Dear TYSN community,
We’re writing to share some hard news. As of January 31st, TYSN will be closing. In this final newsletter, we’ d like to share some pieces of our story to explain how we’ve come to this decision.
We can’ t give a simple answer to explain why TYSN is closing. The short version is that we don’ t have the resources that we need to sustain our organization. Like most organizations that are youth - led, trans - led, or people of color - led(let alone all of the above!), we’ re struggling to balance our budget and navigate foundation funding. It also takes an enormous amount of work to get a youth - led organization up and running. Last month, we came to the realization that our work had become unsustainable for us, personally and collectively. We made the difficult decision that it’ s time for TYSN, in its current form, to come to an end.
The past year has been transformative, beautiful, and painful for TYSN. When TYSN’ s leadership transitioned from established adult community leaders to fresher young faces, we were in a moment with a huge amount of possibility--the chance to place TYSN in the hands of smart, committed young trans people. We were also really vulnerable. We needed all of our community to recognize this tremendous opportunity and help breathe oxygen into the sparks of our fire so that we could grow.
We knew the risks of becoming youth-led: many youth-led organizations don’t stay open for very long. But we believed so deeply in our vision that we weren’t going to give up without trying. We’ve shared publicly some of our major victories as we’ve worked to become youth-led: in particular, that since July, TYSN has been run fully by us (young trans people who came up through our organization). What we haven’t shared are a lot of the hard parts. We want to tell a few of those now -- not to call out individuals, but in the interest of sharing lessons and shining an honest light on the systems of adultism and racism, in the hopes that other young trans leaders might be able to learn from what we’ve experienced.
When our four youth co-directors took the reins, they hadn’t gotten the training that most non-profit staff get. After all, that’s why TYSN exists in the first place: to provide leadership development to trans youth that isn’t available anywhere else. But it’s important for our community to know that the co-directors inherited an organization that hadn’t been well-built to pass on information and skills to them. In the last year, patterns that have played out at TYSN for years have come to a head. Our small Board has struggled to effectively support an overstretched staff (of one person, two people, or four people). Board members have turned over frequently, and often not done a good job recruiting replacements or passing off their skills & knowledge.
When two adult staff members and a handful of adult Board members left around the same time of year--some quite suddenly--there was a huge loss of information and lack of training. It was up to youth staff members to carry the weight of that without the full support from adults that they deserved. We’re really proud of the work we did given the circumstances, but important pieces of information were lost. Staff worked well beyond their hours for months on end, learning how to run an organization while on the job, and making up for information and training that many adults hadn’t passed on. Adults and youth hadn’t actually been sharing power in the organization, so it was a hard transition.
We felt a lot of pressure from our community. We heard that people were asking questions about TYSN and what we were up to, but often those people didn’t come to us directly. This undermined the leadership of our youth directors and our right to speak for ourselves. Sometimes this felt passive aggressive, or like people around us were more interested in knowing the latest news than in supporting our organization in a really difficult, but exciting, moment.
The biggest lesson that we’ve learned along the way is that youth don’t need to be saved. Help us save ourselves. As young trans people, hungry to learn the skills to run an organization, we needed to rely on the adults within TYSN and our broader community for training. Sometimes adults responded by saying, “Let me do it for you,” and we didn’t learn anything. Sometimes they said, “You figure it out,” and we hustled (hard!) to teach ourselves. And sometimes adults said, “Let’s figure it out together. ” They sat with us, shared skills, asked good questions, built relationships, and kept coming back.
While we want to be real about what has been hard, we also want to shout out our supportive allies. To every person who has stood up for TYSN, shared their resources, challenged their own organization to truly support young trans people, volunteered, asked how they could help, treated our young leaders with respect, and challenged us to be the best we could be, we want to say thank you. We couldn't have done such brave work without you.
It takes leadership to run and manage an organization. It also takes leadership to know when to stop. We're closing TYSN to put an end to a harmful cycle--leaders working their hardest, and then burning out and failing to train future leaders, running an organization unsustainably--instead of allowing it to continue.
We celebrate TYSN for being a beacon and a new model for young trans people, and we stand fiercely behind the work we have done. Since our transition last summer we accomplished many things together! We wrapped up our strategic planning with an amazing new friend and mentor. We ran a second cohort of Leadership Academy where 5 new faces bulldozed through 26 intense weeks of leadership development. We worked hard on trying to get more funding. And we never gave up! We believe that to achieve safety, community, leadership and liberation for trans youth of color, we need to work against racism, adultism, misogyny and violence. In many of our hearts and bodies, this is common sense. In the world we live in, it’s a revolutionary message. Please continue to carry this message in your hearts -- we always will.
Jahleel, Jakob, La’Niya and Tayvon
Adrien, Eric, Lex, Riley and Star