Mara Keisling on the State of Trans Activism in 2017


This year, Mazzoni Center will recognize and honor Mara Keisling, Founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, at the eighth annual Justice in Action luncheon for her groundbreaking work on behalf of trans and nonbinary individuals within the LGBTQ community.

We spoke with Keisling to learn more about her work, how to get involved, and the challenges presented by a new hostile federal administration. 


How could you describe the changing state of trans activism in 2017? How must LGBTQ activists and allies alike adjust their action during a Trump presidency?
A: With the start of a new presidential administration, we’re entering uncharted and, frankly, troubled, waters. What we do know is that for the foreseeable future, we will need to resist rollbacks and fight back against anti-trans legislation, policies, and sentiment, and we will need to do that in solidarity with lots of other people and movements.

That said, trans people must also keep doing the important work that we’ve been doing for decades—telling our stories to teach our friends, neighbors, and coworkers about who we are. People fear what they don’t know, so once they get to know trans people, they realize that we’re just trying to live our lives. Trans people and our issues have become increasingly visible over the last couple of years, and that’s not going to stop.

We will fight back, we will stand arm-in-arm with all marginalized people, and we will keep telling our stories.

What type of legal services do trans and transitioning people often find themselves in need of that those of us who want to lend support are usually unaware of?
An important set of steps that trans people might need legal assistance for during the course of their transition is legal name and gender changes. Because people get identity documents through a variety of different state and federal government offices, the name and gender change process can be complicated. To help people out with this, NCTE has an ID Documents Center, where people can look up the type of document they want to change in every state and on the federal level, and get detailed instructions on how to do so. If people still have trouble, they can also reach out to a local member of the Transgender Legal Services Network for legal assistance.

There is also a huge need for legal help with immigration in these times.

What can we do to support the efforts of institutions like Mazzoni Center and the National Center for Transgender Equality?
Trans people having the courage to tell those around us who we are can be really effective. For trans people who don’t have a lot of access to resources, just hearing that an organization like NCTE exists can be so helpful. Also, for anyone who doesn’t know a lot about transgender issues, our About Transgender People resource hub is a great place to look for more information and get educated in order to spread the word some more. And of course, small nonprofit organizations need to run somehow—so we deeply appreciate it whenever folks have the ability to contribute financially to our work.

How must organizations and activists better address the inclusion and representation of trans people in their missions?

It’s important to make sure that there are trans people at the table in pretty much any situation. When organizations accurately reflect the fact that trans people are all kinds of people, our work gets so much better. For example, President Obama hired former NCTE staff member Raffi Freedman-Gurspan to the White House, showing his understanding that including transgender people could only strengthen his administration’s work.


Hours ahead of the Justice in Action luncheon, the Mazzoni Center legal services department will host a continuing legal education (CLE) course titled Protected or Not? When, Where and How do Sex Discrimination Laws Protect LGBTQ People? Designed to advance legal professionals’ knowledge of anti-discrimination laws, the program is an absolute essential for any Philadelphia lawyer who wants to understand the basic human rights of LGBTQ people.

Register now and join us on Friday, February 10 at 11:30 a.m. at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor for Justice in Action 2017, please contact Perry Monastero at: [email protected].