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.

°°°°°

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.

°°°°°

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.

°°°°°

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.

°°°°°

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 

My feud with Cathy Brennan

I sent an influential anti-trans blogger a heartfelt letter. It didn’t go well.

If you’re one of my regular readers (either of them) you might have noticed that I haven’t written in a while. Why? Because I’d become too obsessed with hateful people, to the extent that I was feeling hateful myself. I needed to detox.

The people, if you’re new to my blog, are a strange subgroup of radical feminists known by their critics as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. TERFS believe transgender people are just cross-dressing fetishists who threaten women’s physical safety and support the patriarchy. One of the most notorious TERFs, a Baltimore lawyer named Cathy Brennan, has a reputation for outing and endangering transgender youth, advocating against legal protections for the transgender community and generally being nasty online.

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Brennan

It took an interaction with Brennan for me to realize my obsession with TERFs had become unhealthy.

The last thing the world needs is yet another article about Brennan. But I’d like to process my interaction with her, because it’s been bugging me – and because it says something about the difficult task of remaining a good person online.

Brennan hates and is hated. That isn’t criticism – it’s a description of her media strategy. She’s a social media junky, sending over 80 Twitter messages in an average day, many of them hostile. A website that assesses Twitter users’ personalities based on the content of their tweets rates Brennan as “very high” on the anger scale. A typical massage: “You’re still a man. Sorry about your dick. And I laugh because you will never be happy.” She said that to an 18-year-old transgender woman.

Of course, Brennan doesn’t start all of these exchanges. People go out of their way to send her unsolicited, hateful messages. For some people – especially transgender youth – standing up to Brennan might be a way of proving they can handle transmisogyny. But by sending aggressive messages they wind up giving Brennan justification for her own hateful rhetoric.

A typical cycle begins when someone sends Brennan an angry message. Brennan replies, and a hostile exchange ensues. Brennan posts the other person’s comments  (and sometimes their personal identifying information) as evidence that transgender people and trans advocates are out to get her. Then somebody else, outraged that Brennan would post someone’s information in this way, sends her an angry message. Wash, rinse, repeat – Brennan has turned herself into a perpetual-hatred machine.

I’ve given in to the temptation. My first interaction with Brennan began when I sent a tweet insulting insultingly comparing her to the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This led to a brief, hostile exchange that I’m not proud of.

A couple of weeks ago I had an insane idea: What if there was a way to break this cycle of hate? It started when I was reading Brennan’s blog (hate-reading TERF blogs had become a hobby of mine) and came across a post about a young woman who was raped and murdered by men. Reading the post made me feel angry, sick and powerless. Then it occurred to me – Brennan and I probably had similar feelings about this atrocity.

Did she know there are men who feel that way? Did she know there are men who hate rape and male violence? I decided to find out. I decided to send Brennan a letter.

I put careful thought into the letter. I didn’t want to mention the woman from the article by name but I wrote about how her death made me feel – sick, angry, impotent. I wrote about women I knew who had been raped by men. “Please remember that all men have mothers,” I wrote. “If most women have been affected by sexual assault then most men have been affected by sexual assault too – and we’re not OK with it the way you think we are.”

Why the hell would I share all this? I admit there was part of me that wanted to shock Brennan with kindness. I thought, “This TERF thinks men are awful? Let’s see what she makes of this!” But I also thought there was an outside chance she’d recognize my experiences and feelings as being vaguely similar to her own. And then what? Embrace transgender people? Lighten up a bit? I don’t really know what I expected.

I sent the email anonymously from my SocialWorked account (socialworkedmail@gmail.com), not really expecting a response. But Brennan did reply – and she went all out. She looked up my Twitter account and sent me a message: “Do not ever contact me @Social_Worked. I am not interested in communicating with you. There is something wrong w you.” She also posted a screencap of the letter on my Facebook page, accompanied by a similar comment.

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Bizarrely, Brennan was able to track down my real name and personal Facebook account, even though I contacted her anonymously. I’ve since Googled my real name together with my SocialWorked email address and nothing came up. Maybe she pays for online background checks?

True to reputation, Brennan doxed me by posting the letter (which was meant to be private) alongside my personal Facebook information, including my real name and photo. That sucks for me because I’ve been using this blog and associated social media accounts to share deeply personal feelings and experiences under the cover of anonymity. Thanks to Brennan I need to be more careful.

I can understand Brennan being put off by the letter – it was an unsolicited email sent to her work address. It would have been understandable if she ignored it or asked me not to write again. But her reaction seemed disproportionate. Did the kind tone of my letter threaten her hate-based worldview?

Whatever the reason for her hostility, the whole interaction left me with a bad taste in my mouth. What was I doing, obsessing over TERFs and getting into Twitter feuds with people like Brennan?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. I have some thoughts.

The most noble explanation for my TERF obsession is that I wanted to defend transgender people. I think there’s some truth to that. But if that’s the case why wasn’t I getting into it with other kinds of transphobes, like religious fundamentalists? Clearly my reasons weren’t all noble.

I’m ashamed to admit that much of my beef with TERFs, and with Brennan, stems from my sense of white male fragility. Despite my privileged place in society, I felt threatened when TERFs demonized men. After all, as a social worker I’m eager to be part of the solution – radical feminists don’t seem to give men that opportunity.

I’m going through some hard times, and part of my baggage is the aftermath of some toxic romantic relationships. I’ve been hit by a woman I was with. So when radical feminists seem to insist that men hit women but never the other way around – and the idea that all men are violent towards women seems to be part of their orthodoxy – it felt like they were denying my experience.

Does that mean I was wrong? Certainly not about transgender equality. I have as much right to an opinion on this issue as a cis  man as TERFs do as cis women. Unfortunately, I think I used transgender people as pawns in the service of my ego – I owe transgender people an apology.

I think I owe women an apology, too. Even radical feminists. We live in a patriarchal society where women are routinely victimized, and I benefit from that. What right do I have to naysay a philosophy that helps women deal?

If I was going to say something to TERFs, it would be this: I don’t feel powerful enough to be oppressive. I’m scared too. I hurt too. I’m too tired to fight.

I think that explains some of my hangups. I’ve learned that despite having literally all the privilege I can be pretty sensitive. If there’s a lesson for others in this I’d say it’s know thyself – get to the root of why you respond to things the way you do. Especially if, like me, you’ve found yourself sending nasty messages.

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So much for my hangups. I can’t really explain Brennan’s, except to note that hate seems to be working well for her – she’s often referred to as a women’s “advocate” (what does she advocate for?) and speaks at radical feminist conferences. But I wonder if she’s happy. After looking at her social media timeliness, her late-night message board flame wars, I don’t have the sense she is. I know this: I tried hate and it became too toxic for me. Maybe it’s one of those things where you have to fully commit or give it up entirely.

I know this too: I’m done talking to her and writing about her. I’d suggest everyone else ignore her too. She’d stop being an “advocate” if she ran out of people to hate. Deprived of enemies, she’d be revealed as being what she’s been all along: an adult woman who gets into social media feuds with children. And that makes her fundamentally sad.

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 Weed Truck, Part II

This is the second installment in a multi-part story I’m writing for Child Abuse Awareness Month. Everything happened as described. Names have been changed. Nobody’s innocent.

Click here to read The Weed Truck, Part I

Panic comes flooding up my throat. It tasted like stomach acid.

“Chris Chris Chris Chris Chris,” I say.

Chris, my supervisor, strolls over. A bit older than me at 32 and fashionably dressed, he tries to keep his people calm and productive. He’s white, like I am.

“What’s the deal?” he says laconically.

I show him the note: “New CPS case re: Ms Tambora. Charges prostitution / drug use.”

“That’s not good,” he says. “Is it true?”

“It’s bullshit,” I say.

“Who’s the worker?”

I log into the computerized system that logs families’ Child Protective Services involvement – a catalogue of failure and suspicion. I navigate to Ms. Tambora’s new case.

“Patricia Black,” I say.

“I don’t know her,” Chris says.

The panic in my throat has receded somewhat, met in my throat by a generalized sadness, a despair mixed with acceptance that this is my life.

“Guess you’re about to,” I say.

* * * * * * * * *

Would you read a SocialWorked newsletter? If enough people sign up I’ll start writing. Click here to join the SocialWorked mailing list. I promise not to share your information.


I take three deep breaths before dialing the phone.
The deep breaths never work.

Ring. Ring. “What.”

“Um hello, Ms. Black. This is [—] with [—]. I’m Ms. Tambora’s preventive worker.”

I don’t know why I’m so nervous. The panic is back.

“Oh yes, the prostitute.”

“Well, about that. She’s actually a very good mother. I don’t think – -”

“Do you need something?”

“I thought it would help if I joined you when you make a home visit to the family.”

“Fine. 3 o’ clock today.”

“Great. I’ll let Ms. Tambora know to expect us.”

“Please don’t. I like to catch families when they don’t expect me. I don’t want her having time to hide anything.”

“Fine.”

“3 o’clock. I’ll be wearing black.”

“Really?”

“Really what?”

“Nothing. See you at 3.”

I hang up the phone. The panic is gone again. This time it’s anger that’s pushing it down. A righteous, durable anger.

My next call is to Ms. Tambora.

* * * * * * * * *

I show up 30 minutes early to prepare Ms. Tambora, but when I knock on the door Ms. Black is already there. “Bitch,” I think. She’s standing above Ms. Tambora, who’s sitting at her kitchen table. A framed picture of her daughter is on a curio shelf behind her; as always, she’s clutching her daughter on her lap.

Ms. Black is younger than I expected – about my age, late twenties – white and, as she said, dressed entirely in black. I wonder if she was aware of the symbolism when she got dressed this morning – a woman in black, here to take your children.

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I try to remember the last time I thought of Child Protective Services as people who help.

Ms. Black doesn’t acknowledge me. She’s giving Ms. Tambora a release form. Like me, Child Protective Services workers need written permission from a caregiver before talking to a child’s provider. A strange facade of respect, I think – how odd what we choose to care about.

“Sign this so I can talk to Helena’s doctor,” she says.

“Ms. Tambora, is the doctor’s name filled in?” I ask.

She hesitates, looking at Ms. Black, then at me. “No.”

“Then signing that form would let her talk to anybody.”

Ms. Black bends down and scribbles on the form. “I was going to fill in the doctor’s name later, but whatever makes you happy,” she says.

Ms. Tambora signs the form.

* * * * * * * * *

Ms. Black is finally getting ready to leave.

“Can you tell me anything else about this family?” she says.

“Just that they seem to me like a great family. I’ve never seen a sign of drug use, prostitution or anything else.”

“Will Helena’s doctor tell me anything is wrong?”

“I haven’t spoken with her doctor yet.”

Ms. Black wags her finger. “It’s your job to communicate with the child’s providers, Mr. [—]. When Child Protective Services contracts a family out to your agency that’s one of our expectations.”

“Right, sorry. I’ve left the doctor messages.”

“Very well. The next step for Ms. Tambora will be to take a drug test. I’ll arrange that. See that she takes it.”

“She’ll take it.”

“Very well. Good bye.”

She says good bye to me, of course – not to Ms. Tambora. Then she leaves.

Ms. Tambora is still clutching Helena, tighter than ever. She looks terrified.

“I can’t take the drug test,” she whispers, even though we’re alone.

“Why not?”

“I’ve been going to the weed truck.”

To be continued

Update: I’ve given up on finding a common language

Update: April 2, 2016

I no longer stand by the below entry. Soft, euphemistic terms like “trans critical feminism” whitewash the hatred I’ve seen Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) use. Also, I’ve asked several people who fit that title what term they prefer without getting a response – it seems they would rather complain about being “slurred” as TERFs than collaborate on finding a more helpful, mutually-understood language. Most importantly, from what I’ve seen, they’re not critical – they’re hateful. I can’t parlay with people preaching hate.

I’ll revisit this position if I encounter a radical feminist who a). is open to a conversation about language and b). can articulate a reason for being “critical” of transgender people that still recognizes their rights, humanity and decency.

Original Post

In previous posts I’ve used the term TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) despite being fully aware the people this term describes consider it a slur. I did this because I didn’t know what the alternative is. (A “TERF” might say she’s a “radical feminist,” however, there are radical feminists who embrace transgender people.) Still, I’ve been feeling badly about this, especially since I complain about these feminists misgendering transgender people.

I know some transgender people and trans allies wouldn’t see this as a problem. They might even accuse me of letting these feminists off the hook, not calling a spade. I understand that, but I also want this type of feminist to read my posts and engage with them without being turned off by the first paragraph. Truthfully, I question why this type of feminist objects to being called a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – it seems perfectly descriptive of their views. I think nasty things they’ve done – arguing against health coverage for transgender people, etc – might be a factor here. On the other hand, any term can become “tainted” (it was once perfectly acceptable to call a black person “negro,” but that word become more offensive the more racists used it); if a person feels others keep screening “TERF!” at them derisively it’s understandable they’d grow to hate it.

Unfortunately, this means that, for my purposes, I need to invent a new term for these feminists. I’m not so egotistical that I expect it to catch on (certainly not with the people it describes), but I do need it for my own usage.

So the term: I actually considered “Feminist Against Transgender Inclusion” – but calling people FATIs is probably not conducive to productive debate.

For now let me go with Transgender Critical Feminist (TCF). If you object to this or know a better term (that isn’t “radical feminist,” see above) please let me know. I know TCFs might object to being labeled by a man; again, though, this is the best I can do and I don’t expect you to take the term on for yourself.

I might occasionally use “TERF” in headlines, tweets about posts, etc -situations where I want to reach people who wouldn’t know what TCF means. This is partially so that TCFs themselves know the piece involves them. I ask TCFs to indulge me.

I’ll continue to use terms like “cis” and gender transgender people appropriately (e.g. calling a MTF “her”) because that’s a matter of social justice for me; using different terms would feel like ceding and throwing the trans community under the bus.

ACTION NEEDED: BLOGGER OUTING TRANS AND LGBT KIDS ONLINE

You can help stop a notorious anti-LGBTQ bully

Go straight to the petition

For more information contact: socialworkedmail@gmail.com
Updates on Facebook and Twitter

Would you read a SocialWorked newsletter? If enough people sign up I’ll start writing. Click here to join the SocialWorked mailing list. I promise not to share your information.

UPDATE

I sent the email to Facebook and Google with petition results included. I’ll continue providing updates as things develop.

If anybody would like to discuss next steps, please reach out to me. If you haven’t signed the petition please sign it now, as additional signatures could help in future communications with Facebook and Google.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s already signed, and especially to @ThatSabineGirl, who’s been lending her time, credibility and stature to stopping this blogger.

OVERVIEW

A notorious blogger makes a regular practice of posting photos, names and ages of children who are apparently on the verge of coming out as transgender. (Details below.)

Continue reading “ACTION NEEDED: BLOGGER OUTING TRANS AND LGBT KIDS ONLINE”

A blogger is outing trans kids online – let’s stop her u

You can help protect kids by sending an email

I’ve seen some disgusting things in the debate over LGBTQ equality – we all have – but there’s one blogger who takes it a step too far.

Would you read a SocialWorked newsletter? If enough people sign up I’ll start writing. Click here to join the SocialWorked mailing list. I promise not to share your information.

This person outs transgender kids on her blog, Facebook page, and Google+ page. She posts their photos, names and ages next to photos of a Nazi concentration camp (to imply transgender children transitioning is like the Holocaust?) as well as hateful rants and what look like personal photos of adults.

A quick look at her writing and you know this person isn’t well. Unfortunately, if I identify or even quote this person I’m worried it will spread these kids’ information further, so I’m keeping that to myself. But a lot of people have complained about her online and their comments show she’s caused some real pain. (I think it goes without saying that outing LGBTQ youth is dangerous – it can lead to kids being kicked out of home, getting attacked or even driven to suicide.)

Technology now makes it possible to start with a photo and find every single place that photo appears online. Anyone could click on a child’s school yearbook photo and wind up on this person’s blog. And unfortunately the current climate is so toxic that people sometimes find this person useful. Pages’ worth of websites link to her blog – some to trash it but others to praise it. And she frequently gets more Google searches than the also-noxious Gender Identity Project, which has also been associated with outing LGBTQ youth.

I complained about this person using Google’s online complaint form on March 23. The children’s personal information is still up and I haven’t received a reply. So I emailed Chrissy Persico, Google’s head of consumer PR. Please join me – emails and suggested language below.

cpersico@google.com
<a href=”mailto:press@google.com”>press@google.com

press@fb.com
support@fb.com

Suggested language:

I’m informed a user is posting photos and personal information about transitioning transgender youth. This is cruel and dangerous – please immediately remove this user from your platforms.

For your reference, emails about this user with identifying information were sent to individuals related to all get known platforms – Google staff (Carla Persico at cpersico@google.com and press@google.com) and Facebook staff (press@fb.com, support@fb.com) – on March 27 with the subtext line “CHILD ENDANGERMENT – OUTING TRANS YOUTH.”

Please also make sure this user cannot post offensive content in the future; and please and report any illegal actions to the proper authorities.

My email to Google (with identifying info removed) is below.

Dear Google staff,

A user has been using multiple Google platforms to distribute photos, names and ages of transgender youth in an apparent effort to “out” them. I made a complaint using Blogger’s online form on March 23, but I have not received a response and the material is still posted.

The user’s name is *****

I’ve found profiles under that name on Blogger, Google+ and YouTube. The user posts information about LGBT youth in what seems to be an ongoing series. A recent example is here:

****

As you know, current technology makes it fairly easy to find matches for any given photo online. Therefore, the photos alone provide enough information to determine these children’s identities.

“Outing” LGBTQ youth can lead to serious repercussions that include suicide. These posts seem to be violations of your policies on bullying, child endangerment, and posting personal and identifying content (other pages also have photos of apparently LGBTQ individuals that appear private, accompanied by hateful language. I believe the user’s comments on LGBTQ people constitute hate speech. Finally, please note the attached screen grab from the user’s YouTube account, which shows the user stating, “Death to *****” – an incitement to violence.

Multiple users have spoken out in concern about this user (you can see them in the user’s comments; also by Googling the user’s name). The user has also referenced complaints, so it’s possible action has been taken in the past.

*** PLEASE IMMEDIATELY REMOVE this user from all Google platforms for child endangerment and violation of your content policies.

Please also take any steps possible to block this user from posting under different Google accounts in the future (Google search turns up the user posting under a close variant of the current screen name, “*****”). It looks like this user might have been blocked in the past and simply created new accounts. It’s clear thus user won’t stop unless unable to access Google platforms.

If it is found this user violated any laws, please report this matter to the authorities.

I will keep an eye on the pages in question and ask others to reach out to you in this matter. Please let me know what steps you are able to take.

Sincerely,

****