Shelly Baker, a Houston-based community organizer and co-founder of Say Her Name Texas, looks for a couple of key features when sussing out whether or not a mutual aid organization, or a collective that crowdfunds for resources to give to individuals in need, is “scammy.” A social media page devoid of photos showing the group’s organizers makes Baker raise an eyebrow. But organization administrators turning down requests to chat with community members via phone and engaging in threatening behavior, like doxxing by posting other’s identifying information online?
That’s “a big red flag.”
Baker first saw requests for donations from Black Trans Texas Connection (BTTC), a shelter in Houston for Black trans women who are “survivors of violence,” in summer 2021. She asked friends and connections in the Texas LGBTQ mutual aid and advocacy community about the BTTC. Nobody had heard of them.
Baker reached out to the BTTC herself to set up a phone call. In response, the group wanted to know if she wanted to talk because she had heard “slander lies” about the BTTC.
“Again, red flag,” Baker told the Daily Dot.
After Baker publicly discussed her suspicions about the BTTC on TikTok in August, the group doxxed her by posting a screenshot of Baker’s license plate and called her an “#oppressor #capitalism #transphobic person.”
The Black Trans Texas Connection says it’s a collective of trans women of color who operate and reside in Thrive House, a shelter that they say is located in Houston. Sarah Pope and Maxine Baldwin have been credited in the Texas Tribune and Them, respectively, as the group’s founders, and Baldwin said that the group was started in 2020. The BTTC created its Instagram account (@blacktranstexasconnection), which is its primary form of communication in March 2021. The group also has a Twitter account and an online store that isn’t active.
Despite its multi-platform presence, mutual aid activists in Texas and Louisiana aren’t sure if the BTTC is run by Black trans women, or if the group actually redistributes funds to Black trans women or houses them in Thrive House. Mutual aid collectives in Texas and Louisiana say that they have been harassed by the BTTC. In interviews conducted by the Daily Dot with Texas and Louisiana-based organizers, many said that despite having corresponded with the BTTC, they were never able to speak with the group on the phone or verify the group’s existence.
When the BTTC’s legitimacy was questioned, the organizers that the Daily Dot spoke with said that the BTTC engaged in scare tactics to quell suspicion, like posting photos of people like Baker alongside their social media handles to make them a target.
The BTTC has received over $12,500 from mutual aid organizations, according to statements shared by organizations publicly and with the Daily Dot. According to the BTTC itself, the organization raised $100,000 via SpotFund and Instagram in order to purchase Thrive House.
If the BTTC isn’t who it says it is, organizers worry money that could have gone to people in need, like Black trans women in the Houston area, has been used elsewhere.
A source from a prominent Texas collective, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being posted about by the BTTC negatively, told the Daily Dot that when they first heard about the BTTC in summer 2021, they doubted that the group was run by “real people” because of its strange and hostile behavior.
The source said the BTTC asked for funds many times and that messages they received from the group were “basically word salad.” In screenshots provided to the Daily Dot by the source, the BTTC referred to a Black trans woman as a “Black trans” on their Instagram story; emails from the BTTC shown in screenshots from the source repeat sentences verbatim.
“Black liberation will never be possible without uplifting and protecting Black transgender people and communities,” reads an email received by the source from the BTTC. That sentence is repeated two sentences after the first.
The BTTC sent the source a lease allegedly for Thrive House in order to verify its location, and the source said that their organization sent the BTTC $1,400—$200 for each of the seven people the BTTC said lived in the residence—despite their doubts. In an Instagram direct message to the Daily Dot, the BTTC said they would send the Dot the lease, as well. At the time of publication, the lease had not been received.
The source said when the BTTC later applied for aid from the organization using JotForm, a customizable form and survey platform, the address on the group’s application was different from that of Thrive House. Plus, Jotform notified the organization that the application’s IP address was in Georgia. IP addresses reveal one’s geolocation, meaning the application was submitted from Georgia. The source said because the BTTC had already proved they lived in Texas through their lease, an application submitted out of state was suspicious.
As a result of the conflicting information they received from the BTTC, the source said that they attempted to talk with the BTTC on the phone. Many mutual aid organizations exist outside of corporate and governmental spheres, so the source wasn’t going to verify the BTTC’s location and identity by asking for identification materials; a phone call would have sufficed.
But the source said the BTTC refused to talk on the phone until more money was sent. The source also said that the BTTC posted about wanting to dox them, sent the source many emails and Instagram direct messages, and publicly said the source’s organization needed to disband.
“What they were doing was genuinely harassment at all hours of the day,” the source told the Daily Dot. They also said that the optics of questioning the validity of the BTTC, a group that says they are trans women of color in need, made things particularly difficult. “[The BTTC] really capitalize[s] off of this identity to be able to get people to rally around them,” the source said.
The source isn’t the only one who says they’ve had adverse experiences with the BTTC. In statements to the Daily Dot, both Mutual Aid Louisiana and Future Front, a Texas-based nonprofit that creates spaces and provides resources for female and/or LGBTQ creators, said that the BTTC “harassed” their staff. For Future Front, that harassment occurred through “a high frequency of Instagram DMs + comments, emails, TikTok comments.”
Future Front, which told the Daily Dot that it worked with the BTTC for two months “at the request of For the Gworls,” an organization that fundraises for Black trans people, also said that it “cannot verify The Thrive House or Black Trans Texas Connection’s operations.”
Verifying who is behind the BTTC and Thrive House has been an issue for other groups, as well. In direct messages shown to the Daily Dot by Baker, the co-founder of Say Her Name TX, between her and the Dallas Liberation Movement (DLM), the DLM said that it wasn’t able to “secure a meeting” with the BTTC after the group “almost demand[ed]” money from them.
In screenshots provided to the Daily Dot by a source who asked to remain anonymous, Harm Redux Houston, a sex worker-run collective that serves sex workers who are Black, indigenous, and people of color and Black trans women, posted on their stories that they could not “vouch for” the BTTC. (Harm Redux Houston and Dallas Liberation Movement did not respond to the Daily Dot’s requests for comment.)
Brandon Mack, a lead organizer from Black Lives Matter Houston, told the Daily Dot that when he reached out to the BTTC via Instagram direct message, he never heard back (the BTTC doesn’t provide any other point of contact on its page). Mack also said that when he asked Black trans activists he’s worked with in Texas about the BTTC, they didn’t have “any recognition” of the group. He found that surprising.
“We’re a relatively close-knit group,” Mack told the Daily Dot of the Houston LGBTQ organizing community. “We want to make sure that [the BTTC is] actually supporting the community, rather than using this as an opportunity to take advantage of the community.”
Ziggy Christian, a two spirit person who says that the BTTC helped them by sending money, said that the BTTC is certainly supporting the queer community.
“Black Trans women are dying every day,” Christian told the Daily Dot via Instagram direct message. “I’m appalled your outlet is targeting [the BTTC] for further abuse based on ‘speculation’ from known racists.”
Still, publications have had their doubts about the BTTC, too. In July, Them, an online publication that covers the LGBTQ community, interviewed BTTC co-founder Baldwin via email about the group’s beginnings and the group’s struggle to secure funds as they “face eviction.”
“Perhaps like me you are tired of suffering and talking about suffering,” Baldwin reportedly told Them. “Of being up to your neck in suffering, of counting the rains of blood, but not the rains of flowers.”
After the article was published on Aug. 1, Them announced that the publication “was made aware of concerns surrounding the veracity of details quoted in the piece.” Them removed the article from its website, “because those details, which were crucial to the story, could not be verified.” Them did not respond to the Daily Dot’s multiple requests for comment via email.
In addition, the Daily Dot discovered that two photos provided by the BTTC to Them shown in the article are stock images. The article’s cover photo, which Them captioned “Courtesy of Black Trans Texas Connection,” shows Black hands on top of each other and is a stock photo. The other photo featured in Them’s article shows four Black individuals and is captioned “Organizers from the BTTC.” However, the image is actually from Lexi Webster’s “T4T” Photo Collection for Canva.
Quinn Bishop, a mutual aid and grassroots organizer based in New Orleans, accused the BTTC of being a “scam” in a series of TikTok and YouTube videos posted in July and August. In an interview with the Daily Dot, Quinn accused the BTTC of being “definitively fake” and noted other stock imagery used on the BTTC’s Instagram account.
In a now-deleted Instagram post from June 29, the BTTC said that its rent was due on July 1 and that the group had $1,204 left to raise. The post also shows a photo of a red brick house, which Bishop pointed out is a stock image in her YouTube video, “On How We Took Down A Mutual Aid Scam,” about the BTTC.
“They posted an image of basically some random house that you can find if you look up ‘brick house’ on Google,” Bishop says in her YouTube video. In the Daily Dot’s search for “brick house” on Google Images, the stock photo was the sixth result. In any case, the BTTC could have posted a stock image of a house in an effort to not disclose its location for safety.
The Daily Dot analyzed photos posted by the BTTC of its founder, Sarah Pope, on a 2021 GoFundMe page and two Instagram posts each showing alleged residents of Thrive House posted on Instagram in August. All three images seemed to be original to the BTTC.
Bishop’s YouTube video about the BTTC also claims the group is connected to a man named Volkan Kaban. According to his LinkedIn profile, Kaban is a “real estate professional” based in Cypress, a city outside of Houston. His profile on Realtor.com says he is associated with Walzel Properties; Walzel denied that Kaban is part of its company. When the Daily Dot called the phone number listed on Kaban’s profile, the man who answered the phone hung up after the reporter identified themselves.
In the BTTC’s first Instagram post from March 29, 2021, Bishop shows that the group used the hashtags #VolkanKabanRealor, #VolkanKabanMarketplace, #CypressArea, #MutualAidTexas, and #TheCrimeRecord, among others. In an Instagram direct message to the Daily Dot, an unknown representative for the BTTC said it did not know who Volkan Kaban is. When pointed to the hashtags in the account’s first post, the representative said the BTTC doesn’t have “any connection” to Volkan Kaban.
As Bishop pointed out, Mutual Aid Texas is a Facebook page that describes itself as “homeless prevention disaster recovery jobs education foods, utility & rent assistance emergency relief fund business reviews,” and the page’s cover photo also advertises a “premium membership” to the group for $10.
The Daily Dot found that Mutual Aid Texas’s Facebook page has 11 administrators and moderators, among them “Volkan Kaban,” “Volkan Kaban,” “Volkan Kaban Realtor,” “Volkan Kaban, Homes”—all of which have the same profile photo—”Volkan Kaban, Realtor,” “Cypress Area,” and another page also called Mutual Aid Texas.
The second page named Mutual Aid Texas began posting donation-based content on Feb. 20, 2021. In August and September 2020, the page posted content with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter, videos about “Antifa members” attacking people in “patriotic gear,” and an “active riot alert” in Minneapolis that involved “looting.”
According to Facebook’s “Page Transparency” information, the second Mutual Aid Texas page is managed by “Volkan Kaban, DBA” and was created on May 31, 2020. When the page was created, it was initially named “The Crime Records,” and then The Crime Record, which is one of the hashtags used on the BTTC’s first Instagram post.
Bishop and other sources also provided the Daily Dot screenshots of BTTC’s past Instagram stories. In one photo, the BTTC says it’s fundraising for Mutual Aid Louisiana, an organization that told the Daily Dot that it had been “harassed” by the BTTC, during Hurricane Ida. In another, the BTTC says that Mutual Aid Louisiana called the group “fruit fairy fagit” and that the organization is “a fraud.” In a screenshot provided to the Daily Dot by an anonymous source, the BTTC posted alleged messages between the group and Mutual Aid Louisiana.
According to interviews conducted by the Daily Dot and Bishop’s video, Mutual Aid Louisiana did not have the BTTC fundraise on its behalf. As for what happened to the funds that the BTTC raised, Bishop shared with the Daily Dot a screenshot of a Venmo transaction that shows @blacktransconnection redistributing 15 cents for “Ida hurricane relief” to a contact of Bishop’s who preferred to remain anonymous. A similar screenshot was also shared with the Daily Dot from another source who preferred to remain anonymous.
“They were sending 15 cents to people begging for food, begging for gas, trying to escape for their lives,” Bishop says in her YouTube video. “The idea that people would take a life or death situation and take it as an opportunity to profit makes me so deeply disgusted to my core.”
In an Instagram direct message, the BTTC told the Daily Dot it would send “confirmation” to show they had redistributed more than 15 cents during Hurricane Ida. At the time of publication, the Dot had not received that information.
Bishop told the Daily Dot that she estimates that the BTTC took “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from people actually in need. Because of her public statements about the BTTC, the BTTC doxxed Bishop by posting her job alongside her photo and social media handles on their Instagram.
Many of the organizers the Daily Dot spoke with felt it was not “their place” to publicly speculate about the allegations surrounding the BTTC because they are not Black and/or trans themselves. In her YouTube video, Bishop, who is trans, says she thinks cisgender people were scared to “put [themselves] out there” and speak out about the BTTC for “fear of being cancelled.”
Bishop seems to be correct. The BTTC didn’t make things easy for those who spoke up about the group’s behavior publicly: The BTTC posted on Instagram saying that Bishop and Baker, who is cisgender, were transphobic.
Race plays a part, too. The BTTC claimed that Bishop was racist for calling them out and called Baker, who is Black, “a white passing cis” who “thinks it is okay to defame and discredit Black trans orgs.” The BTTC also accused Bishop and Baker of being paid to make TikToks about them; both Bishop and Baker denied the allegations.
Regardless of an individual’s identities, accountability and transparency from mutual aid organizations are vital, Bishop says in her YouTube video—“because something like this might happen again.”
And the allegations of impersonation hit the hardest.
In his interview with the Daily Dot, Mack of Black Lives Matter Houston emphasized that the BTTC’s supposed identity represents Black trans women, who are “an extremely marginalized and targeted community in the U.S.”
“They are already in need of resources and even more attention to the issues going on within their communities,” Mack told the Daily Dot. “That they have someone or somebody using them as a platform to personally financially benefit is just horrendous.”
Update 2:49pm CT, Oct. 12: Following the publication of this article, Black Trans Texas Connection (BTTC) and For the Gworls (FTG) both issued statements addressing concerns about the BTTC via social media.
In an Instagram story, the BTTC alleged that the Daily Dot did not contact them prior to publishing. The Daily Dot contacted the BTTC via Instagram direct message on Sept. 27; the BTTC responded on Sept. 28. The BTTC offered to send the Daily Dot materials to verify its existence and legitimacy. After the Daily Dot provided contact information, the BTTC did not send any information.
In an Instagram post from Oct. 6, the BTTC alleges that the Daily Dot said it would make a “public apology” to the BTTC. No Daily Dot reporter or representative made a promise of an apology, public or otherwise.
The BTTC has posted screenshots of what the organization says is a contract between the BTTC and Future Front Texas, signed by Sarah Pope and a representative for Future Front in November 2021.
The post also included screenshots of PayPal transactions that the BTTC described as “transparency records.” The screenshots do not show which PayPal account sent the money, nor do they show to whom the money was sent.
In a public statement posted on the For the Gworls (FTG) Instagram on Oct. 4, founder Asanni Armon stated that FTG is no longer affiliated with the BTTC.
“For the Gworls cannot speak to the work BTTC is currently doing, as we have not had consistent communication with them in a year,” Armon said.
Armon’s statement says that FTG held Google meet calls with the BTTC that were always with “the same person, who was indeed a Black trans woman.” Armon also said that because FTG was “never” the BTTC’s fiscal sponsor, the organization does not have access to the BTTC’s financial records.
The statement details that FTG has reached out to the BTTC—as recently as Sept. 30–“to verify current leadership and discuss any changes in organizational mission.”
“Every time we’ve reached out, we’ve been ignored, provided with an excuse as to why they are not able to meet, or they would simply not show up to our video calls at the scheduled time,” Armon said in the FTG statement.
Armon also said the group doesn’t “wish to disparage the BTTC,” and that FTG is “not here to push the narrative further that they are stealing resources.”
“We have decided that until Black Trans Texas Connection is responsive to our outreach efforts, FTG will no longer be associated with them as a partner or ally,” Armon said.