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Staff say the Trevor Project is in crisis

June 29, 2013, New York City: Members of The Trevor Project with their orange banner marching in the 2013 Gay Pride Parade on Fifth Avenue
June 29, 2013, New York City: Members of The Trevor Project with their orange banner marching in the 2013 Gay Pride Parade on Fifth Avenue Photo: Shutterstock

The Trevor Project is in crisis, according to many of the organization’s staffers, so they’ve decided to unionize.

As the LGBTQ+ community faces attacks on many fronts, the youth-centered organization, best known for its suicide hotline for queer youth, has been the target of right-wing groups focused on so-called “grooming” and indoctrination. It is also reeling from increased demand for services, as well as the recent dismissal of the organization’s CEO.

In 2022, Chaya Raichik’s LibsofTikTok took aim at the Trevor Project, calling it a “grooming organization” in a now-deleted tweet. 

Trevor has also come under assault from 4chan users clogging the organization’s hotline with fake calls, verbal abuse and death threats.

An app distributed to callers to erase chat histories came under far-right scrutiny as more “evidence” the Trevor Project was corrupting children.

Those attacks have come in the midst of both an exponential growth in demand — the Trevor Project fielded ten times as many calls in 2022 as it did in 2017 — and a crisis in the organization’s management.

In November, CEO Amit Paley was removed by the Trevor Project’s board of directors in response to a letter signed by over 200 employees expressing dissatisfaction with the organization’s rapid scale-up. Paley was replaced by co-founder Peggy Rajski as interim CEO.

The Trevor Project receives more than 200,000 calls a year (over 500 a day); runs a social media network called TrevorSpace; and conducts a widely resourced annual survey on youth mental health, the largest of its kind.

Now the sum of those services, the turmoil in management, and the outside attacks are taking a toll on the people at the Trevor Project’s frontlines, some 300 paid staff, along with over 700 volunteers.

“People get pretty worn out on doing this,” Sarah Hallock, a lead digital supervisor at the Trevor Project told Vice News, and “leadership has struggled to hear the voices of the people that are working on the frontlines and make meaningful changes.”

Hallock says that the support they’ve missed from management, “we hope to achieve through the union.”

The Trevor Project’s nascent guild, Friends of Trevor United, intends to unionize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). In a letter to interim CEO Rajski, the group cited a “supermajority” of Trevor’s 300-plus staffers supporting the move.

“We ask for voluntary recognition with deep respect for and commitment to The Trevor Project and its goals,” the organizing committee said in the letter.

Emma Turzillo, a training operations associate at the Trevor Project, said, “I know personally so many people who came to this work because Trevor’s saved their life at some point.”

“What we want to see is the continuation of that work and the improvement of it,” she added, “so that in another 25 years, there will be a generation of folks that have not only seen what the Trevor Project has done, but a unionized Trevor Project has done.”

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