Miles to Go on the Path to Full Equality and Dignity for LGBTQ People

Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 12:34 pm
Ben Francisco Maulbeck
Cindy Rizzo

Amidst all the joyous celebrations of same-sex couples finally able to participate in the legal benefits of marriage; and amidst all the exciting, visible cultural offerings, like the Amazon series, Transparent; there is the continuing drumbeat of LGBTQ stories that have not gained a similar level of visibility.

  • A newly married gay employee living in North Carolina—which has marriage equality but no protections from discrimination—is fired from his job.
  • A 16-year-old transgender teen unable to face continued bullying at school and rejection by her parents takes her own life.
  • A group of homeless gay and transgender youth, who’ve either run away from or been cast out by hostile families, face hunger, violence and sexual exploitation living on the streets.
  • A lesbian couple is refused medical care by a physician who asserts that he has the right to do so based on his religious beliefs.

While we wait with great hope for a positive outcome on nationwide marriage equality from the U.S. Supreme Court, we in philanthropy must recognize that when it comes to LGBTQ rights, one favorable court decision or one great television season are not going to address the lingering problems of discrimination, health disparities, poverty, and homelessness that LGBTQ people face.

That’s why Funders for LGBTQ Issues—a network of funders committed to social change for LGBTQ communities—is upping our game with a new and ambitious set of goals designed to address great challenges by significantly expanding philanthropic resources over the next three years.  Working with our members and the larger philanthropic community, we will increase foundation funding for LGBTQ communities from the 2013 level of $129 million to $200 million by 2017.

Our plan is to reach this goal by collaborating with funders in four main areas of opportunity:

Improving the lived experience of LGBTQ communities:  LGBTQ people are more likely to be poor. Thirty-five percent of LGBT adults earn less than $24,000 a year, compared to 23 percent of all Americans at that income level. LGBT people are also more likely to face health disparities. Funders that care about quality of life issues like poverty and healthcare have an opportunity to address the unique disparities faced by LGBTQ communities.

Increasing local funding for LGBTQ communities, especially in regions that face the greatest disparities:  LGBTQ people living in the South, the Midwest, and the Mountain States have few or no legal protections, and the LGBTQ organizations in these regions are among the most under-funded. Local and national funders have an opportunity to work together to strengthen LGBTQ nonprofits and communities in the regions that need it most.

Advancing LGBTQ rights as part of a larger movement for social justice: LGBTQ people of color and immigrants face the greatest number of barriers.  We need to make sure no one is left behind by ensuring that larger issues of social justice like criminal justice reform, racial justice, and immigrant rights are addressed with conscious inclusion of the needs of LGBTQ people of color.  When philanthropy supports large-scale initiatives like those focused on men and boys of color, the unique needs of GBTQ men and boys of color must be acknowledge and addressed. 

Strengthening the global movement for LGBTQ rights: 80 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, with some going so far as to impose the death penalty. Funders who support human rights around the globe must ensure that the NGOs and grassroots groups they support have the knowledge, skills, and cultural competence to focus their efforts on achieving dignity and respect for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

We believe that the philanthropic sector is up to the challenge of addressing the many pressing LGBTQ needs that are not pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Foundations of all sizes and grantmaking priorities can help make enormous progress in improving the lives of millions.  Here are some specific things that you and your foundation can do right now:

  1. Learn about LGBTQ communities and organizations, especially in your region or area of focus. Find eligible organizations and fund them! Funders for LGBTQ Issues has a database of hundreds of LGBTQ nonprofits and can help you connect with relevant orgs.
  2. Make sure your own institution is inclusive in its hiring and human resources practices.
  3. If you’re already supporting LGBTQ issues, contact us to find out how you can become an ambassador and help us reach out to peers in the field.

There are many more miles left in the journey to full equality and dignity for LGBTQ people.  We invite you to join us by taking the first step.

Ben Francisco Maulbeck is the President of Funders for LGBTQ Issues. Cindy Rizzo is the Senior Advisor for Evaluation & Strategy for the Arcus Foundation and the chair of the board of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion