Mara Keisling to Step Down from National Center for Transgender Equality

Mara Keisling's retirement comes nearly two years after staff members left the organization, citing unfair policies and a racist work environment.
National Center for Transgender Equality

Mara Keisling, the founding director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), is stepping down this summer.

Keisling, who has served at the helm of the organization for 18 years, will be replaced by NCTE’s deputy executive director, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, a Latinx transgender man. Heng-Lehtinen will be the second person to lead NCTE, which wields national influence in the area of LGBTQ policy and organizes one of the largest national surveys about the experiences of transgender people in the US.

“After nearly two decades at the helm of the National Center for Transgender Equality, I’m excited to have Rodrigo succeed me,” Keisling said in a statement. “Rodrigo is a talented leader and champion committed to the cause of equity and inclusion. Our work is now as important as ever as we look to pass the Equality Act, fight for transgender youth, and end all forms of disrespect, discrimination, and violence that hold transgender people back.”

Heng-Lehtinen has been in LGBTQ activism for years and has worked to advance trans rights across the country. Under Heng-Lehtinen’s current position, he’s tasked with leading diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the organization.

“I want to thank Mara for all she has done to found and lead NCTE,” Heng-Lehtinen said in a written statement. “We share a love and respect for this work, and I am grateful for what Mara has contributed to the organization and for having the vision to create this entire organization from the ground up.”

He added, “I am fully committed to working with the board, the staff, and the community to accelerate NCTE’s life-saving work.”

In recent years, some of the organization’s top leaders have faced several allegations of fostering an inequitable work environment. In 2019, dozens of staff members left NCTE, citing the group’s refusal to recognize their union and complaints of racism within the organization.

“These issues were brought before executive numerous times over the years in formal and informal settings,” staff members wrote in an open letter published in Out in 2019. “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.”

In the press release, the organization said members of the board have been “on a transformative racial justice journey” and are “examining every facet of the organization,” including updating policies to support diversity and inclusion.

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