Harper Jean Tobin to Leave NCTE as Fallout Grows

The loss is a serious blow to the national transgender rights group, which bled most of its staff last month.

Harper Jean Tobin, one of the most powerful transgender policy minds in the nation, is leaving the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

Tobin, credited with some of biggest advancements for transgender Americans in the past decade, submitted her resignation this week.

“I can confirm I will be departing the staff sometime in early 2020,” she tells NewNowNext. “I have nothing to add to what others have said about the situation at NCTE.”

Tobin’s departure comes on the heels of a massive period of upheaval at NCTE, during which all staff were offered 10-week severances to leave their posts or continue on with the organization as it struggles to cope with serious allegations of racism and union-busting. Most staff took the buyout deal, leaving just seven employees left at a group which boasted more than 20 at the year’s peak.

Tobin, however, had not been among the initial staffers to depart, a sign that NCTE might continue its substantial policy initiatives heading into 2020. The organization—once seen as America’s preeminent transgender rights group—could be pivotal as the presidential election unfolds. The group is also counted on to conduct its annual U.S. Transgender Survey, the only comprehensive report on transgender people in the nation.

Tobin had continued on through December, despite being among those to call for executive director Mara Keisling and deputy executive director Lisa Mottet resign within 18 months in a letter from staff earlier in the year.

Keisling was all praise for Tobin in a statement released to NewNowNext Friday.

“We are all so thankful that Harper Jean has done such remarkable and transformative work for trans people for over a decade as the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Policy Director,” she said. “We know she will continue to make important contributions to trans people’s lives. We look forward to collaborating with her in the future.”

NCTE’s leaders, meanwhile, are still grappling with the fallout of past controversies: Earlier this month, more than 440 transgender leaders and allies signed a letter in solidarity with former staffers allegedly forced from their jobs.

Keisling, however, has strongly denied union-busting allegations. In an extensive interview with NewNowNext, she claimed NCTE is working diligently to repair community trust and mend internal issues after the organization grew faster than it had anticipated.

“We something like tripled in size in four years, and that means that not all the systems that are in place are sufficient for an ever bigger organization and are sufficient for an organization that’s in change, and we’ve identified some communication styles and processes, some leadership styles and processes and some areas where there wasn’t full agreement on the staff on how things happened and why things happened,” she previously told NewNowNext.

Tobin’s departure now leaves serious questions for NCTE, still dealing with the loss of its entire communications team in November, among other key staff.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of Tobin’s work on behalf of transgender Americans over the last decade. Tobin’s advocacy is tied to many major federal advancements for transgender people, from pushing for health care and housing protections, to ensuring justice for incarcerated trans people and access to gender-affirming IDs.

She is credited with pushing the State Department to issue transgender-affirming passports back in 2010, and has testified before Congress on the need to preserve transgender nondiscrimination protections in homeless shelters nationwide.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.
@shoeleatherkate