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Racial Justice at NCTE: A New Era



NCTE is in the midst of total transformation as we realign our organization toward racial justice, inside and out. We would like to acknowledge the ways that we have participated in racism, anti-Blackness, and other forms of oppression through our workplace policies and culture. Over the years, these conditions harmed our staff in innumerable ways. We received a serious wake-up call when in 2019 many NCTE staff left the organization in response to the harm they experienced.  

Since then, we have been working to examine how we got here and how we can create an organization that supports all of our employees to thrive. We are deeply committed to transformation and invite our community to hold us accountable in this crucial work. 

A previous version of this page was written in 2020 in an effort to be transparent about what happened and what we’re doing make it right. Now, in January 2022, we are offering an updated statement. 


What Happened 

In 2019, a large number of our staff walked out of the office in protest of what they felt was an “unequal workplace.” The incident was widely reported in the news, including The New York Times and Jezebel. Several former staff wrote an open letter published in Out Magazine outlining the issues they faced and why they left. Over 400 LGBTQ activists, organizers, and community members also signed an open letter in support of those former employees. That year, our staff went from 21 to just seven. 

In addition to these news stories and feedback from former and current staff, we hired a Black feminist consulting firm that specializes in racial justice in the nonprofit sector to conduct a third-party assessment of the organization. They interviewed current and former staff, current and former board members, and community leaders. 

For many years, NCTE has experienced high staff turnover, especially for staff of color. Our staff quadrupled in size in just a few years, but the organization’s culture and structures did not offer enough support to the new staff who were all hired into high-pressure jobs. The firm found a culture of white dominance as well as inadequate structures and policies to support NCTE’s staff. This showed up in numerous ways: 

  • Not prioritizing staff of color internally and communities of color in our work 
  • Resistance to talking about race and a fear of conflict 
  • No Black staff in senior leadership and high turnover of Black staff 
  • A culture of urgency and overworking leading to staff burnout 
  • Top-down decision making and lack of transparency 
  • Focus on work product rather than process, relationships, and culture 
  • Inadequate policies for disability accommodation  
  • A unionization dispute about whether supervisors should be in the same bargaining unit as their supervisees 

All of these things and more led us to the situation in 2019 when staff decided to walk out. And in the process, we have lost our community’s trust. This is something we take very seriously, and we are now doing the work to transform our organization. 


What We’re Doing 

We know that the best apology is changed behavior. To that end, we are working to change the culture and policies of our organization so that all staff can thrive. 

Starting in 2020, NCTE began a series of trainings and discussions about race, power, privilege, and equity. Executive leadership also began receiving coaching on how to address these dynamics in the organization. 

Most recently, in the fall of 2021, we conducted a series of four three-day staff retreats facilitated by consultants as well as staff to discuss organizational culture, race, and NCTE's future. We are specifically examining anti-Black racism because we understand that centering the most marginalized among us will lead to a better world for all of us. We have examined and will continue to examine how anti-Blackness shows up in our workplace, how our culture of overworking contributes to burnout, and how white dominant culture impacts the organization overall.  These conversations have been both eye-opening and uncomfortable, as they should be, and we believe we are becoming better because of it. As we recognize the patterns, we have begun to explore what it could look like to tangibly transform. 

Since 2020, we have worked to change the following policies and structures: 

  • Expanded decision-making and authority to more staff  
  • Increased autonomy in day-to-day staff roles  
  • Created staff participation in setting the organizational budget  
  • Invested in more professional development  
  • Overhauled feedback and evaluation to better support in supervision 
  • Established salary bands for pay equity  
  • Created a first-ever promotions policy  
  • Increased transparency and communication about why decisions are made  
  • Changed our hiring process to be more proactively inclusive and people-focused, including listing salary ranges 
  • Changed our onboarding process to better support new employees 
  • Updated our disability accommodations policy to better serve our staff 
  • Implemented professional coaching for all managerial staff 
  • Recognized a union of non-managerial staff in 2021 
  • Added new members to our board 

In 2020, after overhauling our hiring procedures, we began to scale our staff back up. After having only seven staff at the end of 2019, NCTE ended 2021 with a staff of 16 people, and we plan to continue growing in 2022. Our staff today are committed to the work of racial justice and building a better organization. We will continue the work to develop a workplace where staff, especially Black staff and other staff of color, can thrive. 

With all of this momentum, we still want to acknowledge that we are not “there” yet and the work toward racial justice is not “done.” And while a white dominant mindset may wish for a finish line on the horizon, we know that racial justice in nonprofits is a journey, not simply a destination. This is an ongoing process as we continue to receive trainings, have hard conversations, and overhaul our systems. Racial justice must be infused into everything we do, inside and out. 


New Leadership and Vision 

Our staff has grown significantly since the end of 2019. All of us believe in NCTE’s commitment to change and continue to make contributions to improving racial justice in the workplace. We are excited, but most of all grateful, to be working together as a team of ambitious and passionate activists.  

In addition to hiring new staff, we are very excited to have new leadership. As our previous leader of 18 years departed, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen was promoted to Executive Director. Rodrigo came with a new vision for the organization that puts equitable workplace practices at the forefront and pushes NCTE into a new era of radical change. Rodrigo is enthusiastic about NCTE’s shift to becoming an organization that all trans people can be a part of and want to join. Through ongoing and sustained relationship building with other trans organizations led by trans people of color, NCTE will see these aspirations come to fruition.  

As a staff, we have set intentions for our transformation in this new era of NCTE: 

  • NCTE will have a culture that prioritizes care and community at all levels of the organization.   
  • NCTE will acknowledge and confront white dominant culture through practices that center the safety and wellbeing of Black staff and help dismantle racism and anti-Blackness in the organization. 
  • NCTE envisions a work culture and environment that invests in Black staff and staff of color creates space for them to arrive as their whole selves.  

We hope you join us in this journey of making these vision statements into a reality. 



As we work toward justice and a better NCTE, we know that it will take time to reestablish trust. This is a process that requires our engagement of the community’s needs, especially of those who have been harmed by our actions and inactions. It is important that our efforts are informed by what the community deems necessary for rebuilding trust. We are looking forward to having the opportunity to discuss with community members what accountability looks like for them. After all, the integral principle that guides us in this endeavor is that we owe it to our community to do better. 

We will continue to update this webpage as we progress, learn, and evolve in our understanding of how to embody racial justice in every aspect of our work.  

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