ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga announces retirement

ACLUThe American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia announced today that Claire Gastañaga will retire from her position as executive director effective March 31, 2021, or as soon as a successor is found.

Gastañaga was hired in 2012 and has significantly grown the impact of the organization.

“Claire will be sorely missed,” said Steve Levinson, president of the ACLU of Virginia Board of Directors. “Over her eight-year tenure leading the ACLU of Virginia, her expertise as a civil rights attorney and her passion as an advocate for equality and civil liberties has inspired both the staff and the Board and has generated positive change throughout the Commonwealth. We are grateful that she has agreed to stay on to help us transition to new leadership for the affiliate.”

Gastañaga has deftly steered the organization to meet the demands and opportunities of the era. Under her leadership, the organization grew from a staff of six to a staff of more than 20; its membership tripled, growing from 8,500 to more than 28,000; and it now has over 200,000 supporters who engage with the organization on an ongoing basis.

Additionally, the affiliate’s resources have expanded to allow the organization to invest in making and sustaining important and lasting change for people across the Commonwealth.

Gastañaga has led the organization through times of enormous challenge by building coalitions to achieve specific goals, adapting to the ever-changing political landscape, and remaining persistent and resilient.

Said Levinson, “Her systematic approach, her eloquence with the written and spoken word, her thorough grasp of the law, her ability to hire people of great talent, and her instincts for forging alliances, have positioned the organization and new leadership for even greater growth and impact in the future.”

“I’m profoundly grateful for the eight plus years that I’ve been honored to serve as the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia,” stated Gastañaga, “but now is the time to make room for new leadership while continuing to be an agent for change in Virginia in a way that is authentically me.” Gastañaga says she hopes to play an active role in electing the next generation of Virginia’s statewide leaders in 2021. “I will not be leaving the work, just this workplace.”

During Gastañaga’s tenure with the ACLU of Virginia, some of the organization’s many notable accomplishments include:

  • Successful litigation for LGBTQ rights, including the only marriage equality case in the nation to be certified as a class action, benefitting more than 18,000 couples in Virginia, and the ongoing challenge to school policies that discriminate against transgender students.
  • Passage of one of the first laws in the nation requiring police and regulatory agencies to get a warrant before using a drone for surveillance.
  • Passage of laws requiring police to get warrants to obtain real-time cell phone tracking data or to use cell site simulators.
  • Publication of influential reports on women in the criminal legal system, solitary confinement, the use of body cameras by police, and the unparalleled power of prosecutors.
  • Publication of an agenda for accountability in policing that grounds advocacy efforts to: require a criminal conviction before assets can be forfeited; authorize localities to establish civilian review boards with subpoena powers; limit policing of low level offenses like marijuana possession; establish statewide professional standards for police and allow decertification of police for misconduct; and mandate collection of data that will allow evaluation of possible bias in policing.

In assessing the work of the ACLU of Virginia during Gastañaga’s tenure, Levinson concluded, “Because of Claire’s enhancement of this organization in so many ways, we have been at the forefront of the most important Constitutional battles of our time, defending our Bill of Rights, combating racism, and seeking equal justice under law.  In my view, and I know in the view of the entire Board, no one else could have done this job better than Claire has.”

The Board of Directors of the ACLU of Virginia has begun a nationwide search for a new executive director.


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