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  • Samira Burnside

Lindsey Spero on Facing Threats Within Our Community

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

On February 10th, Lindsey Spero, a Floridian queer activist, made the long drive from St. Petersburg to Tallahassee in the early hours of the morning. There, they stood before the Board of Medicine and showed them what trans healthcare actually looked like by performing his weekly hormone shot and raising his fist in solidarity with trans youth everywhere, who were threatened by the policy the Board was debating. But, if you follow the fight for trans rights in Florida at all, this is a story you know. Florida is a state ruled by republicans, many of which have wished to limit or restrict the rights of lgbt youth. Activists like Lindsey have fought them tooth and nail every step of the way, but Lindsey has been embroiled in another fight as well. Before Lindsey became popular as a symbol of trans resistance for his display at the Board of Medicine meeting, he fought a quieter, less glamorous fight for trans youth, not against the state, but against Metro Inclusive Health, an organization that purports to serve LGBTQ+ people in his community.


But first, let’s talk about Lindsey himself.



 

Lindsey is a 25 year old “nonbinary and transgender human” and a “local advocate for gender-expansive people”. He’s volunteered and worked for a number of Queer organizations, such as campOUT Florida and Metro Inclusive Health. He was also awarded the title of “Member of the Board of Directors” of the Fitzlane project, a project which pays for gender therapy for trans youth, in September of 2022. He is, by definition, a true grassroots activist, with an emphasis on investing in his own community and the local leaders within it.


Lindsey started their work relationship with Metro Inclusive health in June of 2022, and was terminated in January, but their history with the company dates back to the latter months of 2021, where they began volunteering for the company. Signed on as a LGBTQ+ programs specialist, he organized events such as “Youth Nights”, social gatherings for LGBTQ youth, as well as other events, while also working on transgender outreach.


Metro Inclusive Health as an organization would seem to be a Queer activists dream. It was an organization seemingly aimed towards providing healthcare and social opportunities for all LGBTQ people, transgender or not. Lindsey says in an interview that, “: Everyone there is very very nice, and most people that work in that place and in that building are very kind to one another and care about each other a lot and generally make the actual workspace a pleasant place to be in, especially because a lot of them are queer themselves and they came to work for a queer organization because they’re queer and because they believed in the greater mission of what they believed metro was trying to do. They’ll do lunches once in a while during the week. They’ll do a lot of things to make people feel like they’re happy and at home when their policies are very much the other way.”



 

Just a few months ago, Metro sent out calls to trans youth and their parents. These calls said that “Ron Desantis” had created a law that had banned metro from serving trans youth, and that there was “nothing they could do” and that they were “so sorry they are doing this to you”. This was a blatant lie. While the policy that the Board of Medicine is working on will stop places like Metro from accepting new youth patients for HRT, that policy has still not gone into place and patients already on HRT would be grandfathered in, and would still be allowed to get care. After there was protest from local activists and organizations like Equality Florida were alerted about the situation, Metro came out with a new, even more discriminatory rule: Trans youth would no longer get care, and they would also no longer get the Sliding Scale payment option offered to them.


For the uninitiated, the sliding scale fee model is a system of payment for medical services that adjusts based on the income level of the person receiving care. This is interlocked with something metro calls the “coPAY it Forward” plan, a plan that lets insured patients use their copayments to help uninsured patients. Due to the fact that a lot of trans people in Florida have low-income rates, this has always been seen as a great boon to the community, helping lower income LGBTQ people get the care that they deserve.


So, in the wake of the greatest wave of anti-trans legislation the U.S has ever seen, Metro drops this blatantly discriminatory policy that gatekeeps trans adults from healthcare based on income. But, when I asked Lindsey if he noticed any changes in metro’s policy over the 8 months that he worked there, they had this to say:


“Oh big time. One of the most large and notable ones was right after hurricane Ian when metro decided to lay off 20 plus staff across locations, and they said that it was due to a lack of grant funding and budget cuts. But the problem is that it's not consistent with what we heard, not just from the finance department but the fact that multiple positions and people were cut from different departments indicates that it’s not a singular grant or multiple grants that we lost, it indicates a lot of financial mismanagement. Shortly after that, our entire HR department quit, essentially in protest or out of frustration, I’m assuming, so there hasn’t been HR, which is a violation of labor law I believe. So there’s literally been no HR department, not to mention the fact that when the HR department was there they were specifically instructed by leadership not to properly offer people disability, not to offer PTO in the right ways, they were, they were being strong armed by leadership. And these are just stories I’ve heard from people across the board. Anyway, all those people getting fired and HR quitting was a huge deal. As soon as me and (coworker) and (coworker) and everyone else noticed in August or September that they were starting to indicate that they were going to make changes towards trans healthcare, obviously we’ve been talking about that since that time, but they indicated that very quickly; that proposed change. They definitely have like, anyone who’s worked there will tell you they quite rabidly encourage you to not interact with any other department and not talk to anyone outside your department and like, doing so in a threatening way, basically, it’s really strange. “


When asked to specify what he meant by Metro enforcing their strict communication rules in a threatening way, he said this:


“I mean the amount of times I was told to like, to stay in your lane, don’t go outside your lane, if you have questions ask your director and we’ll figure it out for you type of thing. I was consistently encouraged when I would go to the prevention and sexual health department or I would go to billing or I would go to another department and ask questions that that was bad and that was wrong and I was definitely warned like “if you keep doing this you’re gonna get in trouble”



(Audio Recording of my Interview with Lindsey Spero)


Anyone who’s worked in a corporate environment will tell you that communication is a weapon. A lot of companies will enforce rules that stop employees from talking openly about their wages to stop the threat of unionization, or to stop the spread of information that could harm the company. When I spoke with Lindsey and other workers at Metro, it became very clear that communication was stifled and controlled. While the call-workers might know that metro had stopped serving trans youth, the doctors that were treating them did not.


As mentioned earlier, Lindsey’s time at Metro Inclusive Health came to an end in January of 2023 when he was terminated. When I asked for the reason for his sudden termination, he said the following:


“I understand it to be multi-faceted, the way that I would best explain it was that they needed a formal, like written and read tag type reason for them to fire me. And for them what they considered that to be was a violation of their culture and social media policies is what they told me. They felt that I wasn’t a good fit based on things I shared privately that they had somehow gotten ahold of on my social media account. But the thing is that was post several incredibly heated conversations between my directors and I in which I pretty much said verbatim that what they were saying about trans youth was incorrect, that what they were saying about the ruling was incorrect and their actions were despicable, so I knew it was only a matter of time.”


 


So, Lindsey was removed from his post for speaking truth to power, and that was that. After all, nobody could force metro to service trans youth or remove their discriminatory policies, we could only ever demand transparency. But, in the wake of everything else, this fight with Metro began to feel… small.


During a time when trans rights are under attack from nearly every angle, between right wing celebrities pushing hate, more anti-trans bills introduced than any year before, and even democrats like Hillary Clinton thinking about dropping trans people as an issue, what is the importance of holding places like Metro accountable? What’s the point?


Lindsey says, “I think that the reason we should hold metro accountable and the reason we’re talking about this is because this is a part of our community, and there’s someone who’s actively promoting themselves and talking about themselves as a trans inclusive organization here within our community. So while this might not be something that makes national press releases or catches the eye of anyone super important, it does matter that here in our community we hold these type of organizations accountable if they are going to so verbally claim that they are using money and using funds and using their time and their resources to care for the trans community and then quite literally doing the opposite of that. I think it’s our responsibility to call that out, even if the organization is a good organization and is still doing good and is still caring for a part of our community it’s still important to hold them accountable.”



 

In a time when the queer community is more fractured than ever (look at the LGB, drop the T movement, for example), it’s important that we band together, that the organizations that say they care for us actually do. If we can’t hold each other responsible, how will we ever hold the systems and people that hurt us responsible for their actions?


But, that is the question, isn’t it? How will we hold them responsible? Now, two weeks after the Board of Medicine’s decision to remove the clinical trial clause from their policy (meaning that, if passed, Trans youth not already enrolled in gender affirming healthcare will have no recourse besides going out of the state) and organizations like Metro and Johns Hopkins having seemingly already given up the fight, what does the future of trans activism even look like?


Lindsey says, “I mean, I think you know better than me Samira that I don’t think this fight is going to stop or end or come to a standstill anytime soon. I think that people like our governor are being empowered by the voices around him and in our communities unfortunately. These really loud voices are being empowered like every single day. We live in a state where there’s been historical patterns of discrimination especially against our black and brown siblings for much longer than we’ve even been here. And I really do believe that given any opportunity there’s a lot of people out there that would choose to continue to push those- not just these harmful policies but just violent rhetoric towards us and against us. And I also think that in situations like that is when our community finds itself the most and we are able to thrive and we are able to create systems of resistance. (laugh) It’s hard to know fully what comes next with the board of medicine, there will be further hearing, we’re probably going to challenge it at higher court, it’s not going to immediately go into effect. However the fact that it is being written and that they’re encouraging medical providers to quite literally do the opposite of immediate healthcare for youth is horrible. It’s our job as trans people, as trans siblings, as queer people, as allies as people that want bodily autonomy to stand up and fight against this because It won’t just start and stop with trans kids, they’re gonna come for you next, whoever you are.”


The future is uncertain, but there are steps to be taken still. Activists will show up to every hearing and every debate over the policy, and they will speak and they will use their voices and they will try to change it. In times like this, it is of the utmost importance that we hold the people who say they are our allies accountable, because we need every ally we can get.



 

But, why fight so hard? Why should allies join the fight? The fight for Trans Rights is a hard fight, and everyday feels like a setback, what is the importance of this fight?


According to Lindsey, “... the battle for trans rights is everyone’s battle because our fight is intersectional.” He continues, “Like I was saying before it’s not just a matter of trans kids getting access to this medication as necessary and as good as that is, this is more than that. It's a fight for bodily autonomy, a fight for our individuality as human beings. There should never be laws in a place of government that regulate and legislate who people are. So, we’re quite literally on the foreground place in Florida of this battle ground of basic human rights.”


In the face of state bodies that want to restrict our rights, and companies like Metro leeching off of our communities, the fight seems impossible to win, impossible to aid in. It’s such a big fight, it’s multifaceted in so many ways. Lindsey says that the best way to start isn’t by flocking to the big organizations like Metro, but instead by investing in local organizations and community building.


“The reason I say and suggest that is because as we find safety and support and resources within one another we are going to be able to have the ability to build out beyond and past these capitalistic resources and especially push past like a lot of the discrimination that we’re facing. Because if a capitalistic system is not going to give us the medication and give us the resources that we need we are going to have to quite literally source those ourselves.” Lindsey says, before beginning to list the groups that are doing this important work: “I would say support local trans based organizations that are doing the work right here right now to support trans youth. Support the fitzlane project, support campOUt Florida, support your local p-flag chapter, if you’re in Orlando support the Zebra coalition, if you’re in Jacksonville support the Amber house, I know there’s more in Miami, I know there’s youth in sarasota, I know there’s queer expressions here in St. Pete, we got mama Ashley Rose doing drag bingo for youth and taking a lot of heavy attacks for that right now. Those are the people and the organizations and the groups that need our support. They need us to show up to their events, they need us to put our money where our mouth is if you’re someone who has that and if you can’t, because a lot of us don’t, just offer your time, offer your encouragement, and let a trans kid in your life know how much they mean to you.”


(Audio Recording of my Interview with Lindsey Spero)


"Because if a capitalistic system is not going to give us the medication and give us the resources that we need we are going to have to quite literally source those ourselves.”

 

Trans people are everywhere. We are in cities thick with people, we are in rural towns, sparse and isolated. We are in food service and we are in sports. We are writers and we are filmmakers, we are activists and we are federal employees. If you look you will find us, in our alcoves and organizations, and you will see us fighting, everywhere, everywhere. We are here in Florida, fighting for youth, we are in North Dakota at every hearing, we are in Arkansas where they have already banned care for some of us, we are in Utah, fighting each law and each policy every step of the way, always.


And those fights, those fights with the people that wish to ban our existence, that wish to ban our care, those fights should be what we pour all of our energy into. We should not have to fight organizations in our own community who claim to care for us. Our enemies are already vast and many, we don’t need more. There are trans youth and their parents who have, based on misinformation that places like Metro put out, considered or are leaving the state. Vultures and predators in our community deserve just as much attention and vigor as people like the Board of Medicine, at least the BoM is honest about how they feel about trans people. But often, these fights get less attention, and the people that do stand up and fight are silenced, fired or placated. This is why Lindsey, a month after his termination, still fighting this fight among everything else, is so important.


At last, I asked Lindsey what he would say if he could speak to trans people everywhere, including youth, and he said this:


“Honestly I would probably tell yall how much I love you and how proud I am of you, because that’s not something that any of us hear nearly enough and I know for a fact it’s not something I hear nearly enough. (and) I would tell yall that it’s truly one of the greatest honors of my life to be in community with each and every one of you and that there has never been anything so life saving as the joy that I have found in trans community and in my trans siblings. Y’all are the lifeblood that runs through my veins.”



(Audio Recording of my Interview with Lindsey Spero)


 


-Metro Inclusive Health was Contacted for comment on this piece via phone and email. As of publication they have not responded.

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