Supporting a global trans community with a Twilio-powered system
Time to read: 3 minutes
In 2014, Trans Lifeline was founded as a peer-support and crisis hotline, and remains the only service in the country in which all operators are transgender. Their community of operators reaches more trans people than any other organization in North America, and to date, the organization has answered 88,290 calls from around the world.
In addition to its hotline support, the organization’s microgrants program—which has dispersed nearly $400,000 directly to trans people—gives low-barrier grants to trans people for legal name and gender marker changes, updated government identification documents, and specialized support for incarcerated and undocumented trans people. To do their critical work, and reach a global trans community, the organization relies on Twilio.
Creating community without borders
Trans people face challenges their cis gender peers may not understand; everything from barriers to healthcare, to stigma and harassment, to anti-transgender violence. Trans Lifeline was founded to help trans people reach a trans peer for shared lived experience, resources and crisis support. To that end, the staff oversees its hotline, provides quality assurance, and operates some calls, but it is primarily staffed by volunteers from across the US and Canada.
“A traditional PBX system in a call center wouldn’t work for us—we needed something that would enable us to do our work anywhere that facilitates distributed volunteer participation,” explained Trans Lifeline Technology Director Chris Garaffa.
IV Staklo, the hotline program director at Trans Lifeline, is responsible for the oversight of the hotline, quality assurance, volunteer recruitment and retention and training. He has trained more than 500 trans volunteer peer support operators from all over the U.S. and Canada and supervises a team of 14 staff across America.
When someone calls, Trans Lifeline uses Twilio’s conference feature to connect them to an operator, and also record the call. “Our operators can listen back on their calls and work with our QA team to continuously become better peer supporters,” Staklo said, and adds “We want trans people to be able to connect with another trans person irrespective of geography, because having trans community support is one of the best crisis prevention tools for trans people.”
“The entire Twilio experience is a 'magic moment.'”
Conversations with confidentiality and consent
Many of Trans Lifeline’s callers do not know another trans person and are experiencing isolation in rural areas.
“Because of the community we serve, we are exceedingly committed to anonymity and confidentiality for our callers, and our protocols around this distinguish us from other crisis and peer support hotlines,” Staklo explained.
Using Twilio, Trans Lifeline built a custom dashboard system for its operators to log their calls, review them by listening to their own recordings, and for its Quality Assurance (QA) team to easily gather statistics on types of calls and callers—all while guaranteeing total anonymity.
“The way we’ve built on Twilio’s platform, the operator and the caller never see each other’s phone numbers, giving both our callers and volunteer and staff operators confidence that their calls are anonymous,” Garaffa said.
Trans Lifeline further distinguishes itself as one of the only crisis hotlines in the country with a policy against non-consensual active rescue. This non-clinical approach means it does not call authorities without an explicit request from callers to do so. “Overall,” Garaffa added, “Twilio has allowed us to create an anonymous, confidential service for relatively low cost, especially compared to having a physical call center.”
It gets better
As Trans Lifeline believes, the epidemic of suicide in the trans community is inextricably tied to the economic justice issues trans people face at alarming rates, and meaningful emotional support often requires financial support as well. The Trans Lifeline Microgrants Program offers microgrants to trans people to pay for identification document changes, as well as providing commissary funds to incarcerated trans people. Being able to reach individuals through a variety of channels helps facilitate that support.
Trans Lifeline is using Twilio Programmable Messaging with masked phone numbers to gather information from Microgrants Program applicants, without requiring applicant or team members to exchange contact information directly. Trans Lifeline will also soon be offering specific microgrants to support minors and immigrants updating their documents to reflect their name and gender.
Looking ahead, Trans Lifeline is launching a Spanish language hotline this summer to meet the trans Latinx community’s need for support as they experience political targeting and detention.
“This program arose out of a need we identified when trans asylum seekers began reaching out to our services last year,” Staklo explained. The first year of Trans Lifeline’s Spanish-language services is funded by a Twilio.org impact grant, which supports organizations with communications strategies that make it easier for people to access services, engage with communities, or use technology to address urgent communications needs.
The reliability, flexibility, and scalability of Twilio empowers Trans Lifeline to grow its support network for the trans community—experiencing a 35 percent YoY increase in the number of calls it receives.
“The documentation is easy to follow, and adding new features to our system is never blocked because of a lack of features on Twilio. We also never have to worry about the hotline being unavailable due to a phone issue, which means that trans people who need to reach us know they can,” Stalko said.