Thomas von Foerster

This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity. Some of the content may be triggering for survivors.

In 1978, Thomas von Foerster moved to New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood as a 37-year-old gay man in search of others like him. He soon found community in the Chelsea Gay Assocation (CGA), a social group for gay men. His involvement in the association quickly grew, and he became treasurer as well as the editor of the monthly newsletter with over 1000 members.

When queer men began to face violent attacks coming to and from the gay bars on the westside of Manhattan, some in the CGA rallied to support the survivors. As the editor of the newsletter and keeper of the checkbook, Thomas found himself by happenstance in a unique position to promote the beginnings of what would become the Anti-Violence Project (AVP).

What led to the formation of AVP and how were you involved?

Back in the early eighties, there was a community group called the Chelsea Gay Assocation started by Arthur Goodman and a couple of his friends. When I moved to New York in ‘78, they were just getting started and I joined up because I lived in Chelsea at the time. In the earlier eighties, the gay bars by the water front, The Eagle, The Spike, The Cock — serious leather bars were down there. To get there from the rest of the city you had to walk past the big housing projects that were along the river there. There were several really nasty attacks. When a couple of people in the CGA went to talk to the cops about these attacks, the cops claimed they had never heard about them. The CGA started helping people go to the cops, file complaints, and then follow up to make sure the complaints weren’t just filed away in the wastebasket.  They asked if they could use the answering service from the CGA as a hotline for people who were attacked.

The two people who were active in starting AVP were Jay Watkins and Russel Nutter. They took it very seriously and really organized to make sure that people that got attacked knew that there was this hotline, and they started asking for help, for instance, organizing self defense classes in some of the bars there.

That was the sort of thing that led to starting the hotline. Then in the course of things, the hotline became quite important. We started handing out flyers at the bars and everything else. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried heard about AVP and realized this would be a good thing to support to improve his relations with the gay community in Chelsea. He proposed donating some state funds to the organization to help it get started. So this pure volunteer thing suddenly had to become a serious organization.

What were the differences between CGA and the newly formed AVP? What was the impact on the community?

CGA was a purely social group whereas AVP was always an advocacy group. There were lots of people in the CGA who really resented AVP taking over the focus and requesting money from us all the time because they thought we should use it for more games and things. The CGA was a very different kind of group. Lots of people met dates and friends through the CGA.

There were the same sort of divisions there are today. There were the Republican gays who just wanted to blend in and thought everything would be perfect if everybody was just like them and didn’t make waves anymore, and tried to make sure that nobody noticed that they were living with another man. And then there were the flamboyant queens who just can’t hide it who are the ones that actually get attacked. There has always been a tension between those opposite ends, and of course lots of people in between. All of the sort of safe people were saying ‘well if they just didn’t dress that way, or walk that way, nobody would attack them so why are they doing that!’ It’s still there.

Were you aware of other anti-violence movement work happening at the time?

I learned several years after the New York AVP started that a couple of similar groups existed elsewhere, for instance in San Francisco. I met and briefly dated a guy from San Francisco who had been involved with the efforts there, I made sure that people knew about the connection. By that point the New York AVP was already aware of other groups. They sort of took a leadership role in connecting everybody together.

What is something about AVP’s founding that most people don’t know?

The attack that actually precipitated, that was really serious, that Jay and Russell became involved with, was the Episcopalian minister in charge of the Holy Apostles Church. He was heading to The Eagle or something and got really seriously beaten. Jay and Russell were friends of his. When the cops did not record the beating, they got really upset and that’s what really prompted them to make sure that these things get recorded.

What are some ways you’ve seen AVP transform and evolve over the last forty years?

There were always people with slightly different focuses. For instance, very early on Jay and Russel met a guy that had been going to the courts when the gay bashing cases were being heard and trying to by his presence just simply point out that the gay panic defense was not really valid. Even though lots of people at that point were getting off for beating or even killing people.

So they helped recruit more people for his court watching project. That was an early project and I don’t think that exists anymore but that was sort of one of the sidelines to the Anti-Violence idea that was very useful for a time.

I think for the defendants and everybody, it’s very useful to have support in the courtroom.

What would you like to see AVP accomplish in the next forty years?

I’d like to see AVP become unnecessary. That means that people stop directing violence against minorities of any kind including queer and trans people and all the people that are constantly being attacked, which the current administration in Washington is encouraging. It would be nice if we didn’t have to fight that sort of thing. I think that’s going to be an effort of a lot more than forty years but I think everything one can do to make AVP unnecessary would be great.

NCAVP mourns the death of 56-year-old queer man, Bashar Kallabat in Birmingham, MI

NCAVP mourns the death of 56-year-old queer man, Bashar Kallabat in Birmingham, MI. According to local media reports, Bashar Kallabat was found dead in a Detroit hotel after allegedly meeting with a 22-year-old man from an unnamed dating app, February 11, 2020.

Bashar is remembered as an innovative hair stylist and entrepreneur. He was owner of a salon in Birmingham, MI and featured in national publications, such as Vogue. Family and friends remembered Bashar in local reports as “a mentor to many hairstylist… a good friend, and an amazing father.”

Business partner and friend, Shanon Neumann says,  “He was magical. He was just a magical person, and his energy was just so uncanny.”

An unnamed 22-year-old suspect is currently in custody with the Detroit Police Department. Details forthcoming.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP member. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of 64-year-old white, queer man, Kenneth Savinski in Upper East Side, Manhattan.

NCAVP mourns the death of 64-year-old white, queer man, Kenneth Savinski in Upper East Side Manhattan, NY. According to media reports, Kenneth Savinski was found dead in his Upper East Side apartment after meeting 24-year-old, Alex Ray Scott, from an unnamed dating app. On Friday, January 31, Scott turned himself in to the police after confessing to the fatal attack that took place the previous Wednesday night.

Kenneth was a long-time antiques salesperson, beloved by many of his neighbors. According to the NY Times, “To his neighbors, Mr. Savinski was a staple of the block, remembered for his regular walks to church and his friendly waves to acquaintances whom he saw along the way.”

Notably quoted,  “I knew Kenny quite well. He was a standup guy,” said Mr. Franck, 66. “He had a dynamic love for everyone in the neighborhood. He went to the church of St. Ignatius Loyola, where I am a Eucharistic minister. We are a community. He would go to church five nights a week, and Sundays.”

Scott is expected to be charged with several counts and is currently being held without bond. Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Kenneth Savinski.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP member. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of 25-year-old white, queer man, Kevin Bacon, in Swartz Creek, MI

NCAVP mourns the death of 25-year-old white, queer man, Kevin Bacon who was found dead following an abduction and brutal attack, December 24, 2019. According to local reports, friends say he was meeting up with someone he did not know from a dating app. He is remembered by his parents as  “genuine, someone who was confident in his skin, outgoing and one heck of a great hair stylist.”

Kevin’s obituary reads:

He was a graduate of Swartz Creek High School and Sharp’s Hair Academy in Grand Blanc. Kevin was currently attending University of Michigan – Flint. He was a hairstylist at Uniquely U Salon in Swartz Creek and had worked at Vintage Hair Salon, JcPenny Hair Salon and Diplomat Pharmacy. Kevin loved doing hair and make-up. He loved his cats, Smokey and Fuzzy and his dog Hannah.

An unnamed 55-year-old suspect is currently in custody with the Shiawassee County Police Department. Details forthcoming.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP member. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of 18-year-old transgender woman Nikki Kuhnhausen in Clark County, Washington.

NCAVP mourns the death of 18-year-old transgender woman Nikki Kuhnhausen in Clark County, Washington. According to media reports, Nikki Kuhnhausen has been missing since June after meeting with a man she met off of snapchat. A search coordinated by the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVA) led to her body being found earlier this week. 

Nikki Kuhnhausen’s parents, Lisa and Vincent Woods, worked diligently to find their missing daughter, passing out flyers at pride parades and throughout the community. “Nikki had my heart from the moment she was born,” Lisa Woods told media. “She’s been my special child and she keeps me knowing I am worth something.” 

Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Nikki Kuhnhausen. Donations can be made in Nikki’s name to NWCAVE and will be used for funeral costs. 

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP member. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

 

LGBTQ, Women, and Survivor Advocates Celebrate the Many New Yorkers Who Will No Longer Suffer the Harms of Money Bail & Pretrial Jailing

December 3, 2019

LGBTQ, Women, and Survivor Advocates Celebrate the Many New Yorkers Who Will No Longer Suffer the Harms of Money Bail & Pretrial Jailing

New York – Today, leading LGBTQ, women, and survivor advocacy organizations, including Girls for Gender Equity, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, New Hour for Women & Children Long Island, NYC Anti-Violence Project, Violence Intervention Program, Inc., Women’s Prison Association, and Black Lives Matter (BLM) Hudson Valley,  released the following statement about the bail reform measures which will go into effect in January, 2020:

“We are survivors fighting for a better, safer and more just New York – and we know that this requires transforming our discriminatory pretrial system.

As advocates serving thousands of  survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence a year, including Black and Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQ and gender non-binary New Yorkers, we fought for transformative bail reform in New York State, calling for the elimination of money bail and the implementation of a pretrial system that substantially limits pretrial incarceration and ensures due process and individualized justice. With support from the vast majority of residents across the state, bail reform legislation enacted last session and will go into effect on January 1st.

Rather than celebrate the work of New Yorkers to end the criminalization of poverty and protect the presumption of innocence, the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) has tried to stymie the implementation of the new reforms by stoking fear about “public safety.”

However, as advocates and people who have been impacted by intimate partner violence, we know that Black and Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQ, and women survivors are often themselves criminalized and that pretrial incarceration can undermine the safety of survivors. Mandatory arrest laws and cursory primary-aggressor assessments by law enforcement mean that survivors are often arrested instead of – or in addition to –  the person engaging in a pattern of abusive partner behavior. The Family Violence Program of the Urban Justice Center in New York City found that survivors of IPV had been arrested in 27% of cases received through their hotline in a two-year period. 85% of survivors arrested had a prior documented history of being subjected to domestic violence, and 85% were injured during the incident that led to their arrest.

As anti-violence organizations, we know that pretrial jailing can be deadly. According to the Bureau of Justice, 471 New Yorkers died in county jails between 2000 and 2014. The State Commission on Correction has found that “gross incompetence” cost the lives of people in jails from Nassau to Onondaga, including India Cummings in Erie County and Layleen Polanco in New York City.

Pretrial incarceration also harms children and families. The vast majority – 80% – of incarcerated and detained women are  mothers and primary caregivers. Even a few days of pretrial detention can result in the loss of employment and housing and the initiation of child neglect cases with devastating long-lasting impacts on the financial stability, health and well-being of families.

We are acutely aware that too often, survivors’ experiences are exploited when prosecutors work to pass laws to give themselves broad discretion and leverage in court in order to increase convictions. Every day, we hear from survivors that what they really need is economic stability, housing, health care, and trauma-informed services.

If District Attorneys are interested in supporting survivors, they need to listen to us and fight for emergency shelter and long-term housing, economic justice, and access to robust healthcare.

This is what survivors need. This is what New York State needs.”

https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mlj0014st.pdf

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2018/05/13/mothers-day-2018/

NCAVP mourns the death of 23-year-old Bee Love Slater, a Black transgender woman in Clewiston, FL

NCAVP mourns the death of 23-year-old Bee Love Slater, a Black transgender woman in Clewiston, FL whose life was tragically taken on September 1, 2019.

According to reports, Bee Love Slater, was identified by authorities after her body was found in the remains of an apparent car fire. Her gruesome death is currently under investigation as a homicide. Close friend, Kenard Wade, told media that Love was proud of her transition but had recently become fearful after receiving disturbing text messages on the night of her death. Another friend of Love’s, Desmond Vereen, remembered Love was “a people person.” Vereen, said, “she loved to be around people, and meeting new people, too, because of her new lifestyle that she transitioned into.” Vereen held a memorial for Love and made a vow to keep her memory alive. Our deepest condolences are with the family and friends of Bee Love Slater. She is the 18th reported death of a transgender person this year.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP memberIf you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of 30-year-old Brianna BB Hill, a Black transgender woman in Kansas City, MO

NCAVP mourns the death of 30-year-old Brianna BB Hill, a Black transgender woman in Kansas City, MO whose life was tragically taken on October 14, 2019.

According to Kansas City Police the man custody shot and killed Brianna is in custody after waiting for the police to arrive at the scene for his arrest. The suspect remains unnamed and details are developing. Investigators are seeking a motive for the shooting. Hill is at the very least the 21st known transgender person killed in the United States this year. The majority of which are Black women. Our deepest condolences are with the family and friends of Brianna BB Hill.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP memberIf you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of Bubba Walker, a Black transgender woman in Charlotte, NC

NCAVP mourns the death of Bubba Walker, a Black transgender woman in Charlotte, NC whose life was tragically taken.

According to reports, Bubba’s life was lost in a house fire that is currently being investigated as a homicide. Bubba’s remains were found September 10th and the date of her death is currently unknown. Clarabelle Catlin, who knew her personally said Bubba was homeless at the time of her death and added, “She was a kind soul, She was always smiling and was a people person. She lit up everywhere she went and everyone loved her.” Our condolences are with Bubba Walker’s family and friends.

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP memberIf you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

NCAVP mourns the death of 29-year-old Itali Marlowe, a Black transgender woman in Houston, TX

NCAVP mourns the death of 29-year-old Itali Marlowe, a Black transgender woman in Houston, TX whose life was tragically taken on September 20, 2019, According to reports, Itali Marlowe died after sustaining multiple gunshot injuries in Houston. The 29-year-old was found near her home in a driveway, after her roommate was seen fleeing the scene. Local police and the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office have identified 23-year-old Raymond Donald Williams, Marlowe’s roommate at the time of the shooting, and charged him with murder.

Marlowe is the fourth trans woman to be murdered in Texas this year, following Muhlaysia BookerChynal Lindsey, and Tracy Single. Our condolences are with the family and friends of Itali Marlowe. 

We know it can be hard to read these reports of violence against our communities. If you need support in these difficult times, you can always reach out to your local NCAVP memberIf you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can reach our free bilngual national hotline at 212-714-1141 or report online for support.

NCAVP works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities. NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change. NCAVP is a program of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.