Gay Desert Hot Springs

Nonprofit seeks to help relocate transgender, non-binary residents of ‘dangerous states’

Posted on May 17, 2023

The timeline for implementing the project relies entirely on donations. As soon as the first $47,000 is raised, the first family could be relocated.

WWW.THEPALMSPRINGSPOST.COM BY KENDALL BALCHAN ● NEWS ● MAY 17, 2023

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Jacob Rostovsky, CEO and founder of Queer Works, speaks to the Desert Stonewall Democrats Tuesday evening. (Photo courtesy Desert Stonewall Democrats)

Over the past several years, Republican-controlled state houses have advanced legislation that targets transgender and non-binary people, in particular transgender minors. Hundreds of pieces of anti-trans legislation are making their way through state House and Senate committees.

Now, the CEO of a local nonprofit has come up with an innovative solution to help transgender and non-binary people in some of those states. 

On Tuesday night, Jacob Rostovsky, the CEO and founder of Queer Works, a local LGBTQ+ mental health and homeless outreach nonprofit, spoke to the Desert Stonewall Democrats at their monthly meeting to introduce a new project he’s fundraising for: the Trans and Non-Binary Sanctuary Program.

The goal, Rostovsky says, is to take advantage of Palm Springs’ “status as a safe haven” for trans and non-binary people, by relocating them from “dangerous states” and providing them with a safe place to live. To do that, Rostovsky has set a fundraising goal of $755,000, which the group says will cover rent, relocation and other expenses and fees for 15 families. For each additional $47,000 raised, the group says they will be able to help another family.

The fundraising will all be done privately, Rostovsky says, so that the group won’t be tied up by strict state grant rules that would limit exactly how the money is spent. Private fundraising also gives Rostovsky the freedom to target the exact communities he hopes to help, he said. 

Affordable housing is already tough to come by in Palm Springs, but Rostovsky said he has experience navigating the complex, and often frustrating, world of housing, because of previous Queer Works efforts to help local trans and non-binary people find housing. 

“It’s really about building relationships with landlords and people who have housing,” he said. Rostovsky has explored unconventional housing solutions, including contacting people with Airbnbs, and renting casitas from landlords who only live in the area for a few months out of the year.

The timeline for implementation of the project relies entirely on donations, he said. As soon as the first $47,000 is raised, Rostovsky will begin moving in the first family. The families will be served on a first-come, first-served basis.

About 30 families have applied so far, many of whom are from Florida, Texas and Idaho. Many of them are families with trans children. “These families are so afraid of being separated from their child,” Rostovsky said, referencing state laws that could classify giving transgender children trans-affirming healthcare as child abuse.

The idea for the project was sparked by Rostovsky’s recent vacation to Florida — one that he said he almost canceled amid the increase in hostility from the state’s legislature toward transgender people. Rostovsky, himself a transgender man, had real concerns about his safety. “I could have potentially been put in prison as a sex offender,” he said.

While Rostovsky considered canceling his trip, he couldn’t help but think about the trans and non-binary people who lived there and had no exit strategy.

“Speak up for what you believe in. Write letters, share on Facebook. You might reach somebody who can make a difference, who can vote to save lives.”— Jacob Rostovsky, CEO and founder of Queer Works

“I realized I was so privileged to be considering canceling my vacation, when there are people living there who can’t get their basic care needs met,” he said. 

The visit ended up paying off, because it was in Florida, and after speaking with local trans people, that the idea came to him. “I met so many trans people who were half-jokingly asking me if they could come back with me,” he said. 

Rostovsky also has advice for Californians who don’t think these types of laws could happen in this state: “These things can happen at the county level,” he said. School boards in western Riverside County, for example, have become influencedby evangelicals who want to ban the teaching of anything involving race or sex, and a state lawmaker representing Riverside recently introduced a bill that would require schools to notify parents if their child identifies as transgender.

“People were very complacent when all this started to happen, that’s why it’s gone so far,” he said.

As for those who feel helpless against the onslaught of news from other states hoping to ban transgender care: “If you have family members in states where this is happening, try and educate and encourage them to vote against these politicians,” he said. 

“Speak up for what you believe in. Write letters, share on Facebook. You might reach somebody who can make a difference, who can vote to save lives.”

Author

KENDALL BALCHAN

Kendall was born and raised in the Coachella Valley and brings deep local knowledge and context to every story. Before joining The Post she spent three years as a producer and investigative reporter at NBC Palm Springs. She attended both College of the Desert and the University of Oregon.