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The executive director of a social justice group has joined the Palm Springs mayor in raising concerns that they and city staff members have received dozens of what they consider to be abusive and sometimes threatening phone calls about a proposal to provide $200,000 to two organizations seeking to launch a guaranteed income program for transgender residents.
Palm Springs Police said they have taken one report about harassing and annoying calls directed at city hall in the wake of national media coverage of the council’s vote. An officer responded to city hall on April 6 to take the report, Lt. Gustavo Araiza said.
“The calls stemmed from the recent national news release that Palm Springs would support a study of a guaranteed income for trans residents,” he said. “The caller had called multiple times expressing his disgust and he made derogatory remarks about cutting his own genitalia.”
Araiza said that during the investigation, officers were unable to determine the identity of the suspect because he had used technology to conceal his phone number.
The report was taken a day before last week’s city council meeting during which Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton spoke out about abusive calls and emails that have been directed at both the council and city staff in recent days, as well as misleading media coverage that she said fueled the outbursts.
The council voted on March 24 to allocate $200,000 to two organizations, DAP Health and Queer Works, that plan to use the funding to put together an application to apply for grants to fund a guaranteed income pilot program for transgender and gender non-conforming residents.
Middleton said people on both sides of the issue misunderstood the vote, incorrectly thinking that the $200,000 would be used to fund actual guaranteed income payments. She emphasized the money would be used to fund the process of designing the pilot and submitting the application.
Queer Works director has been called with death threats
On Monday, Queer Works Executive Director Jacob Rostovsky said he has also received dozens of harassing phone calls following national coverage of the vote by outlets ranging from Fox News to The Washington Post.
Rostovsky said that he was getting at least three phone calls every 20 minutes the day after a segment aired on The Tucker Carlson Show that was critical of the guaranteed basic income program. He said he is now getting about two to three calls every couple of hours.
“[It’s] just people leaving the most horrendous voicemails, usually about like if they cut off their penis can they get money…,” he said. “And then there’s been things directed at me like ‘I’ll find out where you live and I’ll hunt you down ‘and then things about, like, ‘I’ll always be a girl no matter what.’ Anything you can possibly imagine has been coming through.”
A couple of the calls, he said, have included death threats.
“I got a couple of those where they were like ‘if I ever see you out you better watch your back,'” he said. “One was like, ‘I have a special gun called tranny killer in my closet.’ ”
Rostovsky said he does not plan to report the calls to police.
“What I’ve learned is the people who call and try to scare you aren’t the ones to be scared about,” he said. “It’s like the ones that are quiet and leave you alone, those are the ones to be scared about.”
Instead, he is choosing to simply wait it out.
Majority of callers local
Rostovsky said that while he is receiving calls from across the country, most have area codes associated with Palm Springs or Southern California.
“So they’re here,” said Rostovsky, who is trans himself.
Rostovsky said it is disheartening to experience that kind of reaction from people who live in Palm Springs, given the city’s welcoming vibe and his feeling that he can live in the city safely.
“It really lets me down and takes me back to my youth when all this really happened really hardcore because I transitioned really young,” he said. “People just don’t change, that was 18 years ago and nothing has changed at all.”
Overall, he said he still feels that Palm Springs is safe, although he said he felt a sense of hypervigilance while shopping in the city last Thursday.
“I was like ‘oh my god, I’m experiencing trauma going shopping because all of these phone numbers are local,'” he said.
He said some of the callers have given their home addresses to try to prove they live in the city and he realized one lived three blocks away from him.
The calls also led Rostovsky to begin screening all of his phone calls and create a new number for Queer Works, as he originally had listed his own personal number as Queer Works’ number.
“It’s like just change your number completely,” he said. “But I’m like I can’t because then the people who need me can’t reach me.”
Despite the alarming language used in some of the calls, Rostovsky said he generally tries not to take the calls seriously.
“I know it sounds so nonchalant but I’m just like, they don’t have a gun in their closet called ‘trannykiller,'” he said. “That’s just how they are, it’s a bunch of white, cisgender, privileged men who for the first time in their life haven’t been the focus of something and now they are pissed about it.”
Rostovsky also said that anyone who thinks the calls will discourage him from continuing with the effort to launch a guaranteed income program will likely be disappointed that they are only motivating him to continue with it.
“My motto is that if people are hateful and are upset about what I’m doing, then I must be doing the right thing within my own beliefs,” he said. “You just have to keep going, the way you don’t let them win is by not giving up. Their attempts to scare me have backfired.”