03/31/2015 01:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mara Keisling, Founding Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality, Discusses Racial Equality


Mara Keisling is the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality based in Washington DC. Mara Keisling is a graduate of Penn State University and did her graduate work at Harvard University in American Government. The mission of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people. NCTE has grown to a staff of ten and works at the local, state and federal level to change laws, policies and society.

We discuss the economic and racial discrimination that most minority transgender people face on a day-to-day basis. Most minority transgender people live below the poverty level, and find it difficult to get employment because of transphobia and racial discrimination. We agreed that President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden have been the most trans-friendly administration ever in U.S. history. There has been much progress, but in 2015 there is still much work to be done to gain full equality and rights for transgender people in the United States.

Mara mentions more than one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias, and more than three-fourths have experienced some form of workplace discrimination. The refusal to hire, privacy violations, harassment and even physical and sexual violence on the job are common occurrences, and are experienced at even higher rates by transgender people of color. Extreme levels of unemployment and poverty lead one in eight to become involved in underground economies -- such as sex and drug work -- in order to survive and among trans people of color that number is even higher.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey done in 2011 showed that 26 percent of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50 percent were harassed on the job, 20 percent were evicted or denied housing and 78 percent of trans students were harassed or assaulted. And the transphobia that drives the discrimination is much higher when the trans person is a person of color and also faces racism. Trans people of color face higher rates of discrimination, unemployment and violence. Fighting poverty and racism and uplifting the voices of marginalized transgender people across the U.S. is key to the work of National Center for Transgender Equality.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has two main projects. They are the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative and the Trans Legal Services Network. As stated on the National Center for Transgender Equality website:

NCTE's Racial and Economic Justice Initiative started in 2014 ensures the perspectives and priorities of transgender people of color, and those who live in urban and rural poverty, are part of the national policy and advocacy agenda. This includes federal policy, local and state advocacy, and collaborating with other racial, social, economic and criminal justice movements and initiatives.

Currently, the Initiative's work includes reforming detention conditions for transgender people in correctional facilities and in immigration detention. NCTE helps ensure every transgender person can navigate the complicated name and gender change process and confidently address other legal issues they may face.

NCTE created the Trans Legal Services Network to increase support for organizations across the country who are serving or aiming to serve the legal needs of our communities. Comprised of over 50 organizations, the Network shares advice, provides technical support and legal resources to support their work and expand their services.

To listen to the full conversation between Mara Keisling and I, please go to:

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If you are interested in supporting or learning more about the work of the National Center for Transgender Equality please go here.

We are appreciative of the support of our current President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, but full equality is the goal, and nothing less will do in 2015.