National Transgender Group Sees Exodus of Workers in Clashes With Leaders

A well-known national transgender policy group finds itself having to rebuild after a mass exodus of staff members amid discontent over its leadership, claims of retaliation for labor organizing and concerns about minority hiring and outreach.

The group, the National Center for Transgender Equality, has lost about two-thirds of its staff in about two weeks, Mara Keisling, the group’s executive director, said on Friday night.

At least eight staff members resigned as a result of frustrations with the organization and a failed attempt to oust the executive and deputy executive directors. Those former staff members explained their reasons for leaving in an open letter published Friday by Out magazine.

Tensions at the center have been building for years, according to the letter.

“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,” the letter said.

The letter also said that the organization had employed a record high of 23 employees at the beginning of the year but is now down to just seven. Staff members from the policy, communications and outreach and education departments were among those who left.

Union organizing, which began last year, stalled after staff members and the executive team were unable to agree on terms.

On Friday, an unfair labor practice charge was filed against the center “for discharging all employees in the bargaining unit, in retaliation against the staff asking for voluntary recognition of their union,” the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, which had been working to organize staff members, said in a statement.

The union added that “NCTE management used textbook union-busting tactics to draw out the process and never recognized the union.”

In August, staff members walked out in protest over the firing of a survey outreach coordinator who is black and Nicaraguan, as well as to push for better workplace conditions, according to the website, which covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

About a month later, staff members called for the resignation of Ms. Keisling and the group’s deputy executive director, Lisa Mottet. At a staff meeting on Nov. 1, according to Ms. Keisling, the two women, with the support of the group’s board members, announced they would not resign and presented a plan for the organization’s “next chapter” as well as a severance offer for those who felt they needed to leave.

“Anybody who decided that this chapter isn’t for them, we wanted them to be able to have the stability to make that decision,” said Ms. Keisling, who admitted that the organization had faltered on some issues raised by employees.

“You do the best you can, and then you learn, and then you do better, and you learn, and you do better,” she said, adding that the group had brought in outside experts to “fix where we’ve fallen short.”

Ms. Keisling also denied that the group had retaliated against staff members who were union organizers.

“We could not have expressed in a more heartfelt way that we are pro-union,” she said, calling the unfair labor charge “baseless.”

But former staff members, as described in their open letter, saw the decision to keep a leadership team they viewed as problematic and offer a buyout instead as sending an “unmistakable” message: That “all of the work and experience we bring to the organization was, in their view, dispensable, while an inconsistent and problematic leadership was not.”

“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,” the letter said.

The organization is gearing up for a critical year as it tackles the 2020 presidential election as well as its 2020 Transgender Survey.

Ms. Keisling said she and her team were grateful for all the former staff members but that now “it’s time to rebuild.”

“It’s time to get back to the work that trans people really, desperately, need us to do,” she said.

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