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Using data to make transgender people visible

By Cathleen Clerkin (she/her)
March 31, 2022

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About seven years ago, I attended a lecture by American actress and transgender advocate, Laverne Cox. She was smart and hilarious and fierce in her kindness. She shared stories about her life and recommendations for how to support transgender communities. One of the things that stuck with me (researcher that I am) was her call to include transgender information as a separate question on demographic data collection efforts. Limited gender options (e.g., binary “male” “female”) means that transgender identities are made invisible. Yet, adding “transgender” within a single forced-choice gender question can leave transgender individuals feeling excluded from their other gender identities (e.g., choosing between “transgender” and “male”). A recent report by the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine supports this two-step approach for measuring sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  [1]

Transgender advocates and experts within the nonprofit sector have also emphasized the importance of collecting transgender demographic data. For example, in the report Transformational Impact, the authors argue that lack of transgender inclusive demographic data makes it difficult to identify and understand the unique needs of transgender communities. In recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility, this blog offers a summary of what Candid’s demographic data collection has made visible when it comes to transgender folks in the social sector.  

Candid’s approach to gender identity data collection 

When I joined Candid last year, I was excited to learn that we gather and share standardized demographic data about the social sector. I was even more thrilled to learn that we ask about transgender identity in a separate question. Our data collection approach both 1) allows transgender individuals to be fully counted within their other gender categories (e.g., “woman”), and 2) treats cisgender (people whose gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth) and transgender people equally by asking all participants to provide that information. Our full demographic questionnaire, including gender questions and guidelines for collecting demographic information, is available here. 

Acknowledging our visible transgender colleagues 

As of March 2022, 35,356 nonprofit organizations have shared at least some demographic data with Candid. Of these organizations, 9,153 organizations shared gender identity information for their total staff. Within this subset of the data, 334 organizations reported that their staff includes at least one person who publicly identifies as transgender. In other words, roughly 4% of nonprofit organizations sharing data with Candid have a transgender individual on staff. Among organizations with transgender staff members, the mean number of transgender staff members is two, and the maximum is 48, for a total of 668 transgender staff members across all organizations. 

How many nonprofit organizations are transgender-led?  

The answer to this question depends on your definition of transgender-led. Because there are so many definitions (and so little data on transgender individuals in the social sector), there is no single clear answer. However, here are a number of statistics based on our current dataset. Currently, 32,000 organizations share some gender identity information about their CEOs and executive directors, and 18,000 share some gender identity information about their board. Within this dataset:  

  • 114 organizations have at least one transgender CEO/executive director. 
  • 301 organizations report at least one transgender board member. 
  • 32 organizations have a majority transgender board. 
  • 47 organizations have a transgender CEO/co-CEO and at least one transgender board member. 
  • 13 organizations have a transgender CEO and a majority transgender board. 

Transgender CEOs and the organizations they run 

As noted above, 114 organizations reported that their CEO/executive director publicly identifies as transgender. Additionally, 21,796 organizations reported that their leader publicly identifies as cisgender. The remaining organizations either declined to state or skipped this question. That suggests that about half of 1% of nonprofit CEOs publicly identify as transgender. However, this estimate is a rough one, as it is based on convenience sample and relies on publicly shared identities. 

Among transgender leaders, 75% identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. When it comes to race, a slight majority (55%) identify as white, while 18% identify as Black, 11% as multiracial, and 8% as Asian American or Pacific Islander (all other racial groups had fewer than 1% representation). In terms of additional gender identities, CEOs are evenly divided, with one-third identifying as female, one third identifying as male, and one third identifying as nonbinary/genderqueer/gender nonconforming. 29% identified as a person with a disability.

One hundred and twelve of the organizations with transgender CEOs are 501(c)(3) public charities, most of which are quite small. Less than a third reported having at least one staff member, and 51 organizations did not have available financial information (which likely means their annual revenue is normally $50,000 or less, and thus are not required to report their financial information to the IRS). Among the remaining 62 organizations, the median revenue was $388k (revenue ranged from $2,000 to $16 million), and median expenses was $340,000 (expenses ranged from $1, 500 to $15 million). About one-third of the organizations serve transgender communities (including broader LGBTQIA+ communities). 

To take our analysis beyond the numbers and illustrate how data and visibility are linked in the social sector, we talked with Jevon Martin, founder and executive director of Princess Janae Place. Princess Janae Place is a nonprofit that helps people of trans experience maximize their full potential as they transition from homelessness to independent living. The organization earned Candid’s Gold Seal of Transparency by providing details about their work including demographic data. We asked why, as a small organization with few staff, they took the time to do this. Jevon emphasized that demographic data on trans leadership in the social sector plays a key role in creating positive visibility that humanizes trans people. 

Interested in learning or doing more to increase transgender inclusiveness and awareness at your organization? The report, Transformational Impact, has a great list of recommendations for funders, most of which can be implemented at nonprofits as well (spoiler: one of their recommendations is to collect transgender demographic data).

[1] It is worth noting that the wording of Candid’s gender questions are not identical to what is proposed by Laverne Cox and the National Academies. This is partly due to contextual differences in the medical and nonprofit fields. However, Candid is currently assessing our demographic questions and may align the wording in the future.

Tags: LGBTQ