-thirds by 2011. Incomes rose too, with the median household income going from $31,591 in 1990 to $54,310 in 2014 when adjusted for inflation.

New York City became wealthier, whiter and more appealing to people from other states after Kendra’s Law passed. The law wasn’t solely responsible, of course, but it was one of the policies that made the New York success story possible.

What does this all mean? Many conclusions can be drawn. Here’s mine: Kendra’s Law is a marketing tool designed to assure affluent white people – inside and outside of the city – that the problem of dangerous, crazed loners is under control. When a mentally ill man murdered an attractive white woman from the suburbs city leaders feared Taxi Driver New York was killing Friends New York. They sprang into action, successfully lobbying for a law that’s used almost exclusively against poor black city residents.

None of this is to deny that Kendra’s Law has been effective. Studies by Duke University and the New York State Office of Mental Health have found the law reduces hospitalizations as well as suicide attempts, homelessness and other problems associated with untreated mental illness. Supporters of the law say it’s helping people who are mandated to services and saving the city money by reducing the need for inpatient care.

Mandated treatment is clearly a complicated issue that defies easy answers. But when we debate its wisdom we should consider all of its pros and cons, including some that are often overlooked by its supporters.

For example, any discussion of Kendra’s Law should consider:

The increased burden on mental health clinics that are required to treat mandated clients;

The impact of stringent rules clinics impose to manage mandated clients, such as policies to drop clients if they miss appointments;

The waiting lists clinics create to accommodate increases in demand;

The potential clients who give up on counseling because they’ve been placed on waiting lists;

The stress experienced by therapists and social workers who must work with mandated clients;

The impact this stress has on their work;

The good things providers could be doing with voluntary clients but aren’t because they’re working with mandated clients instead;

The things that could be done with money currently spent on mandated clients;

The pain clients experience after losing autonomy.

I’ve worked in agencies that serve mandated clients and I can truly say their being mandated changes everything. They stop being clients at all; instead they are treated like difficult, ungrateful children. When a clinician constantly assumes an unwilling client won’t show up or won’t be interested in material, it’s hard to overestimate the damage that causes to the therapeutic relationship. In a 2009 study of Kendra’s Law, case managers rated 54% of participants as not being “positively engaged” a full year after services began.

The above points demonstrate an odd fact: while Kendra’s Law has made treatment more available for mandated clients, the result has been that treatment has become more scarce for voluntary clients – the ones who are most likely to benefit from treatment. Every time a client is mandated waiting lists grow longer, clinicians become less available and clinic policies become more rigid. NYLPI says that this “right to treatment” for mandated clients even leads some people who want treatment to intentionally become mandated so they can get the help they need.

A stunning 41% of New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses report they needed help in the past year but weren’t able to get it. Does that mean we should have more mandated treatment? Maybe – but this treatment gap makes me question the wisdom of forcing scarce mental health resources on those who don’t want it.

I don’t know whether Kendra’s Law should be changed or repealed. But let’s be real about our reasons for mandating treatment. Let’s own the harm and benefits of it – all considerable and all very real.

In other words, let’s honor Kendra Webdale, Andrew Goldstein and the 20 year old mother in costume jewelry the New York Post didn’t bother to name.

An anti-trans group cites a source

A miracle has happened: Youth Trans Critical Professionals, a sham organization opposed to trans rights, has cited a source! Let the clowds part and the angels sing; Hallelujah!

Oh, except that “source” is a tweet:

Children taught in schools to either adhere to strict gender stereotypes or view themselves as the opposite sex’ @cwknews

Still, progress? It’s better than making page after page of untrue statements like the following without anything to back them up:

Even though there is no evidence that gender identity is innate, in the UK wherever we look, politicians, policy makes and practitioners are indoctrinating the public with this view.

No evidence? Indoctrination is happening? Back it up.

If this sounds harsh, consider this: YTCP claims to be a collection of doctors, social workers and other professionals; yet they refuse to share the name or identity of a single member. And they directly address parents of transgender children in their posts – they’re lying to scared, confused parents, with the stated goal of helping parents opposed to “the trans cult” trust that decision instead of their child or medical professionals.

YTCP claims they “are keen to extend [their] contact with other youth trans critical professionals,” yet they don’t provide instructions for professionals who wish to make contact. Keen, indeed – I’m calling bull.

This group is being cited as a medical authority online: please keep an eye out and call bull when you see it.

See my earlier story, ACP Isn’t the Only Anti-Trans Front Group , for more.

If you have feedback – especially if you’re part of YTCP or have interacted with them – let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to include your feedback in a future post.

A cis guy explains trans, women’s rights

I’ve been thinking about this topic to the point of obsession: the subgroup of the women’s rights movement called Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) and what seems like their strange hatred for transgender people. Maybe it’s because, the more I think about it, the more trans equality seems like the civil rights issue of our time. Maybe it’s because TERFs keep calling me a men’s rights activist.

Maybe it has less to do with the TERFs than it does with me – but I’ll get to that.

First, I’ve had a hell of a time trying to figure out who the TERFs are, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned.

TERFS ARE as radical as their name implies, and their membership includes some of feminism’s leading figures. Germaine Greer, author of The Female Unich, has described trans women (those born male) as “men who mutilate themselves and are given passage as statutory female.” Janice Raymond and Cathy Brennan – who has allegedly outed trans youth – are other prominent TERFs. A notorious YouTube video that went viral before being banned from social media platforms is fairly representative of TERF rhetoric – with ominous background music it displays a series of what it says are “violent and predatory men” who have abused women while dressed in women’s clothing; one website that hosts the video offers to explain “why those who identify as transwomen and transvestites get a sexual thrill from wearing women’s clothes.”

To be fair, transgender people and their allies have lashed out at feminists and women. The film Tangerine was criticized by both women and mainstream critics for a bizarre scene where a trans woman beats a cis woman, seemingly for laughs (full disclosure: I haven’t seen it). There’s a TERF cottage industry of websites that curate aggressive tweets and other messages from the trans community (I’m not linking to those here). It’s like Isreal and Palestine; there are both cis and trans people insisting the other side fired the first shot, each insisting the other side apologize first. (By the way, TERFs are said to hate being called TERFs – I use the term reluctantly for lack of a better alternative).

Luckily, calmer heads seem to prevail in both camps. NOW has embraced transgender women as women, stating, “equality is equality.” Gloria Steinem has publicly embraced the trans community. And women are more supportive of trans rights than men are, according to yearsworth of polls. One group of feminists circulated an online petition calling for the Southern Poverty Law Center to monitor Brennan’s organization Gender Identity Watch as a hate group; the petition accused Brennan of outing transgender people and critics by publishing their personal information online and received 9,000 signatures before being closed.

That doesn’t stop TERFs, though. At their most galling, they seem to be in denial about how hard it is to be trans in America. “Young biological females are the most oppressed class of human beings,” one cis woman told me on Twitter. That’s a hard claim to accept – by modest estimates 66% of trans people are sexually abused during their lives, putting them at statistically greater risk than cis women. Homicides against members of the LGBTQ community have been declining for years – except they’ve been rising to record highs for the trans community, with black transgender people at greatest risk. And transgender people are at high risk for depression, intense shame and suicide.

​”I was ashamed of myself, my identity, my desires, my inner person. They crucify people like me. It would have been nice to know that I wasn’t a freak and that there were others like me. But when they asked me what was my problem in school they always assumed I was just a bad kid. Little did they realize I couldn’t stand myself. And hated what I was. I felt I needed to be bad to be respected and left alone.”-Unnamed, Reported to Protect FORGE

It goes on. TERFs often role their eyes at these statistics – as if trans people use them as a get out of jail free card – or twist them to fit their ideology. It’s frustrating – and it made me want prove the TERFs wrong.

THE CRUELEST TERF line might be the “bathroom myth” – the claim that transgender women (TW) will go on a spree of rape and sexual assault if allowed to use women’s bathrooms. In this TERFs agree with the Republican party – strange bedfellows. The trouble is, claims that TW are already assaulting cis women in bathrooms are completely false: 18 states and 200 municipalities already allow transgender people in the restroom of their choice, without a single reported incident. Remember that YouTube video of alleged TW attacking women? The person whose face made the rounds online is Canadian and didn’t exploit any American laws.
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Some women talk about a need to maintain “safe spaces,” and I’m actually sympathetic to that idea. However, it ultimately rests on the assumption that TW are strange “others” and not people who can be embraced. TERF rhetoric on this issue is also blind to how important restroom equality is to the trans community. Imagine being a TW – your choices may come down to being mocked in the men’s room or yelled at in the women’s room. More fundamentally, exclusionary policies send a message to transgender people that society not only considers them a threat but rejects their gender identity. It’s no wonder that banning transgender people from the right bathroom has been linked to higher suicide rates among trans teenagers. Most trans adults say they’ve experienced serious problems like dehydration because they weren’t comfortable using a bathroom; a quarter have had problems at work related to bathroom access that in some cases cost them their jobs (It’s hard for me to imagine how humiliating it would be to have to argue with my boss about going to the bathroom).

So restroom equality hasn’t hurt a single cis woman, but it’s literally killing teenagers. At the moment 44 anti-trans bills are up for debate in states across the country, making 2016 the most politically hostle year for trans peiple in history.

One particularly regressive set of bills just introduced in Kansas makes it clear that transgender students are a threat:

Allowing students to use restrooms, locker rooms and showers that are reserved for students of a different sex will create potential embarrassment, shame, and psychological injury to students.

The bills, like others across the country, state that being male or female is determined at birth, based on chromosomes – effectively excluding trans people. The bills also impose a “bounty” on transgender students caught in the wrong restroom by allowing cis students to sue the institution operating the bathroom for up to $2,500.

THINK FOR A MOMENT about some of the rhetoric we’ve seen so far – bills assuming mere exposure to a transgender person will cause psychological harm; the description of trans women as “violent and predatory men.”

Imagine if politicians and members of the public were saturating social media, the news and daily conversation with this rhetoric – and they were talking about black people. Now imagine there was a wave of black people being murdered and beaten across the country. Well that actually happened, and it played a role in the creation of America’s hate crime laws, as well as its cultural prohibitions against bigoted language.

Now imagine the exact same thing is happening to some Americans now. Despite the small size of the trans community its members are victims of 17% of hate crimes befalling LGBTQ people; even worse, 50% of LGBTQ people killed in hate crimes are transgender. The majority of LGBTQ hate crime victims are trans people of color.

Think again about the ugliness of some of the TERF rhetoric and consider this: a recent landmark study by Project FORGE found an “anomaly” in which 29% of transgender sexual assault survivors were attacked by women, a shockingly high rate considering women are thought to be responsible for only about one percent of sexual assaults in the general community.

A few notes on this: The FORGE data says that women were involved in 29% of assaults, not that 29% of assailants were women – a key difference, as women were sometimes reported to be part of group attacks. And some recent studies put the sexual assault rate for women much higher. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to verify FORGE’s number as very few studies specifically break down assault rates by assailant gender (if there’s any reliable data on transgender people assaulting women, by the way, I haven’t seen it – please send it my way).

Still, if a significant number of women are attacking transgender people, shouldn’t that give TERFs pause before calling them “rapists”? Since a significant number of people are attacking transgender people, shouldn’t that give all of us pause?

IF YOU’RE STILL WITH ME I’m almost ready to draw some conclusions and put away a bit of my anger towards TERFs. I just want to quickly cover a few more dynamics in the TERF/ transgender dynamic. They’re subtle and draw heavily on both feminist theory and female experience, so it might seem obnoxious for a cis guy to write about them. I can only say I’m interested, because this stuff helps me understand what’s happening to the trans community as well as – corny as this might sound – the human experience.

Issue: Who Took My Body? Who Took My Everything?

Just read and see if you can make sense of this TERF logic:

However, when it comes to transgender males, men who wish to call themselves women – or more to the point want us to call them women – the story is very different. If we say no to the appropriation of our name, our bodies, our struggle, it is we women who are shamed. We’re being re-named: TERF, cis, transphobe. We’re being re-named by men who wish to try on the costume ‘woman’; they think it doesn’t fit us any more, us no-sayers are not the pliable girls of their dreams, and we must share.

“The appropriation of our name, our bodies, our struggle” – transgender people are body snatchers, apparently.

I can’t help but think of the debate over gay marriage – all those conservatives who shouted that if gay people could marry it would undermine their traditional families. There’s no logic to it – it’s the prioritization of abstract values over living, breathing humans. Is there any clear way to imagine transgender people making this woman less free?

Issue: They’re Taking Our Power

Hillary Clinton, to the surprise of many, has failed to capture the support of young women – and in that regard she might have something in common with TERFs.

Like Clinton, the leading TERFs tend to be older women who have been influential for years, if not decades. So the following observation about young voters, made by a Democratic pollster, might hold significance for feminists as well: Millenial women are “the most tolerant cohort we’ve ever had in our country, by far… Their change agenda is really around things like gay or transgender candidates.” Young women, it’s being suggested, are less interested in the traditional goals of feminism and more interested in equality for transgender people – could this be upsetting TERFs?

I also wonder whether transgender people are seen as a threat by some powerful feminist leaders. After all, if women become men they’re no longer women; to TERFs they’re longer part of the feminist movement. Perhaps TERF intolerance is partially due to a desire among older figures – Germaine Greene, Janice Raymond – to retain influence.

Issue: They’re Taking Our Women

Google “cotton ceiling” and you’ll get page after page of TERFs sharing their finest, angriest screeds. What is this horrible concept? The cotton ceiling is a term coined to describe “the experiences queer trans women have with simultaneous social inclusion and sexual exclusion within the broader queer women’s communities.”

In other words, some female transgender people (born with male equipment but female by gender) feel that lesbians (who they would theoretically date or hook up with) talk a good game socially but aren’t actually interested in romance. Fair enough, right?

But TERFs are terrified of the cotton ceiling.

“We must say yes to men,” one TERF writes of the demands she feels transgender people place on her [note: TERFs misgender transgender people and refer to transgender women as men]. “Lesbians say yes to men in your beds.” Their reaction is so extreme that when Planned Parenthood – that woman-hating organization – held a workshop on the cotton ceiling, a petition went out saying female transgender participants “will discuss and strategize ways to ‘overcome’ women’s objections to these participants sexual advances.” (What did participants really discuss?: “Would it really surprise you to know that what they talked about was body image and shame?”)

Now I feel uncomfortable going here, but many TERFs are lesbians. Is it possible they’re worried trans women are stealing eligible partners? It would help explain Greer’s strangely specific language about trans women’s anatomies (specifically that they don’t know what it’s like to be real women because they don’t have “big, hairy, smelly vaginas”: factually incorrect).

More than enough said on that.

Continue reading “A cis guy explains trans, women’s rights”

ACP Isn’t the Only Anti-Trans Front Group

Correction: An earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that most women support restroom equality for transgender people. In fact, the majority of women support separate transgender bathrooms; more women than men support allowing transgender people in the restroom of their choice but they still represent a minority of women. This article has been corrected accordingly.

Think Progress and others are taking down the American College of Pediatricians-not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics-a shady, anti-LGBT group currently enjoying some Internet success with pseudo-medical publications warning against all things transgender.

Of course, the Academy is a sham organization. It argues that gay marriage harms children (an argument one would think is a bit beyond a responsible medical group’s area of focus) and supports conversion therapy for gay youth, which has been linked to suicidal ideation and rests on the belief that being gay is a mental illness. The College split from the Academy over the Academy’s support for LGBT rights; the two organizations’ names sound so similar that, predictably, ACP’s hateful message has been spread across the internet and social media by people who can’t be bothered to confirm the group’s legitimacy. (The real medical group, American Academy of Pediatrics, advises parents to have serious conversations with young people questioning their gender identity and to support reassignment if the youth has consistently requested the change.)

ACP proved that masquerading as a legitimate clinical group can be effective, however- so it should come as no surprise that a new sham organization, Youth Trans Critical Professionals, has shown up on the scene. YTCP claims to be:

[A] community of professionals thinking critically about the youth transgender movement psychologists, social workers, doctors, medical ethicists, and academics.We tend to be left-leaning, open-minded, and pro-gay rights. However, we are concerned about the current trend to quickly diagnose and affirm young people as transgender, often setting them down a path toward medical transition.

However, one thing you quickly notice from purusing their website is that they don’t identify a single one of these “professionals”-they just make statements and tell readers to take the credentials of the website’s contributors on faith. When confronted about this via online comment a person writing for YTCP said: “Given the current climate, it doesn’t feel safe to speak on this issue using names at this time. I can say that I am a psychotherapist with 20 years experience.” (The commentor replied, “On the Internet, many people can say they are psychotherapists with 20 years experience”).

The site just started on March 14, according to their internet domain information, but at least one parent with a transgender child has already thanked the site’s owners for providing a “great comfort.” And predictably, the site is starting to pick up momentum on Twitter.

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The retweets from groups like @RadFemCollectiv highlight an issue that unfortunately can’t be ignored by anyone concerned about transgender rights. A radical subgroup within the feminist movement known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) are aggressively intolerant towards the tran community. Many of their arguments seem to boil down to a belief that male-to-female (MTF) transgender people are, in their eyes, men masquerading as women and seeking access to safe spaces like women’s bathrooms. I can’t speak to what it feels like to be a woman, trans or cis, but much of their rhetoric is barbaric and involves painting all transgender women (male-to-female) as opportunistic, cross-dressing rapists.

I mention this here because Youth Trans Critical Professionals links to only four outside websites, and one of them is a feminist blog called 4th Wave Now (none of the four sites are for medical or psychological organizations, if that tells you anything). One of 4th Wave Now’s latest posts argues for conversion “therapy” for transgender children, denying that this procedure has any resemblance to conversation therapy for gay youth.

YTCP may well have been created by hard-core TERPs; at the very least groups like YTCP, TERFs and social conservatives will continue to benefit from this kind of cross-pollination.

By the way, as a white cis man I’m all too aware that it’s uncomfortable to call out TERFs for being bigots. Many will reflexively claim male (including transgender male) critics are men’s rights activists. But they don’t own this debate, and they don’t have an exclusive right to talk about the trans community. And they don’t represent mainstream feminism or women; the National Organization for Women, other feminist groups, and plenty of cis women embrace transgender people.

Also, surveys consistently show most women support transgender people and are more likely to favor accommodations for them (including access to the restroom of their choice) when compared to men.

More on this to come. Show some support (or at least interest) if you’d like to read more. Come heckle me on Twitter at @Social_Worked, comment or email me at socialworkedmail@gmail.com.