New Transgender Law Center ED 'humbled' to lead organization

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 21, 2023
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Shelby Chestnut is the new executive director of the Transgender Law Center. Photo: Courtesy TLC
Shelby Chestnut is the new executive director of the Transgender Law Center. Photo: Courtesy TLC

Shelby Chestnut, a transgender two-spirit queer person, has begun their tenure as executive director of the Transgender Law Center, the largest trans-led civil rights organization in the country.

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter, Chestnut said they are "super excited and super humbled that I get to take TLC to the next chapter of its work."

"I think for us we've gradually shifted from Bay Area-based to California-based to now a national organization and have staff all over the country and are working on trans liberation and focusing on building trans infrastructure," Chestnut said. "The whole world is seeing what attacks are happening against trans people and seeing a national organization led by a Native person and a staff that is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) is exciting for me as a leader and for us as an organization."

TLC began as a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 2002. It became its own nonprofit in 2004. While the organization is now based in Oakland, Chestnut is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Chestnut, whose first day on the job was January 10, leads a full-time staff of 40-50 people, they said.

"It's a great town," Chestnut said of Oakland. "We have offices both in the Bay Area and in New York City. The majority of staff are remote and have been for some time now."

Chestnut, 42, is no stranger to activism and community organizing.

Having previously served five years as the director of policy and programs for TLC, Chestnut has also served as director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, where they were part of coalitions that worked on passing and implementing the Violence Against Women Act and police reform legislation in the city.

Chestnut took over for Kris Hayashi, a trans man, who called Chestnut a "proven leader with the knowledge, experience, and vision to meet this current moment of the overlapping crises our communities are facing" in a statement. Hayashi had led TLC for a decade, he noted in a Facebook post.

"Shelby leads with values, builds transformative relationships with trans leaders at the grassroots and national level, and develops strategies that center the wisdom and resilience of trans communities," Hayashi stated. "As director of policy and programs, Shelby was key in convening trans leaders from across the country to create the groundbreaking Trans Agenda for Liberation, and the framework for all of TLC's work while managing and growing TLC's largest department."

The Trans Agenda for Liberation centers the lives and voices of trans people of color, "who have too often had to advance our collective liberation from the margins," according to TLC's website. "Trans justice is migrant justice, disability justice, racial justice, environmental justice, reproductive justice, economic justice, and gender justice. An agenda for trans liberation is a blueprint for liberation for all."

Chestnut said that the organization plans to look into the constitutionality of anti-trans legislation that has been passed in some states in recent years.

"We're looking (at) ... cases connected to anti-trans legislation and the constitutionality of those," Chestnut said.

TLC is also continuing to spearhead the effort to seek justice for Roxana Hernandez, a trans woman who died in United States Customs and Border Protection custody in 2018 in facilities known for freezing temperatures. Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government's disclosure of information about Hernandez's death did not comply with federal Freedom of Information Act requirements, in what Chestnut called a "huge win for government transparency."

TLC board chair Imara Jones stated that Chestnut's leadership is "exactly what we need to help meet this moment." Jones, who is Black and transgender, is CEO of TransLash Media and based in New York.

"I am beyond thrilled to welcome Shelby Chestnut as the new executive director of the Transgender Law Center," Jones stated. "It is no surprise that they had the unanimous backing of the entire board, and we look forward to supporting their work in advancing the wellbeing of each and every trans life."

Chestnut's salary is $150,000 per year, according to Sue Yacka-Bible, TLC's communications director.

TLC's most recent publicly-available IRS Form 990 states Hayashi made $117,976 in salary and other compensation in the 2019 calendar year.

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