by Mark Van Streefkerk
Ingersoll Gender Center is one of the oldest organizations by and for transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming communities in the U.S. Founded in 1977, Ingersoll provides support groups, resources, help with navigating healthcare, employment, and other services, all under the vision of self-determination and collective liberation for transgender people. However, current and former staff members claim the nonprofit has fallen far short of this vision, alleging Ingersoll Directors have demonstrated “intentional, calculated abuse, and anti-Blackness.”
On March 15, about 12 Black, POC, trans, and disabled current and former staff — known as Ingersoll Collective Action — released an Action Network petition, calling out the nonprofit for abusive workplace dynamics, exploiting the labor and social capital of Black staff, and other instances of harm.
The petition includes accounts of verbal abuse, sexually harassing comments, intimidation, attempts to co-opt the work of Black staff, and other examples going back more than two years. The petition demands the immediate resignations of Executive Director Karter Booher, Program Director Jonathan Lee Williams, and Operations Director Louis Mitchell. Demands also include a public apology for nonaction when past concerns were raised and for outside investigators and racial equity consultants to be hired to review the organization. Over 1,100 signatures have been gathered by the time of this article, including support from groups like Queer The Land, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, Pride Foundation, Alphabet Alliance of Color, and The Gender Justice League.
Ingersoll’s board of directors addressed the petition in a brief public statement, reporting the organization had authorized a “complete professional investigation into all matters.” Ingersoll Collective Action responded with questions about the investigation and demanded transparency in the process. The board answered with information about the independent investigator, Onik’a Gilliam-Cathcart of the Seattle law firm Helsell Fetterman, and an apology that the investigation didn’t happen sooner. Ingersoll Collective Action responded by expressing feeling let down by the board’s statements and their lack of addressing the petition’s main demands.
On March 26, the board met with non-director staff to announce all staff and contractors would receive two weeks of paid time off starting April 3. The board said Gilliam-Cathcart would be reaching out to staff during that time for the investigation. For a timeline of events, statements from 10 current and former Ingersoll staff, and a link to the petition, see the Ingersoll Collective Action website.
South Seattle Emerald reached out to Ingersoll, as well as founder and Board Co-Chair Marsha Botzer for comment. Botzer replied with a copy of the board’s first public statement and has not responded to an additional request for comment.
Evelyn Chow, Ingersoll’s economic justice manager and part of Ingersoll Collective Action, said, “People in the BIPOC queer and trans communities in Seattle have already known and heard about a lot of the shit that’s happening at Ingersoll. It’s been a well known fact in communities for months, if not years now.”
In one of the statements from Ingersoll’s former community engagement manager Al Littlejohn, they said they were “regularly harassed and abused at the hands of, primarily, the program director … I could get cussed at for literally just making a suggestion.”
Littlejohn said they developed a drinking problem in order to cope with the job and eventually decided to resign last summer. Both the program director and operations director are Black. “You can be Black and still be anti-Black at the same time — some folks apparently haven’t gotten the message,” Littlejohn wrote in their statement.
Chow noted the common occurrence of how mainly white-run nonprofits employ BIPOC staff members, but lacking the self-awareness, desire, or action to unlearn white supremacy, these nonprofits essentially set BIPOC staff up for failure, feeling burned out, unsupported, and exploited in a cycle of diversity without inclusion.
Chow said Ingersoll has been historically dismissive of grievances or reluctant or slow to address them. They said there is documentation of grievances brought against the board from the past few years, which they’ve “continuously tried to sweep under the rug or steamroll over, pretending like [these] things aren’t really happening. This is a pattern for Ingersoll’s board and leadership at this point.” It was only “very recently” that Ingersoll hired ChrisTiana ObeySumner of Epiphanies of Equity for a racial equity consultation in response to demands made last summer.
Mattie Mooney, a Black trans community organizer and healthcare advocate, worked at Ingersoll for about three years. Mooney put in their two weeks’ notice of resignation at Ingersoll in March, around the same time they say Booher was attempting to co-opt their work on SB 5313, a health care act that would require insurers to cover gender-affirming procedures often dismissed and denied as “cosmetic.” Mooney said when they brought up the issue with Booher, their remaining two weeks at Ingersoll were cut short, and they were denied access to their work email and Slack accounts.
This instance, combined with unaddressed grievances of the past and the fact some individuals’ contracts would end at the end of March, made the moment right for action. “We knew we had the people power in this moment and wanted to act before things got swept under the rug and put off yet again,” Chow said.
What’s happening at Ingersoll mirrors demands from BIPOC staff to address systemic racism at other Seattle institutions and nonprofits like Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Hugo House. “We’ve been seeing BIPOC workers at nonprofits across the board in Seattle … rising up and refusing to endure these racist work environments any longer,” Chow observed. “[But] the unfortunate reality is that we are still part of this nonprofit industrial complex, and the nonprofit industrial complex was literally created to placate radical change.”
Chow recognizes the important role Ingersoll plays in providing direct support and resources to transgender and gender diverse people, but believes service and advocacy is dependent on trust between the organization and the communities they serve. Meeting the demands of the petition would be a start to make it right.
“I think that with momentum and proper coordination, organizing, and mobilizing, we really can see the change that we want. It’s going to be a slow and very messy process, I’m sure,” Chow said. “While I hope that justice can come for this specific situation at this specific organization, my vision for trans liberation and queer and trans justice is a world in which nonprofits don’t need to exist in general.”
Ingersoll Collective Action is planning to host a roundtable discussion with community members and supporting organizations to share information and talk about upcoming actions. Stay up-to-date with the collective through their website.
Update: Ingersoll announced on 4/16 that Executive Director Karter Booher and Operations Director Louis Mitchell have submitted their resignations for personal reasons. Their last effective date with the organization will be June 1.
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