The Trevor Project ends partnership with surveillance software company, returns donation

The decision came in the wake of outcry on Twitter 

Following criticism on Twitter, the Trevor Project returned a $25,000 donation last week from a school surveillance software company whose technologies have reportedly been used to out LGBTQ2S+ students.

According to education news site The 74, the Trevor Project—a U.S. based youth suicide prevention organization—has partnered with Gaggle since May. Gaggle, which creates software used by schools to monitor students’ behaviour online, rose in popularity during the pandemic with the advent of remote learning. Its technology flags certain keywords in students’ communications, and these terms include words like “gay” and “lesbian.” 

Gaggle’s products have allegedly resulted in at least one trans student in Minnesota being outed to their parents.

After news of the partnership was made public last week, Evan Greer, director of digital advocacy organization Fight for the Future, called on The Trevor Project to “immediately cut ties with Gaggle, and apologize to the queer and trans youth who you are supposed to serve. 

“Boosting school surveillance is the OPPOSITE of what any organization supporting LGBTQ2S+ youth should be doing right now,” Greer wrote in a popular Twitter thread, referencing the historic number of bills targeting trans youth introduced in states across the U.S. over the past year. She called on The Trevor Project to “return the donation, remove Gaggle from their website and apologize.” 

Greer also pointed out that partnering with Gaggle could aid in further persecution of LGBTQ2S+ youth. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive in February ordering the state’s Department of Family and Child Protective Services to investigate parents who allow their kids to transition for “child abuse.” She noted that the software could actually aid in Abbott’s attempt to break up trans-affirming homes.

“In states like Texas, law enforcement could easily direct a school district to use Gaggle to monitor student communications for LGBTQ2S+- or trans-related content and then use that to investigate and prosecute families who are just trying to love their kids,” she said.

 

Students affected by the software expressed similar concerns. “People who want to defend Gaggle can just point to their little Trevor Project thing and say, ‘See, they have the support of ‘The Gays,’ so it’s fine, actually,’” Teeth Logsdon-Wallace, a 14-year-old trans student in Minneapolis, told The 74. “And all it does is make it easier to deflect and defend actual issues with Gaggle.”

Logsdon-Wallace has personal experience with being surveilled by Gaggle’s programs. The company notified his school counsellor and his parents after he referenced a previous suicide attempt in a school essay in which he reflected on his mental health.

The student worried that his LGBTQ2S+ peers will continue to be subjected to the same treatment because of Gaggle’s influence, and that it could have devastating consequences. “I have friends who are queer and/or trans who are out at school, but not to their parents,” he said. “If they want to be open with teachers, Gaggle can create a bad or even dangerous situation for these kids if their parents were contacted about what they were saying.” 

Mere hours after Greer posted her Twitter thread, The Trevor Project announced that they would be ending its partnership with Gaggle and returning the $25,000 donation. 

“Our philosophy is that having a seat at the table enables us to positively influence how companies engage with LGBTQ2S+ young people, and we initially agreed to work with Gaggle because we saw an opportunity to have a meaningful impact to better protect LGBTQ2S+ students,” The Trevor Project told Xtra in a statement. “We hear and understand the concerns, and we hope to work alongside schools and institutions to ensure they are appropriately supporting LGBTQ2S+ youth and their mental health.” 

In a statement, Gaggle said it was “disappointed” by The Trevor Project’s decision, but indicated that the company was “grateful for the opportunity we have had to learn and work with them and will continue with our mission of protecting all students, regardless of how they identify.”

Greer celebrated The Trevor Project’s move. “The villain here is Gaggle, not The Trevor Project,” she said in a statement. “It’s disgusting that Gaggle is throwing their money around, trying to purchase goodwill within the LGBTQ2S+ community while their software is actively being used to out queer and trans kids without their consent, putting their lives in danger. May this be the end of Gaggle’s attempted pinkwashing campaign.” 

The activist further called upon school districts to stop “using this harmful software” immediately and urged the Biden administration to “issue guidance warning schools against the use of software that blatantly violates students’ civil rights.”

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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Activism, Politics, Power, News, United States, Youth

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