Leading by Example: New youth directors to lead Trans Youth Support Network

Local trans youth can now officially turn to their peers for help in navigating a system they say doesn’t accommodate their needs.

On July 1, Trans Youth Support Network transitioned into a completely youth-led organization. Jahleel Princeton Arcani, TayvonCaples, La’Niya Dixon and Jakob Rumble took over the organization, replacing TYSN’s previous adult leaders Katie Burgess and Roxanne Anderson. Officials say the transition will allow TYSN to better support trans youth in the Twin Cities.

“We don’t just want to be serving youth,”Jakob Rumble said. “We want to be leading by example.”

Rumble took over as financial director, and said it’s important for young trans people to support other young trans people when it comes to navigating societal and governmental systems.

Trans youth face higher rates of poverty, higher drop-out rates, and more homelessness, he said, and they’re often forced into it.

Some of TYSN’s support services include learning how to acquire jobs properly, and offering advice on how to pass as cis-gender in order to apply for a name change.

Jahleel Princeton Arcani took over as the development and sustainability director, and said the group is excited about the change. The organization has always been youth-led since their board members must be under 30, he said, but this transition is the final push to a fully youth-led nonprofit.

“It’s been a dream of the people who started TYSN for it to be youth led,”Arcani said, noting the two top leaders weren’t youth. “Youth weren’t making those ultimate decisionsand I think that’s where the push came from.”

Before the current model the organization transitioned from executive director Katie Burgess to an interim executive director, Roxanne Anderson. TYSN then transitioned to a series of program coordinators before discovering that a large number of coordinators was not affective. TYSN decided to transition to the flat structure in place now where each director has different, but equal, work duties and an equal pay rate.

Consequently, TYSN is one of the few organizations in the United States to combine a youth led staff with a flat structure. “We’re doing sort of a revolutionary thing, if you want to use great words like that,” Rumble said.

The path leading to this leadership change was difficult, Rumble said, and each current TYSN director went through the TYSN Leadership Academy, a program designed to support trans and gender non-conforming youth in the development of life skills, and a rigorous planning process. “The four of us were the really dedicated people who stuck with TYSN,” Arcani added.“From that, we’re here.”

“A place to fit in”

Jahleel Princeton Arcani started his involvement with TYSN in 2012 when he moved to Minneapolis from Ohio. “I was just a young queer kid trying to find a place to fit in where I could find other young queer people to learn, grow and support each other,” he said.  “I found that in TYSN.”

Arcani began as an editor for the first round of TYSN’s Leadership Academy. During this time, then executive director Katie Burgess encouraged him to apply. Now as the development and sustainability director, he said, he connects with trans youth in the Twin Cities and works to implement ideas they have for TYSN.

“Sometimes they tell me I’m the glue. I do a little bit of everything,” Arcani said, before adding, “Literally a little bit, though.”

Jakob Rumble listed similar reasons for coming to TYSN. “I [was] looking for anything but what I had,” he said. “I guess I was one of those queer kids who really needed more queer kids.”

Rumble said his job at TYSN as financial director is mainly bookkeeping, mailing and office. While he doesn’t find it all that fun, he said, he does whatever he can to support the community.

Fundraising and communications director La’Niya Dixon said her involvement with TYSN began early on when violence was entering the transgender community, particularly for trans African Americans.

“One of our very first community led actions was a candle light vigil for a youth that was shot quite a few times and survived,” Dixon said. “From their dreaming of where TYSN wanted to be is where we went.”

The final member of the team, program director TayvonCaples, was unavailable for comment due to illness. His biography, found on TYSN’s website, states Caples joined the Leadership Academy within six months of discovering the organization. He uses his position to combine arts with community work in order to “create space for people to express their whole selves.”

Looking forward

Moving forward, the TYSN directors said there’s a new set of challenges as a youth-run organization.

The fact that they’re young has become an issue, Rumble said, and some funders view the new younger staff as a reason to pull funding.

Dixon said it was frustrating that they once needed to bring a grant writer to a meeting in order to prove a level of credibility to their funders.

Arcani said he often thinks about the challenge of how they’re perceived. “I already am trying to figure out how we survive if our community isn’t going to support us,” he said.

In the upcoming months TYSN will be organizing a series of peer-to-peer communication events, as well as an event organized by the new Leadership Academy. And in order to make the programs possible, TYSN will begin fundraising.

And while the transition has revealed a new layer of challenges, the new youth directors said the extra struggle is worth it.

When we say youth, we mean youth,” Dixon said. “We want to make sure that the voices that this is serving are coming from the voices that need it, not somebody that feels this is what you need because of your age or who you are.”

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