Elle Hearns

podcast / president
December 08, 2020
Produced by: Christine Spines

Change Lab Podcast Episode 41

Elle Hearns on Leading a Movement for Black Trans Lives

Elle Hearns did not set out to lead movements for social justice. Nor was it her lifelong dream to make the world a better and safer place for Black transgender communities. Growing up in Ohio, she imagined herself as an iconic singer, a chart-topping diva with a voice powerful enough to crack your soul wide open. 

In the end, she did end up using the power of her voice to inspire people — just not in the way she originally planned. As one of the world’s most effective leaders in the movement for social change, Elle has dedicated her life to organizing and advocating for marginalized communities. 

Cedric Johnson

Black trans women have been fighting an inequitable battle for so long that equality movements did not make sense as a framework.

Elle Hearns


Elle Hearns

She began her career working on campaigns for marriage equality and don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy change. She then transitioned to groundbreaking work as a leading voice for the Black Lives Matter Global Network. In her current role as the founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, she’s dedicated herself to protecting and defending the human rights of Black transgender people.

Under Elle’s leadership, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute has become a vital resource for Black trans women in particular, who have suffered an onslaught of violent attacks resulting in alarmingly low life expectancy rates. Elle has focused on raising awareness, advocating for policy change and marshalling resources to provide pathways to stability. 

Cedric Johnson 

Her work has generated widespread media attention toward the plight of Black trans women in the pages of Vogue and the LA Times. The Institute also recently received a $500,000 gift from Google earmarked for COVID relief.”

Among Elle’s many remarkable qualities is her ability to apply a strategic mindset toward affecting change within her own besieged community. But it’s the strength of Elle’s voice — what she says and how she says it — that remains her most powerful tool in her efforts to build a better world for all its inhabitants. 

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