New TLC leaders aim to widen agency's reach
by Heather Cassell
A new team of advocates will soon take the helm of the Transgender Law Center in a bold move to strengthen the civil rights organization's statewide presence to ensure that California remains the best state for transgender people.
Starting later this month, TLC will have two new leaders. Masen Davis will be the organization's first executive director, and Kristina Wertz will be the organization's first legal director. Together they will lead a team that includes Ben Lunine, a staff attorney who started in February, and Alexis Rivera, the policy advocate who started in March.
The staff expansion demonstrates the strength of TLC, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary and has grown from a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights into its own entity with an annual operating budget of $385,000 as of 2007, according to outgoing TLC director Chris Daley. TLC is ready to take the step to the next level, Daley noted.
"It's important to do this transition so new ideas and new energy can build on the work that we've put in place so far," said Daley.
The Bay Area Reporter reported on Daley's announced departure in January. Daley, who earned $39,000 a year as director, will leave the agency he helped start in September to pursue a legal career in private practice.
Daley added, "I will always be a part of this work in some way, there is no doubt in my mind this is the best job that I will ever have."
TLC began in 2002 as a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It received major funding through the Pride Law Fund Tom Steel Fellow Award and the Echoing Green Fellow Award. After two years of being under NCLR's wing, the organization established its own nonprofit status. It has been recognized nationally as a groundbreaking organization.
In the spirit of what Daley and the founding board accomplished, Davis and Wertz plan to work together to make California, in Wertz's words, "the best place for transgender individuals to live."
"I think this is a real exciting time for TLC and the transgender movement in general," said Davis in a telephone interview. "We are facing unprecedented opportunities to promote transgender civil rights in California and across the country."
Davis's strong nonprofit professional experience as well as his deep roots in Los Angeles's LGBT community made him rise to the top of a competitive pool of applicants, according to Daley.
"Mason is a phenomenal leader," said Daley. "He has really been at the forefront connecting transgender advocates and activists."
Davis, 36, a queer transgender man, will begin his new position August 27. He is leaving a six-year tenure as director of development of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, where he raised $5.8 million for anti-poverty programs, according to TLC's news release. Davis has a master's degree in social welfare with a concentration in nonprofit management from the University of California, Los Angeles. Davis also co-founded FTM Alliance in Los Angeles and has been involved in the LGBT movement for the past 18 years.
Daley told the B.A.R. that Davis's activism spanned across Los Angeles County to the statewide level with TLC, and nationally as a board member of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
As TLC's first executive director he will earn $60,000 a year, according to Daley, and he won't be leaving the south for the north. Davis told the B.A.R. that he is going to work out of San Francisco half of the time and the rest of his time will be spent in Los Angeles and traveling around the state.
"I am incredibly excited to be a part of the Transgender Law Center," said Davis. "It's been, in its short tenure as
Daley told the B.A.R. that TLC isn't quite ready to open an office in Los Angeles, but it may not be too far off into the future as a part of its "common sense growth plan" and its goal to continue to ensure that transgender individuals are represented throughout California.
Wertz, 28, a lesbian, will join Davis on September 10, and she will work full-time out of the San Francisco office along with Lunine and Rivera. Wertz, a San Francisco native, has been practicing employment litigation, mostly for LGBT clients, in San Francisco since 2005. She obtained her law degree from Brooklyn Law School in New York in 2004.
"She's dynamite," said Daley. "She really has a firm grounding in transgender legal issues and a real desire to be a part of the transgender rights movement."
Wertz, who will earn $53,000 annually, will be responsible for overseeing TLC's legal staff, legal programs, publications, and communicating legal issues and laws that affect the transgender individuals to the community, Daley explained.
"I'm incredibly excited and incredibly grateful for this opportunity," said Wertz in a telephone interview. "I can't wait to get started and meet a lot of the people that I'm going to be working with."
Lunine, a transgender man and civil rights attorney, is responsible for assisting clients, as well as training community members, employers, and social service providers about cultural sensitivity to transgender issues and needs as a part of the Transgender Economic Employment Initiative, Daley said. Lunine, a Berkeley native, obtained his law degree from New College of California School of Law and has a strong background in LGBT advocacy work.
Rivera, a queer transgender woman from Los Angeles, is responsible for coordinating school safety, bathroom access, and health care for the Transforming Institutions program as well as developing other projects. Rivera graduated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV Prevention Leadership Internship in Atlanta, Georgia and has advocated for transgender rights for the past 12 years. She was a commissioner for the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV/AIDS, a founding board member of the FTM Alliance of Los Angeles, and she chaired the Transgender Service Provider Network for the past five years.
Lunine and Rivera each earn $40,000 annually, according to Daley.
When asked how he envisions TLC's future, Daley said, "I'm hoping, in some ways, that there will be parts of TLC that I won't recognize because we will have opened the door for new visions, but I am confident that the optimism and collaborative spirit that have helped TLC thrive thus far will be fully recognizable in what TLC becomes."
Community members are invited to meet Davis and Wertz as well as the rest of TLC's new leadership team at the agency's annual benefit Tuesday, September 11 at 7 p.m. at the End Up, 401 6th Street (at Harrison). Tickets start at $50. For more information, visit http://www.transgenderlawcenter.org/event2007.html or call Cecilia Chung at (415) 865-0184.