Racial Justice and Social Justice at NCTE | National Center for Transgender Equality

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Racial Justice and Social Justice at NCTE


NCTE is on a journey towards becoming a more equitable organization, one characterized by racial justice both internally and externally. The last several years have been an intense time of reflection and transformation for us. In 2020, we started our internal journey towards understanding- in depth, how we participate, perpetuate and examine race, racism and injustice. We took part in training and instituted a weekly lunch where we talk about social justice, power and our internal culture. We have examined every organizational policy and have done important, reflective work to make sure our organizational practices are rooted in equity. Our leaders have been going through coaching, our processes have shifted to center racial justice, and our staff has grown. This past year has been so important, eye opening and transformative for us. And we have a lot more to do. As we move forward we will constantly strive to create an affirming work environment where everyone can thrive.

We know that racial justice is a journey, and change doesn't happen overnight. This is an update on the concrete steps we have taken thus far. We are committed to continuing the process.

We understand many people are curious for an update. Here are answers to some questions you may have about what happened, what we’ve changed, and where we’re heading.

What happened in 2019?

  • In late 2019, some staffers left NCTE and long-simmering internal tensions were made public. The organization got to this point through rapid, insufficiently managed organizational growth and a lack of systems to fully support a diverse team.
  • NCTE had quadrupled in size in just a few years. The organization did not, however, appropriately support this growth. Management did not keep up with the new systems needed to properly support all the new staff who joined us. We operated primarily under pre-existing structures, habits, and decision making processes from when it was a fraction of the size. Consequently, many staffers did not get the support they needed and some were frustrated by a system that, frankly, did not work as well as we needed it to anymore.
  • Such managerial shortcomings and lack of examination at NCTE (or at any organization) are not race-neutral because of systems of racism and other oppressions. When NCTE did not have adequate systems, the most marginalized employees were hurt the most. Those who have more privilege had access to resources and power that made navigating within an organization with poor systems an easier process. But those who are more marginalized - people of color, those with less generational wealth, those with less formal education - are too often pushed to the sidelines. This system may not intentionally or consciously be about race or class, but just because a system isn’t explicitly about race or class doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact people differently along race and class lines.
  • NCTE recognizes that as individuals and as an organization we function in a world with racism, white privilege, and injustice. We have all internalized these messages and perpetuated them unconsciously within the organization and to each other. Long-time senior leadership (Executive Director Mara Keisling and Senior Strategist Lisa Mottet) acknowledge that they made mistakes, both big and small. Mara and Lisa are deeply sorry for the way white privilege and injustice showed up in the organization, and they are both deeply sorry for the hurt they caused to others along the way. Specifically, they are sorry for not building the systems and culture that would have made everyone feel valued, for not getting external help sooner from experts on racial justice to help us as individuals and as an organization to move faster in our racial justice journey, and for not always listening deeply to staff concerns.
  • All of management is now working on implementing systems, supporting staff, doing deep reflection and learning how to be actively anti-racist in all of our work and lives.

What has NCTE been changing?

  • The organization is learning from this to build a much stronger organization. We’re working closely with racial justice experts to improve everything from the hiring process, to onboarding, to how we communicate with each other. Every single component is evolving in positive ways.
  • NCTE is evaluating and improving all aspects of the organization from a racial justice lens.
  • In 2019, we worked with consultants to develop a “Plan Forward,” which identifies all of the internal changes we are aiming for, with deadlines. We are working on all of it and adding to it as we make these changes.
  • After having spent a year and a half focusing, intently on our internal work dynamics, culture, systems and processes, we are now prioritizing the following 7 actions:

    1. Fostering community as a staff and team and addressing emotions in the workplace: We used to avoid acknowledging the emotional impact of doing activism for a living. Now we make space to discuss it on a regular basis.
    2. Ensuring we are intentional with professional development for all staff. Determining more opportunities for external training, as well as making more internal support available too. 
    3. Developing more supportive, more reflective, more collaborative leadership that is more communicative about why decisions are being made after that input. All managers receive coaching to best support the team. 
    4. Building a new intentional and inclusive shared culture of the organization: Eliminating those white styles of communication and culture that have previously translated into people of color feeling excluded or devalued. Ensuring that other communication styles are embraced and respected.
    5. Overhauled our hiring process making it more inclusive and people-focused, leading to a more diverse staff.
    6. Overhauling onboarding policies and practices to ensure every new employee at NCTE can succeed and flourish.
    7. Revised full Employee Handbook to align every rule and practice with diversity, equity, and inclusion principles.
  • These changes at NCTE were overdue, but now the organization is scaling up in a thoughtful way that will make it stronger and more equitable than before.

Who are the consultants NCTE is working with?

  • NCTE has been working with a Black-owned diversity, equity, and inclusion firm that specializes in racial justice in the non-profit sector and works from a Black feminist lens.
  • The consultants are working with NCTE as long-term partners to the organization. They have interviewed many former staff, board members, and colleagues from other organizations to establish a comprehensive understanding of the organization. They are coaching each member of NCTE’s executive team individually. They have reviewed all organizational policies and helped NCTE publish a new employee handbook. They are leading weekly training sessions for the full staff.

What happened with unionizing last year?

  • NCTE’s management proudly agreed to voluntarily recognize a union.
  • The unionization dispute last year was about whether supervisors should be in the same bargaining unit as their supervisees.
  • Earlier in 2019, the NCTE board unanimously voted to voluntarily recognize a union. Multiple labor activists have been on the board. Nevertheless, there was disagreement over who should be in the bargaining unit. Supervisors are almost never in the same unit because that could put unfair pressure on the people who report to them. Unions, including non-profit unions, routinely either exclude supervisors from the bargaining unit or have supervisors form their own bargaining unit in order to preserve boundaries between them and the staff they manage. NCTE management wanted to observe that best practice, while some staff in the proposed bargaining unit wanted supervisors to be in the bargaining unit with the people they supervise. The two sides did not resolve this disagreement.
  • In November 2019, the union that was planning on representing the bargaining unit filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That charge was dismissed on April 1, 2020. The NLRB conducted an investigation and concluded that the charge was without merit.

What is NCTE management’s position on unionizing?

  • NCTE, including the NCTE board, remains strongly pro-labor. NCTE would be proud to voluntarily recognize a union of non-management staff.

What happened with NCTE’s disability policies?

  • NCTE’s previous policies were too vague, time-consuming, and burdensome.
  • After hearing requests from staff, NCTE created a new policy in 2018. It has timelines and time limits to keep the process moving as quickly as possible.

How does racial justice show up in NCTE’s external work?

  • For many years, our policy and programmatic work has proudly prioritized policy issues that affect trans people of color the most.
  • We have developed multiple reports, model policies, policy recommendations, and advocacy guides related to police brutality, abuse in jails and prisons, and decriminalizing sex work, and we have long worked on various kinds of immigration reform.
  • With the United States Transgender Survey (USTS), we focus on highlighting the experiences of trans people of color respondents with long, segmented reports on Black, Asian, Latina/o/x, and American Indian respondents.
  • The question “who is most impacted by this?” is a guiding question in making policy and communications decisions.

Who should apply to work at NCTE?

  • NCTE affirmatively values diversity and seeks to hire and retain staff that reflects the diversity of our communities.
  • As a social justice organization, we will only succeed in creating a just and equitable society for all trans people if we focus our work on the needs of the most marginalized trans people, especially trans people of color.
  • NCTE is committed to creating a diverse staff made of people who are kind, optimistic and committed to social justice, from all segments of transgender and allied communities.
  • Transgender people, including non-binary people, people of color, people who were formerly incarcerated, and people with disabilities are particularly encouraged to apply.

For information about salaries, benefits, and the hiring process, or to see if NCTE has any open positions, check out our jobs page.

What’s next?

  • We will continue to report back on our internal transformation. We will share updates and reach out to partners for ongoing conversation. 
  • We know that racial justice is a journey. We’ve been doing our internal work to transform our systems and culture, and are committed to continuing to do so. What an honor it is to move forward knowing we can more fully serve all trans people. 

Update as of March 2021

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