As of Mon., Nov. 18 the nation’s preeminent transgender rights group is now a shell of its former self. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), which started 2019 with a team of 23 staffers, will close out the month with just seven.
According to multiple insider sources, leadership recently offered employees the option to take a 10-week buyout. Nearly everyone stepped away, many declining the severance.
“It seemed like they were really trying to push people to take the severance package, so it was like okay, what kind of organization is going to be left?” says one departing staff member, who spoke to NewNowNext on the condition of anonymity.
Leadership offered buyout packages to all staff in a four-and-half-hour meeting last week, sources say. The offer came after staffers wrote a letter demanding that executive director Mara Keisling and deputy executive director Lisa Mottet resign within 18 months.
“We’ve seen bridges burned between NCTE and leaders within the Black and brown trans communities,” the letter reads.
In a statement, Keisling said that staff, including leadership, was given “new protocols” for moving forward:
"We have asked our staff to embrace a new chapter at NCTE, but we didn’t want anyone to feel pressured into this decision. We offered a severance package meant to give those who decide this next chapter is not for them the stability to make that decision."
NCTE is widely regarded as the nation’s leading transgender policy organization, and a critical voice in the fight to keep trans protections against rollbacks from the Trump administration. When The New York Times broke a story that the Trump administration wanted to legally define trans people out of existence, the group immediately launched the viral #WontBeErased campaign. The staffers behind that campaign are now almost entirely gone.
“They’ve bled most of their talent,” says a former employee. “[NCTE has] really burned bridges with a lot of folks who I believe are going to go on to do really great things… They are all incredibly talented, incredibly hard working, devoted to the cause. Most of the employees who left are trans.”
Eight departing staff members confirmed they were leaving the organization in conversations with NewNowNext. All declined to speak on-record as they scramble to find new employment.
Losses include the organization’s spokesperson Gillian Branstetter, who declined to comment for this article; director of communications Jay Wu; workplace inclusion manager Alex Roberts; digital campaigns manager Laurel Powell; digital strategist Charles Girard; executive assistant Dylan Yellowlees; policy counsel and research associate Ma’ayan Anafi; and racial and economic justice policy advocate Mateo De La Torre.
Arli Christian—NCTE’s former state policy director who spearheaded national efforts to help states implement nonbinary IDs and pushed for gender neutral passports—is also departing the organization. And according to former employees, development associate Lauren Dow left six weeks ago.
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy, will remain with the organization, Keisling said. Tobin was among those who previously asked Keisling to step down.
“I did not think that things were going to end up this way at all,” says one departing employee.
“It’s such a bummer,” adds another.
Across the board, staffers were baffled by the buyout. NCTE Board Chair Rachel See was similarly opaque on why staff had been offered a buyout, expressing gratitude for departing and remaining staff in a written statement to NewNowNext:
NCTE’s Board and management have developed a plan to strengthen transparency and trust among our staff, and to create a workplace where everyone feels respected and valued. I’m sad that some staffers won’t be staying with NCTE because of their individual circumstances.
Former staff say those “new protocols” presented in the meeting were so vague, they weren’t sure what they were being asked to commit to. Several staff members are making less than $60,000 despite years in the field and advanced degrees. They asked leadership for raises to remain on staff but were denied pay bumps.
Staff have been pressing for better working conditions for two years, including improved benefits like more paid time off and reimbursements. Those requests grew more urgent as the Trump administration’s onslaught against transgender people forced staffers to be more mindful about their own self care, staffers add.