Mara Keisling

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Mara Keisling
Born (1959-09-29) September 29, 1959 (age 59)
Scranton, Pennsylvania (USA)
ResidenceWashington, D.C. (USA)
EducationPennsylvania State University (BSS) Harvard University
Alma materPennsylvania State University
EmployerNational Center for Transgender Equality (2003-present)
Known forTransgender rights activism
Home townHarrisburg, Pennsylvania

Mara Keisling (born September 29, 1959[1] in Scranton, Pennsylvania) is an American transgender rights activist and founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, based in Washington, DC.[2][3] She is a trans woman and began transitioning in her early 40s.[3][4] In 2003, Keisling founded the National Center for Transgender Equality to advocate for the rights of transgender people in the United States.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Keisling was born to William and Elaine Keisling in Scranton, Pennsylvania as one of seven siblings. She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science degree from the Pennsylvania State University and did her graduate work in American Government at Harvard University.[2][3][5] She then worked for 25 years in social marketing and public opinion research,[1][3] while also teaching government as an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University and Marymount University.[3]

Activist career[edit]

After coming out as a transgender woman, Keisling moved home to Pennsylvania where she became a dedicated transgender rights activist.[4] She first co-chaired the Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition, during which time she recognized the need for a professional activist presence in Washington for transgender people.[1][6] She moved back to Washington in 2002 and established the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2003.[4]

In addition to her work as executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Keisling has also served on the board of directors of LGBTQ youth group Common Roads and on the steering committee of the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition.[1][3]

In recognition of her activism, Keisling has won awards from PFLAG; the Equality Forum; GayLaw; the Transgender Law Center; the Harvard Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance; and Out for Work, among others.[6] In 2017, she was included on Ms. Magazine's list of "45 Feminist Women to Follow on Twitter."[7]

National Center for Transgender Equality[edit]

During her tenure as executive director, the National Center for Transgender Equality has had numerous political victories. In 2007, Keisling and NCTE co-led "United ENDA," a coalition of over 400 LGBTQ rights organizations lobbying for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that had explicit protections for transgender individuals.[1][8] Although the bill ultimately failed to pass, it was the first-ever transgender-inclusive legislation to be proposed to the U.S. Congress and yielded the first-ever Congressional hearing on transgender rights issues.[3] Under the Obama administration, NCTE also successfully lobbied for the modification of State Department regulations, allowing transgender people to change the gender marker on their passport without necessarily having undergone genital reconstruction surgery.[3][9][10]

In 2008, NCTE partnered with the National LGBTQ Task Force to launch the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS).[11] Then the largest study of transgender individuals in the United States, the NTDS surveyed 6,450 transgender residents about their experiences of discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, health care, and education, among others.[12][13] The findings of the NTDS have since informed public policy in the United States, such as at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which based new housing regulations to protect LGBTQ people on the study.[14]

In 2015, NCTE followed up the NDTS by launching the U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), thus far the largest survey of transgender individuals in the United States.[15][16][17] Nearly 28,000 transgender residents participated in the survey, which covered a broad range of topics pertaining to family life, health, housing, income, employment, discrimination, harassment and violence, military service, political participation, and others.[16][17][18][19] In addition to the full national report, NCTE has released various breakout reports focusing on specific states.[20]

In her capacity as executive director of NCTE, Keisling has been an oft-cited source of political commentary in mainstream American media. She has appeared as a guest on news channels such as CNN,[21] C-SPAN,[22] Fox News,[23] and MSNBC.[24] She is frequently quoted in newspapers, news magazines, and online news sources, including The New York Times,[25] The Washington Post,[26] The Guardian,[27] Time,[16] Buzzfeed,[28] and The Huffington Post. Keisling has also published op-eds in numerous outlets, including The New York Times,[29] Time,[30] NBC,[31] CNN,[32] and The Huffington Post.[6]

Arrest in North Carolina[edit]

In 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed HB2 into law, thereby eliminating anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and legislating that, in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.[33] In an act of protest while visiting the North Carolina state capitol to ask the governor to repeal the law, Keisling used the women's restroom in the governor's office, posting a photo of the restroom door to social media.[34] As she recounted to Buzzfeed, other women in the restroom did not respond negatively to her presence and a state police officer in the area took no action to prevent or reprimand her.[34] Keisling was subsequently arrested along with at least 54 other demonstrators for holding a peaceful sit-in at the state legislative building.[35][36][37]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Mara Keisling |". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  2. ^ a b "Mara Keisling". National Center for Transgender Equality. 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Queery: Mara Keisling". Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights. 2011-11-17. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  4. ^ a b c "Trans Mission - Metro Weekly". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  5. ^ a b Newman, Toni (2015-03-31). "Mara Keisling, Founding Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality, Discusses Racial Equality". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  6. ^ a b c "Mara Keisling | HuffPost". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  7. ^ "45 Feminist Women to Follow on Twitter - Ms. Magazine Blog". Ms. Magazine Blog. 2017-08-07. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  8. ^ "Progressive Blogger of the Month". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  9. ^ "TLDEF: New State Department Policy on Passport Gender Change". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  10. ^ Beyer, Dana (2013-08-07). "A Review of the National Center for Transgender Equality's Decade of Accomplishment". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  11. ^ "Transgender discrimination survey launched by National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  12. ^ "Counting the Transgender Community". The American Prospect. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  13. ^ "Study: Discrimination Takes A Toll On Transgender Americans". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  14. ^ "Study Discrimination Pervades Transgender Lives". 2011-02-04. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  15. ^ "National Transgender Survey Could Be A Gamechanger – ThinkProgress". ThinkProgress. 2015-08-19. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  16. ^ a b c Steinmetz, Katy. "Inside the Largest Ever Survey of Transgender Americans". Time. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  17. ^ a b "Home". 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  18. ^ Singal, Jesse. "Here's a Huge New Survey of Transgender Americans". Science of Us. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  19. ^ Trotta, Daniel (December 8, 2016). "U.S. transgender people harassed in public restrooms: landmark survey". Reuters. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
  20. ^ "USTS Report". 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  21. ^ NCTE (2007-06-29), Mara Keisling on CNN, retrieved 2017-07-24
  22. ^ "Washington Journal Mara Keisling Discusses Transgender Protections". Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  23. ^ Brendan Davis (2010-04-13), Mara Keisling on America Live with Megyn Kelly, retrieved 2017-07-24
  24. ^ Transgender Law Center (2013-08-25), MSNBC: Masen Davis and Mara Keisling on Chelsea Manning & Transgender Equality, retrieved 2017-07-24
  25. ^ Martin, Claire (2017-03-17). "Going From Marginalized to Welcomed in the Workplace". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  26. ^ "Trump administration's approach to handling transgender students' civil rights complaints is described in memo". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  27. ^ York, David Smith Molly Redden in New (2017-02-23). "Trump administration rescinds Obama-era protections for transgender students". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  28. ^ "White House Appoints First Transgender Person As Primary LGBT Liaison". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  29. ^ "Transgender Students in High School Locker Rooms". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  30. ^ Keisling, Mara. "Bruce Jenner Has a Privilege in Telling His Truth". Time. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  31. ^ "Opinion: North Carolina lawmakers crush transgender people—again". NBC News. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  32. ^ Keisling, Mara. "President Obama may have saved Chelsea Manning's life". CNN. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  33. ^ Philipps, Dave (2016-03-23). "North Carolina Bans Local Anti-Discrimination Policies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  34. ^ a b "Transgender Woman Uses Women's Restroom In North Carolina Governor's Office". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  35. ^ CNN, Euan McKirdy. "N.C. protesters arrested following HB2 demos". CNN. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  36. ^ "Trans Activist Mara Keisling Arrested at North Carolina Protest". 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  37. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Mara Keisling's First Interview After North Carolina Arrest". 2016-04-26. Retrieved 2017-07-24.

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