At 8:00pm 8/6/2020 Queer Appalachia deplatformed. The Instagram login credentials and Facebook page were handed over to a regional queer Black activist. All open order are being shipped immediately. Financial reports and accountability updates will be coming to this space soon. The priority after deplatforming is acknowledging and addressing the harm to Black and Indigenous community.
I’m sorry it has taken me so long to say something. Nothing in life could have prepared me for the sudden influx of people on social media, emails, and text messages who were angry and demanding answers. The comments & especially the DM’s of this project have always been overwhelming, it’s impossible to give each interaction the time and care it deserves. One of the critiques I’ve heard is that people feel disrespected & ignored when they don’t get a reply. I understand that parts of my community have felt harmed by this project and my work, to them and everyone else: I apologize. When I talk about Queer Appalachia, I often refer to it as a love letter to community. It’s become a tool which has the power to fund rural resistance and care for community. The impact of harm on that community which I aimed to support goes against everything I wanted for this project. I have begun the process of reaching out to folks who I know have felt harmed by me and this project, please reach out here if you'd like to have a conversation.
Before I respond, point-by-point, to the accusations made against me by Emma Copley Eisenberg in the Washington Post Magazine, I’d like to make a few things clear.
First, I’ve never paid myself any sort of salary for the work I’ve done to build Queer Appalachia. Queer Appalachia has always been an art project that used its platform to create community, and fundraise for rural resistance, art and mutual aid projects across the region. Any money donated to the project went to fund the project, and money donated for mutual aid was used to help people.
As for my own finances, I don’t have many. For the past eight years, I’ve been living with my parents, who also pay my phone bill. I receive $927.00 per month in Social Security Disability payments, which fund my half truck payment (a 2019 Ford Ranger, which I pay $230 a month and my parents cover the remainder) and daily expenses.
Second, Eisenberg’s article seems to deliberately misunderstand the role of mutual aid, and the transparency with which a project like Queer Appalachia operates. When we gave money to people, we rarely offered their names or photos on social media. Poverty itself is a stigmatized condition, and in Appalachia, many of the people we donated money to are still in the closet, for fear of experiencing homophobic violence.
I had no interest in incorporating Queer Appalachia as a 501(c)3 specifically because the kind of disclosures demanded by Eisenberg-- the names of everyone who received money from Queer Appalachia, along with what that money was used for-- excludes exactly the community I wanted to serve.
I wanted queer people across Appalachia to be able to ask for and receive assistance without having to disclose either their poverty or their queerness to the public. One of the great indignities of poverty is being asked to bleed on a stage before an audience of liberal do-gooders, who publicly document your pain and their charity.
As a disabled person, I didn’t want to replicate the power dynamics of having to beg for a handout. This is what mutual aid is, as opposed to charity, and I’m proud that my work helped so many people.
Running Queer Appalachia is an overwhelming amount of work. Creating content, running fundraisers, moderating content.
Allegation One: In 2019, a Roanoke-based nonprofit called the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition approached Queer Appalachia about partnering to apply for a grant from HepConnect, the granting arm of Gilead Sciences. The two outfits teamed up and won the grant of $300,000. Leo signed off on the application, but once the money was awarded, he quickly became frustrated with how the funds were distributed.
He decided to stop working with Queer Appalachia and scheduled a meeting with Mamone to quit in person. Mamone drove up to the meeting in a new truck, complete with “every bell and whistle,” says Leo. “There was no transparency on where the money to buy this brand-new truck came from,” he told me. “I just thought it was such a ‘f--- you’ to all of the people, the poor and working-class people who had given their money [to Queer Appalachia] without really understanding or knowing where it was going.”
None of this money came from the harm reduction grant. As stated above, my parents pay for half the monthly payment on the truck, which is listed in my mother’s name. I cover the rest with money from my Social Security Disability payments.
Under the terms of the grant, I wouldn’t even have been able to access grant money to use for the truck, even if I’d wanted to. This meeting was the first Zoom call between VHRC, QA, and HepConnect, where we would learn more about how the grant could be used. Leo left before any budgets were agreed upon and before any funds were dispersed.
Allegation Two: The account’s fundraising efforts expanded in November 2018, when QA launched a coat drive, asking followers to send donations or mail gently used coats to Mamone in Bluefield, W.Va. The Instagram post for the drive raised over $5,000, and the coat request list was 8,000 people long, Mamone told Burnaway, an online magazine about art in the South. That November alone, QA said it sent out or bought 450 coats for queer people in need. “WE’RE NOT GOING TO STOP UNTIL EVERYONE THAT WROTE IN ASKING FOR A COAT GETS ONE…#nooneisdisposable,” read the post.
Three sources close to Mamone, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of social and professional backlash, told me that the coat drive prompted them to doubt Queer Appalachia’s claims on Instagram. The scale of the project, and the logistics involved to donate, clean and ship that number of coats, seemed suspect. Leo had started volunteering for Queer Appalachia by this time and says that he saw mailed-in coats in Mamone’s garage; pictures posted to Queer Appalachia’s Patreon page, another online fundraising platform, appear to confirm this. Leo once saw Mamone loading coats into a car, he told me, but isn’t sure what happened after that. I found people on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter who had donated coats, and who greatly appreciated QA’s collection efforts; using the same means, I could not find anyone who had received a coat, or anyone who had benefited from the individual fundraising calls.
Here’s how the coat drive worked-- I purchased many coats with gift cards that we received via our PO Box. I also took many gift cards sent to the PO Box and mailed them directly to people in need, so that they could purchase their own coats.
The “450 coats” figure comes from the coats that I shipped personally, along with people who saw our project and began their own solidarity coat drives. I photographed the boxes of coats I was shipping out, featuring them in the Instagram story.
Allegation Three: Further, Mamone’s use of identity labels during the drive also ostracized some former supporters. “Everything is always so extreme and it’s so tokenizing,” says Kayleigh Phillips, a tattoo artist who worked closely on a QA project with Mamone and has since cut ties. “It’s always [for] a trans person of color. That’s who they pump every time [Mamone is] trying to get money.”
“I remember saying something along the lines of, ‘Why don’t you just send the money straight to the people,’ when they were doing the coat drive,” says Shane Hicks, an Asheville, N.C.-based Black trans man and Instagram activist. (Mamone identifies as non-binary.) Hicks routinely left comments on QA posts criticizing content that he saw as anti-Black or excluding of people of color. But his critical comments were quickly deleted, he says.
That is how my contact with Shane Hicks began in 2017, with me trying to frantically moderate comments on the Instagram page, but that led to a phone call between the two of us, where we reconciled. Since then in 2017, Hicks was part of our Black History Month curation team in 2020, for which Hicks was paid. As part of Queer Appalachia’s reparations program, I used funds donated to Queer Appalachia to give $25 a month to Hicks via Patreon, since January 2020. Through Queer Appalachia, supplies were donated to Hicks as part of a COVID-19 relief package mail drop, in addition to harm reduction supplies for Hicks’ community and a laptop for Hicks as part of QA’s Tech the Hollers project, and multiple cash donations directly to Hicks on top of the Patreon payments. Not including the Patreon donations, my records show that QA has given Hicks $565 since September 2017.
In regards to Phillips’ accusations, I consistently mentioned Black trans people because I was consistently fundraising for Black trans people. As a white person with a large platform, I was obligated to use that platform to benefit the most oppressed members of my community, Black trans people.
We routinely got requests for aid from Black trans people. Mentioning their identities felt important to reference the degree of oppression they experience. Trans people are routinely estranged from their families, and don’t have them as a source of social or financial support. Black people in the United States have been systematically denied any kind of financial security by a white supremacist system. This is the dynamic I was hoping to highlight by mentioning their identities, while still preserving their privacy by offering a go-between for the funds. It was never my intention to tokenize any of the people I fundraised on behalf of, or paid for work related to the project. I apologize for the impact of my actions.
Allegation Four: As for Mamone’s own finances, they told friends and posted on Facebook that they made a good living as an audio engineer, producing live shows for the Coachella and South by Southwest festivals via SiriusXM. A representative for SiriusXM told me that the company has no record of a Gina Mamone — the name Mamone previously used — as a current or former employee, although this doesn’t preclude the possibility that Mamone worked as an independent contractor.
In 2012, I finally became so disabled that I was forced to move from Brooklyn back home to my parents’ house in West Virginia. I went from a thriving social life to applying for, and initially getting rejected for, Social Security Disability.
I felt like a failure, and I was ashamed of being poor, having no career, and living with my parents in my 30s.
My doctors prescribed me a cocktail of medications-- as many as 20 prescriptions a month at its height-- that I was washing down with corn liquor and cheap whiskey to deal with the isolation and loneliness.
Though I was occasionally working on live audio shows, not for SiriusXM, I began to dissociate from the isolation and constant intake of prescription drugs and alcohol. I claimed on Facebook that I was producing audio shows for SirusXM, which was false, because I was living in a fantasy world built by shame and my dissociation disorder. For years, I was isolated in a single room with no connection to any kind of community. For months at a time, I wouldn’t even leave the room.
Being poor and being disabled is a stigmatizing condition. Those social media posts were absolutely false, but were my way of escaping the smallness that my world became.
I certainly regret them, but in an effort to destigmatize mental illness, I have always been honest on Queer Appalachia’s account about my dissociation disorder as I have come to understand the breadth of it. Talking about my mental health is part of the first conversations I have with community leaders and support. In every interview or speaking engagement, navigating my disassociation and the lack of social services and resources that lead to such diagnoses is always mentioned.
While some extreme states, like depression or anxiety, find sympathy with the general public, others, like dissociation, are still deeply stigmatized, and wielded as evidence of dangerousness and criminality against people who experience them, like Eisenberg did against me in her article.
At no time did I attempt to apply for jobs, list SirusXM on my resume, or attempt to benefit financially or professionally from these claims. Those posts were simply my way of reclaiming dignity when I felt I had none. I certainly did not anticipate that I would navigate these mental health issues in such a public forum.
It was during one of these periods of dissociation that, in 2014, I told J Mase III that I could build campaigns for Mase’s AwQward Talent, saying that I thought I could raise $100,000 with several campaigns. The first campaign failed, raising only several hundred dollars, and under the burden of prescription drugs, alcohol, and periods of dissociation, I was unhinged. I had an argument with Mase following that failed campaign, and we stopped speaking. In the spring of 2019, I reached out to several people in the community to attempt a process of transformative justice for several people I felt I’d harmed, including Mase.
These were talks that I wanted to have in person, but never got to that point before the COVID-19 crisis hit. I still regret failing Mase at a critical point, and I acknowledge the harm I caused. I have reached out to Mase, and I would still like the opportunity to speak in person and apologize.
Allegation Five: Along with individual fundraising requests, in January 2017 Mamone started a GoFundMe campaign to create an Appalachian-themed zine called Electric Dirt, with donated content from 22 contributors, including beloved Instagram astrologer Chani Nicholas and acclaimed West Virginia novelist Mesha Maren. But the photograph on the cover, which featured a Black gender-nonconforming person, was used without permission or licensing from the photographer, the queer New Orleans artist Cameron Bordelon. When Bordelon contacted Mamone about the use of the photo, Mamone apologized and offered a “social media spotlight” or a free ad in the zine’s next volume, says Bordelon, who declined the offer.
Above: A screenshot from my conversation requesting permission to use the images from The Humble Haberdasher.
While I was preparing Electric Dirt, I found the image in question from on the Instagram page of The Humble Haberdasher. I reached out and asked if they’d consider letting us use it.
They responded positively. They granted us permission to use the image, provided that we credited the photographer, the model, the stylist, and makeup artist, which I did on the inside front cover of Electric Dirt, published in December 2017.
In June 2018, The Humble Haberdasher reached out to me via Instagram, telling me that the photographer had some questions about the photo being used on Electric Dirt. I felt bad about the misunderstanding, and offered to promote Bordelon’s work via the Queer Appalachia account.
I’m sorry that anyone felt slighted by this, but at no time did I attempt to steal anyone’s work. I have begun the process of getting in contact to make things right.
Allegation Six: In addition to Mamone’s former partner Hollis Brooks, and estranged former colleagues Kayleigh Phillips and Leo, all of whom worked closely with Mamone, I spoke to Appalachian academic and activist Zane McNeill, who agreed to help Mamone edit Volume 2 of the Electric Dirt zine, and Hicks, who helped Mamone find Black trans people in the South posting calls for financial help. All five said that — while they volunteered their time on different QA projects — Mamone was the only person they were aware of who posts and moderates its social media, makes decisions about programs and initiatives, and has power over the QA money.
I was the main organizer behind Queer Appalachia. I ran the social media account, organized most of our projects, and consistently invited other people to organize with me.
However, when it came to the quotidian details of organizing-- handling money, booking cheap motels and AirBnbs for travel, communicating with other organizers who invited Queer Appalachia to their events, etc.-- all of that work fell to me.
This isn’t uncommon in leftist organizing spaces, to have one lead organizer handling the details of a project, so it’s strange that this is being wielded against me, as though I ran a dictatorship. I asked my fellow organizers for help managing these details, but could not convince them to participate consistently, so the work fell to me. Queer Appalachia has always been a labor of love, I understand most people do not have the capacity or capability for the type of free labor the project demands. This work is unique in that someone who is disabled can participate and contribute much of the labor.
Allegation Seven: Expecting a substantial influx of cash from the grant, Leo created a budget to hire Appalachian queer people of color, as the proposal promised. But Mamone, who was solely in charge of the fund allocation, stopped him, says Leo. According to Leo, Mamone wanted to offer a salaried position paying nearly $110,000 to Koeppel, a White man. (Koeppel did not return requests for comment.) Leo became frustrated: As much as QA purported to prioritize the voices of people of color, there were zero people of color involved in its decision-making — or any native-born Appalachians, for that matter, except Mamone.
That’s when Leo decided to quit. Mamone “is not doing this radical work,” he says. “What they really are doing is just making income from selling their merchandise,” using “harm reduction memes and concepts to just ultimately raise money through funding merch.”
This is not what happened.
48 hours after receiving the grant, Leo had offered high-paying jobs to both a doctor and a lawyer. This caused problems between us.
I wanted to offer the position to Koeppel, who had been working in harm reduction in Appalachia for years. Rather than offer the position to people with who already had professional qualifications, like a JD or an MD, making them employable anywhere, I wanted to have someone with harm-reduction experience in Appalachia.
Further, the $110,000 figure quoted by the Post is not accurate. As stated in a Facebook post from the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition, the annual salary proposed for the Executive Director position was $40,500, not $110,000. Leo quit QA minutes before our first Zoom meeting with HepConnect, when we had all gathered at a public library meeting space in Charlottesville, VA. Nothing about the grant budget had been finalized.
As for allegations that made any income from selling merch-- again, I never received any income via Queer Appalachia. To do so would be to put my disability payments at risk.
Emma Copley Eisenberg’s reporting is deeply flawed. As I outlined above, she gets the proposed salary of the harm reduction Executive Director wrong, reporting $110,000 rather than the proposed $40,500; she insinuates that I misused harm reduction grant money to purchase a new truck, she does not include that Shane Hicks received money from Queer Appalachia on multiple occasions, and used anonymous sources to allege that I’ve been taking money from Queer Appalachia for my own personal gain.
If that were true, I would not have spent the past eight years living with my parents, having them pay my phone bill, and driving a truck in my mother’s name. That being said, my living situation is not a stable or safe one and that is at the center of my dissociative disorder. One of the reasons why people identify with and get so much from QA is that I tackle nuanced situations like family that doesn’t treat you like family- from personal experience.
Since 2012, I’ve become disabled in ways I never anticipated. The mutual aid work QA engages in is important to me so that I can help people like me while affording them the dignity I was not. Throughout the life of Queer Appalachia, I’ve been honest about my past struggles with addiction and dissociation, and Eisenberg is attempting to use those struggles as evidence that I’m a grifter.
The truth is that Queer Appalachia was always mostly my work. Leftist organizing projects are always a jumble of people who want to participate and then drop out after a time, leaving the main organizers to continue the work. This is the story of Queer Appalachia, and every other leftist organizing project in existence. The inbox is full of community that over promises & under delivers, being the constant means it always defaults to me.
Since beginning Queer Appalachia, my phone reports that my screen time is 12-13 hours per day, seven days a week. When I’m home, I rarely even leave my room. I devote all my time and energy to Queer Appalachia’s platform, and using that platform to help people in need. It’s exhausting. And most of the time, the work is only me and more recently my partner.
Because I’m disabled and poor, this is what I have to give. I can’t write a check. I’m not even legally allowed to have more than $2000 in savings. But I had the digital skills and the platform where I can make a shirt to help someone else afford top surgery, a winter coat, harm reduction supplies for their community, or just immediate cash for an emergency.
This is what mutual aid is. I’ve used what I have to help my community directly, not going through the nonprofit industrial complex, but by creating art and giving money and supplies directly to people in need with no strings attached.
The project has been messy and exhausting at times, but always deeply gratifying. With Queer Appalachia, I was able to create a central point of contact for my community, rural queer people, a community that’s been separated by vast geographical distances, lack of transportation, and fear of the violence that comes with being outed in a small town.
I acknowledge that I have caused harm while running this project, I have begun reaching out to folks to start a dialogue and begin to address that harm. I’ve tried my best to support that community, and failed at times, but also succeeded in helping people without making them grovel. I’ve brought money in from across the country to benefit queer people in Appalachia, often at critical times, when they were failed by the structure of traditional nonprofits.
I’ve spent over 80 hours a week doing this since 2016. The time & dedication is shown in the content. All of my art & design work has gone to this project. Just doing the work itself has been exhausting, much less learning to keep ledger balances for everything coming in and out of Queer Appalachia. Also, I thought it was pretty obvious QA has been funding regional Anti-fascist work by our content. Going forward, Queer Appalachia will be transparent with finances (that may mean QA can no longer $upport that kind of work in the region).
I’m engaging the services of an accountant, who will keep Queer Appalachia’s books, and provide regular transparency reports to our community. We will work hard to be transparent with the community, to show everyone who participated and supported this work where the money has gone. I need a few weeks to work with a CPA to get these things together for y’all. I have begun reaching out to folks in the article and encourage anyone who felt harmed by this project to reach out. I appreciate the time, patience, and solidarity of everyone involved with the Queer Appalachia community.