A Maine Transgender Network, Inc. steering committee member resigned from a voluntary position with the organization in May after writing a blistering critique of the Portland-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
In the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Maine Wire, former steering committee member Sampson Spadafore alleged that the group has engaged in racism, transphobia, and has hosted youth programing in which minors have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.
“I’ve witnessed sexual boundaries being crossed within our youth program and no adults stepping in to address it,” Spadafore said.
“No matter how often we’ve talked about these issues or “addressed them” in meetings, nothing has changed. I fear that these issues have even become worse,” Spadafore said.
Former U.S. Senate candidate Bre Kidman, MaineTransNet’s current co-Executive Director, confirmed the authenticity of Spadafore’s resignation email in statements to the Maine Wire, as did Spadafore, though both sought to clarify that Spadafore is not alleging that any adults engaged in sexual misconduct with minors.
Kidman and Spadafore provided a copy of a second email Spadafore sent more than three weeks after his resignation to the same list clarifying that he was not alleging that adults had sexually exploited children.
“No adult who is involved with the youth has been grooming or attempting to groom any of the youth in our programming,” Spadafore said, in the June 6 follow up email.
Spadafore was a volunteer member of the organization’s steering committee and not a paid staffer. A model, poet, and volunteer worker, he describes himself as “a white, neurodivergent, queer, gay, nonbinary trans man currently living on unceded Wabanaki tribal land known as Portland, Maine.”
Despite Spadafore’s May 14 assertion, which appeared to describe ongoing issues and multiple incidents that the board had discussed on more than one occasion, Spadafore and Kidman both said the original email referred to a single interaction two minors had in a private online chat room operated by the organization.
Kidman, who was not leading MaineTransNet at the time of the incident, said the minors’ guardians were apprised of the situation once it was discovered by MaineTransNet staff.
Spadafore said both minors were under the age of 17 and one of the minors involved lived in a group home.
“I used the word “devastatingly” because I, personally, care deeply about the youth in our program,” Spadafore said. “These kids and their emotional safety mean a lot to me and I hate to hear that anyone involved in the youth program did not feel that they were respected by another youth.”
“I’ve been informed since my resignation that the situation with that youth has been righted,” he said. “The staff engaged in restorative practices and that youth has gone on to be an active leader in our programs.”
Spadafore declined to provide further information about the incident in order to protect the privacy of the minors involved.
The Maine Transgender Network, known as MaineTransNet, is a nearly two-decade old organization that has gone from an obscure social club for gender non-conforming Mainers to an influential ally of far left lawmakers, especially as transgender ideology has become a dominant force within the Democratic Party.
In 2015, the organization reported having raised just $7,500, but in 2019, the group raised more than $115,000.
Gov. Janet Mills and Democratic leaders in the State Legislature have relied upon MaineTransNet and its co-Executive Director, Quinn Gormley, as experts on a host of legislation in recent years, including bills that would expand minors’ access to experimental sex-change drugs and surgeries.
The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) currently endorses MaineTransNet as a resource for parents and public school students.
Gormley was even invited to appear at a bill signing with Gov. Mills and Democratic leaders last year, including Judiciary Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland), according to a social media post from the group.
According to its website, MaineTransNet’s legislative advocacy this year has include support for changing the word “Woodsman” to “Woodsperson” in state programs and a bill that would require schools to offer free menstrual products in boys restrooms.
The organization has also opposed several Republican bills aimed at protecting parental rights in education and making public schools more transparent.
Gormley has been quoted frequently by Maine’s liberal newspapers as an expert authority on medical policy, school policy, and gender-related issues.
In April, Gormley told lawmakers that she began working as a prostitute at age 14 in order to fund her academic ambitions and sex-change medications. She was testifying on a bill that would have partially decriminalized prostitution in Maine, and said she has worked as a prostitute and phone sex worker, with johns including clergy, college professors, and politicians.
Gormley also testified in support of LD 535, a bill from Rep. Erin Sheehan (D-Biddeford) that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to obtain sex-change drugs even when their parents object. Gormley said that, although her parents supported her sex change, they didn’t approve her pursuit of hormones quickly enough out of fear she might change her mind.
In an interview with the University of Southern Maine for its oral history project, Gormley credited MaineTransNet with helping her with her gender transition when she was 17 years old.
Gormley did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.
MaineTransNet announced in a May 26 email that Gormley would be taking a sabbatical from the organization, at which point Kidman assumed a leadership position.
The sabbatical was not related to Spadafore’s allegations or any related incident.
Kidman, a self-described “queer feminist mermaid” who once ran as a colorful Democratic candidate against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), is also a phone sex freelancer through the website TalkToMe.com, which touts $1.99 per minute calls with “hot babes” and “kinky girls” for “horny perverts.”
In an email, Kidman said Spadafore’s email concerned an interaction that two minors had on the Discord server MaineTransNet operates in conjunction with its youth programming.
Discord is a popular social media platform where individuals and organizations can host chat rooms that are only visible to people who are allowed to enter by moderators. MaineTransNet runs such a server specifically for minors age 13 to 19.
The group also hosts crafting nights and other in-person events for minors.
In the June 6 follow up email, Spadafore clarified portions of his resignation letter.
In that email, Spadafore said:
“No adults crossed boundaries with youth, this was strictly between the youth within the program,” he said. “I apologize if that was unclear in my original resignation email. I am not accusing anyone at MaineTransNet of crossing sexual boundaries with youth.”
“The situation I referenced had to do with youth engaging with other youth, it did not make reference to any adults behavior towards any children. I do not condone the use of the word “groomer” to describe our staff, current or former. No adult who is involved with the youth has been grooming or attempting to groom any of the youth in our programming.
“I hope I have made this abundantly clear that I do not agree with any of the rhetoric that trans and queer people are grooming youth just by being in their presence. I stand by the issues I take with the way certain situations were handled, but I am in no way accusing or exposing anyone of grooming or abusing children. It simply is not something that is happening within the MaineTransNet community.”
Spadafore’s original email also detailed a litany of other concerns about MaineTransNet’s “harmful and unethical” practices, including allegations that the group has engaged in racist and transphobic behaviors.
“It has taken me far too long to speak up about the things I’ve felt were unethical and harmful. Part of that is because of fear. Fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear that I’d be dismissed and not listened to, and fear that nothing will change and I’ll be ostracized from community,” said Spadafore.
“I’ve witnessed racism towards our Black and Brown board and community members, which lead not only to their leaving MTN but also affecting their day jobs and financial security,” he said.
“I’ve witnessed transphobia towards our volunteers and those seeking services. Many of my own friends who no longer volunteer with MTN have expressed that they do not feel trans enough to be in MTN spaces,” he said.
“Many people, my friends and former colleagues, have told me about the harm that MTN has caused them,” he said.
“In a time where we should be uniting to fight white supremacy, nazism, colonialism, and capitalism. Instead, we’re fighting over our own micropolitics and drama, harming each other further, and exacerbating trauma in an already traumatized population,” he said.
Kidman has recently consulted with an anti-racism consultant.
Here are the two emails Spadafore sent to employees and volunteers affiliated with Maine Trans Net.
June 6 Email:
I am sending a follow up to my resignation letter to clarify my statements addressing inappropriate sexual behavior in the youth program. As we are all aware, there is extreme rhetoric and false narratives targetting LGBTQ+ community regarding innapropriate behavior and sexual violence toward youth. I want to make my stance transparent on this matter: No one in MaineTransNets youth program is grooming children.
I apologize for the vaguity in my original email. It was my attempt to protect the privacy of the youth and in doing so, I contributed to what could be misconstrued as adding to the inaccurate portrayal of our community. The situation I referenced had to do with youth engaging with other youth, it did not make reference to any adults behavior towards any children. I do not condone the use of the word “groomer” to describe our staff, current or former. No adult who is involved with the youth has been grooming or attempting to groom any of the youth in our programming.
I hope I have made this abundantly clear that I do not agree with any of the rhetoric that trans and queer people are grooming youth just by being in their presence. I stand by the issues I take with the way certain situations were handled, but I am in no way accusing or exposing anyone of grooming or abusing children. It simply is not something that is happening within the MaineTransNet community.
May 14 email:
Dear MaineTransNet Staff, Current and Former Members and Volunteers,
It has taken me far too long to speak up about the things I’ve felt were unethical and harmful. Part of that is because of fear. Fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear that I’d be dismissed and not listened to, and fear that nothing will change and I’ll be ostracized from community.
While these fears have stopped me from acting, I was complicit in many of these institutional harms, and I can no longer stomach that. I sincerely apologize for that complicity and would like to connect with other folks who are committed to righting these wrongs. I cannot sit here on this board and feel like I am powerless to change, but I am committed to my community. I am offering to be involved in organizing next steps as I step away from my role as Caucus Coordinator.
I’ve witnessed racism towards our Black and Brown board and community members, which lead not only to their leaving MTN but also affecting their day jobs and financial security. We’ve had years to find anti-racism training for the staff and board but we have yet to make any moves towards actually hiring a consultant or trainer. The excuse continues to be that we “haven’t found the right one,” even though we have been “searching” for years.
I’ve witnessed transphobia towards our volunteers and those seeking services. Many of my own friends who no longer volunteer with MTN have expressed that they do not feel trans enough to be in MTN spaces. I have friends who I would love to invite to non-MTN events who won’t even step foot into the Equality Community Center because MTN’s office is in the building and they don’t want to run into staff members. I’ve also been told organizations who have taken our trainings have felt that MTN assumed everyone taking the training was cisgender and straight when in fact they were not. This left individuals feeling unseen and invalidated in their identities.
And, most devastatingly to me, I’ve witnessed sexual boundaries being crossed within our youth program and no adults stepping in to address it. No matter how often we’ve talked about these issues or “addressed them” in meetings, nothing has changed. I fear that these issues have even become worse.
Many people, my friends and former colleagues, have told me about the harm that MTN has caused them. I was recently organizing an event and people emailed me to ask if MTN was involved, and if so, they wanted nothing to do with it. At this point, my association with MTN is limiting my ability to organize with other trans people around the state, as they simply don’t trust or feel safe with me in association with MTN. I’ve seen staff and board members left behind or pushed out, even in a time as dire as this one. In a time where we should be uniting to fight white supremacy, nazism, colonialism, and capitalism. Instead, we’re fighting over our own micropolitics and drama, harming each other further, and exacerbating trauma in an already traumatized population.
Often when I come to board meetings, I’ll sit through monologues of lip service to racism, harmful practices, or the “growing pains” of being a young organization, with no actual action or accountability following. It’s devastating to watch it happen over and over again. The harm is perpetuated because we have no form of direct accountability processes and we certainly do not maintain a culture of accountability. In this context, accountability does not mean that we only talk about what we did without further action. We need transparency between the Steering Committee, Executive Committee, Executive Director, staff and volunteers. We have to be able to openly talk about the issues and decide as a whole what the process of righting our wrongs looks like, with assurance that the process is being done with the guidance of those harmed and with the time and care that is deserved. We need clear guidance outlining the process of grievances so that everyone knows who to go to and how their concerns will be heard and addressed. We need oversight of the “investigation processes” that the Executive Committee has taken in response to complaints that have resulted in further harm towards Black, Brown and vulnerable members of our community. I cannot sit on a board or work with an organization that doesn’t allow for productive dialogue about the issues or is unwilling to address the harm they’ve caused.
This past week, I was asked to temporarily fill in on the Executive Committee because our Senior Chair and Junior Co-Chair Elect resigned. I was told my time on the Ex Comm would only be until today’s board meeting and that I would only be needed to vote on measures through the signal chat. To start, confidential information is being shared through text, which I find questionable at best. I was then asked to vote on the firing of a staff member, of whom I was given very little information about. All three of the other Ex Comm members have already voted to fire this person, so why was I asked to vote? Why was I told this information? And why was the Ex Comm even being asked to vote on the firing of a staff member when that is not their job, but rather the job of the Executive Director?
We do not have transparency around hiring and firing practices at MTN. People become fearful that they can be fired at any moment without knowledge as to why they are being fired. Nor can they stand up for themselves when they feel they’re being wrongly dismissed or retaliated against. I cannot stand behind these practices.
For all of these reasons, I am officially resigning from my role as a Steering Committee member. I hope that someday there will be acknowledgement and repairs made by the staff and members who have done harm and that healing can begin. We need to carve out space and time for those who want to be heard, to do so. This means letting go of the White Supremacist characteristics of urgency, perfectionism, fear of direct conflict, and the many others that hinder us from being in community. I hope this culture of fear can be broken and folks who have also been pushed out or hurt by this agency can come forward. I invite them to speak to me if they so choose.