We, the former staff of the National Center for Transgender Equality, are devastated. Over the last few months, many of us have made the difficult decision of stepping away from the organization where we’ve dedicated so much of our daily lives. As the rare trans-led organization in the nation’s capital, NCTE gave us the opportunity to work on issues important and personal to us all. Each of us is dedicated to improving the lives of transgender people nationwide through a lens of racial and economic justice, yet we stepped away after it became clear the leadership of NCTE did not share that dedication.
As has been widely reported, a majority of the staff at NCTE has left the organization in recent weeks. Earlier this year, the organization employed 23 people — a record size in the organization’s 16 years. Since that point, many of us have been fired or pressured out of the organization, and many more were offered a voluntary buyout. This includes almost all of the Policy Department, the entire Communications Department, the entire Outreach and Education department, and the few staff hired to begin the complex and sensitive process of conducting the 2020 US Transgender Survey — an invaluable resource for researchers, reporters, advocates, and lawmakers across the country that is now in doubt.
Today, NCTE employs seven people, three of which are within the executive department. Those of us now on the outside of the organization know these issues began long before this year. Over the last decade, it’s been abundantly clear that members of the executive team hold an inconsistent and irreconcilable view of how to make the organization itself a strong social justice movement — including recognition of a union and steps needed to ensure NCTE itself is an equitable place for people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized members of the transgender community.
Since 2012, the organization has watched at least 35 employees begin and end employment, 21 of whom are people of color. Fourteen of those employees expressed strong complaints of racism within the organization, including by expressing those feelings to NCTE’s board of directors. At least four people of color were told to sign nondisclosure agreements; no white former staff member of NCTE has reported doing the same.
These issues were brought before executive numerous times over the years in formal and informal settings. While plans and proposals were put forward by executive, they rarely yielded results and never amounted to the real change many of us feel the organization needed and transgender people deserved.
This years-long failure to retain an appropriate level of diversity in the organization — combined with a shifting cultural and political landscape for the trans rights movement — prompted a majority of the staff to make a difficult decision. At the end of September 2019, we requested the organization’s Founding Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director — Mara Keisling and Lisa Mottet, respectively — put forward a timeline for their own exit. We remain confident this is the best step forward for NCTE and the critical work it has yet to do.
We were flatly denied by Executive and the Board and instead offered a severance package. The message sent by this decision was unmistakable: All of the work and experience we bring to the organization was, in their view, dispensable, while an inconsistent and problematic leadership was not. For reasons both personal and professional, many of us accepted the offer.
The implosion of the nation’s leading trans-led advocacy organization is an avoidable crisis at a critical time for the transgender rights movement. We face renewed threats by a hostile administration, emboldened anti-trans lawmakers, organized misinformation campaigns, and the forces of hate and violence that impact transgender people every day. The same week many of us left NCTE, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported a 34 percent rise in violent hate crimes against transgender people. Legislators in at least five states have raised the notion of banning transgender teens’ access to health care, and cities across the country are busy planning for ceremonies commemorating the known and unknown lives lost to violence for the 20th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
We are left heartbroken and dismayed by the downfall of NCTE at such a time. Each one of us relished the opportunity to do our work, but we simply could not honestly speak for the equality of others from a stubbornly unequal workplace that has continually disappointed its staff, its donors, and the community it seeks to represent.