Today Shelby Chestnut (they/he) begins their tenure as executive director of Transgender Law Center, the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures. Chestnut has over 20 years of community organizing, policy advocacy, and leadership experience in the LGBTQ and anti-violence movements. They previously served for five years as TLC’s Director of Policy and Programs.
“I am beyond thrilled to welcome Shelby Chestnut as the new executive director of the Transgender Law Center,” said Imara Jones, TLC board chair and CEO of TransLash Media. “At a crucial moment for trans people, with both unprecedented attacks and possibilities, Shelby’s leadership and vision are exactly what we need to help meet this moment. 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.”
“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,” said Kris Hayashi, departing executive director. “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. Shelby is a proven leader with the knowledge, experience, and vision to meet this current moment of the overlapping crises our communities are facing.”
Chestnut has spearheaded leadership development and social change within and for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities throughout their career. While Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) Chestnut was a part of steering committees and coalitions working on the passage and implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and landmark New York City police reform legislation, the Right to Know Act (RTKA).They are a graduate of Antioch College and currently the chair of the Board of Trustees.
“I am honored to lead our wonderful staff at Transgender Law Center in keeping trans people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation,” said Chestnut. “Under Kris’s visionary and steadfast leadership the organization has grown, our relationships with funders have expanded and deepened, and we have launched critical programs like the Disability Project, Black Trans Circles, and Border Butterflies. In this next chapter for TLC, I will continue demanding what our community deserves, to live long and fulfilling lives, and to strengthen the political infrastructure of our movement in the South and Midwest to make it happen.”
“Having worked alongside Shelby working for social justice and liberation for over a decade, I’m beyond thrilled to learn of this passing on legacy work for trans justice,” said Gabriel Foster, co-founder and executive director of Trans Justice Funding Project. “Shelby’s extraordinary commitment to trans leadership and communities with deep dedication to centering care while demonstrating a passionate drive to press on towards justice is admirable at a minimum. I’m looking forward to supporting Shelby in this new chapter at TLC! Congratulations!”
“Shelby has been a steadfast force in the fight for trans liberation,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT). “I have been lucky to have our paths converge within our shared work and Shelby has consistently brought values driven leadership and showed up with an open heart combined by years of expertise and experience.”
“Shelby’s dedication to cultivating new leadership and strengthening movement bridges make them a powerful leader in the trans liberation movement during this moment of immense challenges,” said Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP). “While working with them at Transgender Law Center, I observed the care and intentionality with which Shelby practices solidarity and know that the organization will continue to be an ally in ensuring Black LGBTQIA+ migrants, and all trans people, are liberated and free.”
Chestnut will be the first Native trans executive director of TLC and one of the first Native trans leaders to head a national LGBT organization. Hayashi and Chestnut will overlap for about three months after which Hayashi will shift to a primarily internal focus. He will leave the organization in June 2023 and enjoy some well-deserved time off.