June 21, 2017

Funding for LGBTQ Equity

Carol and Kris, partners of 22 years, at their 2003 wedding

As a Korean-American, there isn’t really a day when my racial identity is mistaken. My identity as a lesbian can be, though.

When I came out to my parents, my mom even pointed out that I wasn’t one of those lesbians who “cut their hair short and wore clompy shoes.” (My butch partner, Kris, however, looked down at her shoes and said, “I think I’m your mother’s worst nightmare!”) Unlike with my obvious racial status, I get a pass on my sexual orientation and gender identity. In some of my previous workplaces, the assumption that I was straight led to a significant amount of worry that my acceptance and safety hinged on that mistake.

I am fortunate to feel safe being “out” at Meyer. It’s not always so easy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people whose identities and gender expression do not match the binary male/female “norms,” particularly when they work in organizations rife with implicit or explicit homophobia and transphobia. LGBTQ people have shouldered the burden of these phobias: everything from the inability to be out in the workplace and lack of funding for LGBTQ organizations to significant inequities among the population, personal violence and even mass murder.

At two recent events hosted by Funders for LGBTQ Issues and the Pride Foundation, I was reminded that those of us in “mainstream” philanthropy (i.e. foundations that are not LGBTQ-specific) need to do more to increase safety for LGBTQ employees and to advance equity for the LGBTQ communities we serve. In a workshop titled “How Foundations Can Better Support LGBTQ Staff and Movements: Stories from the Field,” Tamir Novotny from Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and Brian Schultz of the Foundation Center presented preliminary data from a survey of LGBTQ staff in foundations around the country and led an informal “data gathering” discussion about participants’ experiences.

The survey’s early findings were not surprising to the group. Remaining closeted and “navigating your workplace as your authentic self” resonated as ongoing challenges with workshop participants. Heads nodded as our discussion turned to the fear of being seen as biased should we bring up LGBTQ issues. Some noted that questions about personal life, family and home aren’t as frequently asked of LGBTQ staff, and both big wins, such as marriage equality, and terrible losses, such as the Pulse Nightclub massacre, can feel isolating when no one else talks about them. The underemployment of transgender employees in the workforce was particularly notable. And finally, the level of funding to address LGBTQ inequities sends a message to LGBTQ employees regarding awareness or willingness to take action.

A recent report from Funders for LGBTQ Issues revealed that, while on the rise nationally, funding for LGBTQ issues and organizations in the Pacific Northwest dropped by nearly half between 2011 and 2015, from a high of $4.9 million to $2.6 million. Much of the drop can be attributed to a decrease in funding after marriage equality wins. But backlash to that decision is ongoing, and in today’s political climate,  LGBTQ civil rights are increasingly at risk for a population that has long faced significant and persistent inequities. (see cardstack)

Here's a lesson for funders focused on providing resources to alleviate poverty, hunger and violence or determined to change systems to improve conditions by tackling issues such as criminal justice, health care and housing: Including LGBTQ populations in those frameworks, lenses and resource-sharing is not added work … it is the work.

The good news is that as mainstream Oregon funders develop more nuanced and evolved approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion — and our grantees have helped us recognize the inequities and intersectionalities experienced by the LGBTQ community — support for LGBTQ employees and community members seem to be increasing. Four mainstream Oregon foundations made the Funders for LGBTQ Issues 2015 honor roll by increasing their LGBTQ grantmaking by 25 percent or more: The Collins Foundation, MRG Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation and Meyer. And the Pride Foundation, with dedicated staff in Oregon, also provides 23 percent of the LGBTQ-specific funding in the Northwest. All of this suggests more LGBTQ-focused discussions are happening within local philanthropy, and that’s a very good thing.

Supporting staff to go to conferences focused on LGBTQ issues, establishing and sponsoring affinity groups, and creating gender inclusive bathrooms are other relatively easy ways to support LGBTQ staff. We recently installed new signs marking Meyer’s gender inclusive bathroom this spring, a simple move that makes visiting our offices somewhat more pleasant for any visitor. But the signs are on just one of the two bathrooms; we still have a ways to go.

So do Northwest funders when it comes to funding to address LGBTQ inequities. There really isn’t a choice: If we are committed to advancing equity, then increasing inclusive and safe workplaces and funding for LGBTQ issues must follow. That, too, is the work.  

—Carol (with brilliant contributions by my trusted LGBTQ colleagues and our allies)

*Data sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, socialexplorer.com, Census Bureau, Pew Research Center, Williams Institute, National LGBTQ Task Force.