CUNY Center for Community Media Lacks Regard for Socioeconomic Status, Disability When Planning Bias Events

Recently, The City University of New York Center for Community Media invited me to speak at a summit on hate crimes & media, covering my expenses & a $200 stipend. I booked train, planning on using the stipend to cover my wife’s ticket. I told them I would be doing this.

I followed up to confirm and clarify the hotels reimbursement caps. That’s when they tell me that they don’t have funding, disinvited me, & said ‘maybe’ they will cover train ticket.

So let’s review – a summit on hate crimes invited this queer lesbian blogger to travel to New York City in June (Pride Month) to talk about how the media engages hate crimes. My assumption is that they invited me because of my ten years of work documenting the murders of trans folx in the United States.

I would do anything to support those folx and their families. But what I can’t do is drop everything to travel to distant locales except in the most dire emergency. First of all, I am a disabled person and traveling triggers anxiety and trauma symptoms. I have to plan so I can have a successful trip. Second, I am not an affluent person. I am totally and permanently disabled according to the Social Security Administration which means I have an income of about $1000/month. So my wife and I live off one FT salary and about 40% of my last salary. Factor in that we are both women earning on average $.70 for each dollar a man earned and we are coping with socioeconomic disadvantages.

Don’t misunderstand. We are solid. We have good insurance, a good home, and we live a good life because my wife is a great money manager. What we don’t do is spontaneously spend hundreds of dollars for last minute trips or any trips. We can’t afford to lose the $400+ spent on nonrefundable tickets without taking a hit in our summer budget. Frankly, I can’t imagine a rich person would just let $400 slide either. But I wouldn’t know.

Planning a trip when are you not affluent means finding a pet sitter, planning vacation requests from work, dealing with the unknown hotel situation, and more. It means looking at the credit card balance and the planned expenditures for that time period.

Planning when you are disabled means more – can I manage a plane trip without an anxiety attack? Can I navigate luggage in a train station without a functioning elevator, What about the distance to the venue – will cabs pass me by for a short distance? Am I going to have access to water – can I bring my steel water flask into the building? Will I get to meals on time or will they be East Coast 11 PM dinners?

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It is just a lot of planning. It is doable, but it takes hours. I spent hours researching planes and trains, including my desire to keep the costs for CUNY to a minimum. And it was all for naught.

The folx who plan these events don’t seem aware of these issues. The irony of a hate crimes summit not taking socioeconomic and disability status into account is sad. But guess what classes are not covered by hate crimes law? It it illegal to deny me access to that elevator, but killing me for being disabled isn’t a problem?

Maybe the next CUNY workshop on hate crimes should consider that.

But it is not just them. I was invited by The Advocate to a luncheon to honor my inclusion in their 12 People of the Year in 2022. When I pointed out that traveling from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles includes some barriers, they promised to work it out. But they “were busy” too long and it was too late for my wife to request off work. Even thought I told them. And then when I couldn’t come, them promised some media coverage and that never came to fruition. It is like an award that never happened. Except I know who nominated me and why and no one can take that away from me.

What I loathe is being forced to beg for these supports. They should be offered up front with all the caveats in place. Here’s your travel fee, here’s your hotel cap and number of nights, here’s your meal stipend. Here’s your speaking stipend. And here’s what we’ll do if things go south.

I understand that small organizations have tight budgets, but unless they want a nonstop train of rich folx shaping their organization, they need to figure things out. As for CUNY, they just received $750k grant to address bigotry. They couldn’t find the funds for my little trip?

You’ll notice Cheryl Thomas-Morton didn’t commit to make me whole for my expenditures. She created extra barriers – first try to get refunded, then notify her, and then she’ll work to get it refunded. Does that sound like someone who is in touch with working class life?

No one is offering me the stipend to compensate me for the many hours I’ve spent on this and apparently will have to spend to get my train tickets reimbursed. Hours upon hours. The planning, the negotiations, the organizing, etc. All for a $200 stipend. And now the same in reverse to get my own money refunded. No one will compensate me for that time.

They treat me with contempt & disregard for my socioeconomic status. This is discriminatory and biased treatment.

I don’t want to grovel to Cheryl Thompson Morton or anyone at CUNY CCMNewmarkJ – they are all unprofessional and disrespectful to expect me to do MORE work to fix their error. The decent thing is to reimburse me in full and apologize. I’m sure they won’t but I’ll keep asking.

If you kick a lesbian off your hate criimes panel without explanation, that’s suspicious. They didn’t cancel the summit. They received an influx of money for this work. Why uninvite me?

Here in Pittsburgh recently, a local media panel didn’t even invite a LGBTQ voice to participate and no one noticed until I did. I don’t know if they included disability media. I’ll go look. I won’t be surprised if its a no go because the response to me was “We did some gay stuff earlier” and “this was very last minute.” All of that means that clearly we are not at the table. There’s no shame in excluding the most marginalized people from your planning.

I’ve spent far too much effort on this. I’m not accepting any future invites to panels, workshops, summits, discussions, etc. Not in other cities, not in Pittsburgh. I’m going to just keep blogging, period. People can read my blog if they want to know what I have to say on a given topic.

It feels awful to be ignored by my peers in Pittsburgh and also awful to be treated with contempt by an academic institution. I don’t need to open myself up to be treated so poorly by people with no regard for the very people they profess to represent.

I was never one who thought everyone should be compensated for community work – there’s a lot of value to be derived from service. I don’t think anyone is worth hundreds an hour much less thousands. But I do have a new appreciation for how those institutions rack up the money to pay the fees for the desirable ones.

Here are tips about treating people with dignity in these situations.

  • Always offer to cover travel expenses and lay out what that includes. Don’t wait to be asked. It is fine if you say “We can cover your travel expenses if needed.”
  • Be clear about deadlines and commitments. If you cancel on your end, how will you compensate the speaker/panelist for their lost time?
  • If something goes wrong, offer to cover expenses already laid out – tickets, reservations, etc. That’s just the decent thing to do.
  • Don’t assume your guests are able-bodied, white, cisgender men with big credit lines. Allow for the possibility that they may need support. You can politically ask “Are there any additional supports you’ll need” – for example someone may prefer to have someone walk with them from the hotel to the venue, can you send a grad student to do that? can you arrange for a rideshare? Can you meet them at the train station if the elevator is broken? Will you provide access to light refreshments in case someone needs to take medication during the panel?

The funny thing about this – not ‘ha ha’ funny – is that I have turned to a white cisgender man with power and influence to negotiate for me. It is like taking my brother to the car dealer to help me get a fair deal. Only by car dealer, I mean internationally renowned academic institution dedicated to eradicating bias and discrimination.

Isn’t that ironic?



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