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5Qs for...Karen Zelermyer, President and CEO, and Andrew Lane, Chair, Funders for LGBTQ Issues

April 10, 2012

For the past thirty years, Funders for LGBTQ Issues has worked to mobilize philanthropic resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities and has regularly published reports on the progress of the sector. Forty Years of LGBTQ Philanthropy 1970-2010 (44 pages, PDF), its most recent report, found that over the past four decades nearly eight hundred foundations invested more than $771 million in support of LGBTQ issues, with 86 percent of that funding awarded in the last decade. And while the amount represents just 0.13 percent of all giving by U.S. foundations over that period, it represents a big leap forward for the gay rights movement.

Prior to joining Funders for LGBTQ Issues in 2005, Karen Zelermyer was deputy director of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and also served on the Funders for LGBT Issue board from 1999 to 2003 (the last two years as co-chair). Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation, previously served as president of the Paul Rapoport Foundation. In 2011, he was appointed by the White House to the Executive Committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, where he serves as co-head of the alliance’s LGBT Populations Task Force.

KarenandLane_headshotPhilanthropy News Digest: Although the first known foundation grant to a lesbian and gay organization was awarded in 1970, grantmaking to such organizations didn't really pick up until the early 1980s. How did the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the mid-1980s alter the funding environment for LGBTQ issues and organizations?

Andrew Lane: The report tells the story of the LGBT philanthropy movement, but there's a parallel story, which is that of the gay rights movement in this country. As a relatively young social justice movement, it grew tremendously during that period. The HIV/AIDS epidemic also transformed the organizational landscape within the LGBT community and our approach to doing policy and advocacy work. I think it really galvanized our willingness to make demands and fight hard to see that those demands were respected. I think there is an analogous story around LGBT philanthropy. As the movement matured, our community of grantmakers also matured and began to take a much more aggressive approach to advocacy in terms of our issues. The other dynamic the report touches on is that we lost many, many gay and bisexual men to AIDS, some of whom were very wealthy and left their estates to be used specifically for LGBT or HIV/AIDS causes.

PND: How important was the work of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana in shining a light on the needs of the LGBTQ community? And is there anyone on the scene today with a comparable impact on the visibility of LGBTQ issues?

Karen Zelermyer: That's a complicated question, because while both Elizabeth Taylor and Diana clearly were strong allies and friends of the LGBT community, their focus was HIV/AIDS, not LGBT issues specifically. So in some ways I think the question is have there been other celebrities, today or in the past, who have played the same role for the LGBT community that those two played for HIV/AIDS. Andrew and I had an interesting conversation earlier, and we both came up with the same name. Care to guess?

PND: Lady Gaga?

KZ: Right. I mean, there certainly have been others who helped to focus attention on LGBT issues. Rock Hudson, for example, whose HIV diagnosis was covered up until his death, when both it and his homosexuality sparked widespread public discussion. Or Ellen DeGeneres.

AL: Yes. Although, I don't really think of Ellen as operating within an institutional frame the way we do. It will be interesting to see where Lady Gaga goes with her support and advocacy. But there's every reason to feel good about her passion and generosity. It's good to have allies.

PND: According to the report, between 2007 and 2010 the share of LGBTQ funding from foundations going to organizations focused on the needs of LGBTQ people of color increased from 9 percent, or about $7.8 million, to more than 14 percent, or almost $45 million. To what do you attribute the increase?

KZ: There were two major factors, and I think we were one of them. In 2007, amid the strategic planning process for our LGBT Racial Equity campaign, we determined that if any part of our community was left behind or not supported, we would not have succeeded in reaching our goals. We also set a high bar for our original goal, which was to move funding for people of color issues to 15 percent of overall LGBTQ funding, recognizing that while it was not as high as it needed to be, it represented a significant increase.

I think the other big factor has been the Arcus Foundation, which over the last five years has focused on issues of racial equity as a funding priority. The foundation, which has put enormous resources into addressing the needs of LGBTQ people of color, actually accounts for a significant portion of that increase.

PND: The fatal beating of college student Matthew Shepard in 1998 served to highlight the hatred and violence faced by many LGBTQ people. Research suggests that in the years following Shepard's death, grantmakers invested nearly $70 million in efforts to address hate crimes nationwide. Has the recent increase in cyber-bullying had a similar impact on giving to LGBTQ groups?

AL: Well, I would broaden it beyond cyber-bullying to bullying in general. In the report, we note that a great deal of money -- more than $64 million in the last forty years -- has been awarded in support of education and safe schools. Not all that funding addressed bullying, and not all of it was in support of school work. But bullying definitely has become a big issue. It's also worth noting the fact that young people are coming out of the closet at earlier ages. In the same way that the LGBT community is facing a graying of our population, my guess is we're going to see growth in numbers at the younger end of the spectrum.

Still, for me personally, it has been very frustrating to see how challenging it has been to affect change around the issue of bullying, particularly at the federal level. There is tremendous need, but figuring out how to create the kind of impact that really improves kids' lives has been challenging. I think there's a tendency sometimes, particularly on this issue, for funders to focus on supporting efforts aimed at enacting new policies. Some assume that if an anti-bullying law passes, everything will be fine. But the reality is that kids' lives in school are much more complicated than that. New legislation may be the least effective solution.

KZ: Changing the law is hugely important, but unless we're able to figure out how to change people's hearts and minds around these issues, the gay rights movement will be where the reproductive rights movement is right now. The laws can change, but to what end if the culture doesn't?

PND: Projects and organizations working to address issues and rights related to relationship status received more than fifteen hundred grants totaling $75.2 million between 1970 and 2010, making it the single largest funding area among LGBTQ funders. Now that a number of states have legalized gay marriage, with more expected to do so in the not-too-distant future, do you think that trend will continue? And what are some of the other needs in the LGBTQ community that need to be addressed?

AL: Well, there is no question that we have achieved some significant victories in the last decade with respect to marriage and relationship recognition, but we still have a long way to go. As a result of the media coverage, however, we have had a unique opportunity to engage people about the realities of LGBT life. There is no question that this has been one of the important ways in which we have been able to humanize our community.

That said, there are still tremendous needs in the LGBT community. We've already noted, briefly, the needs of queer youth and aging LGBT people. Research also shows that LGBT people are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and that LGBT people of color continue to experience health and well-being disparities. Let's not forget hospital visitation. Even though it doesn't get anywhere near the level of attention that marriage or bullying or suicide do, that single act on the part of the Obama administration probably will do more to affect the lives of LGBT people -- whether they're single, partnered, or married -- than any in recent history.

One of the unique things Funders for LGBT Issues tries to do is to give voice to the diversity represented in the community. But LGBT philanthropy has to recognize that we're moving ahead on twenty different fronts at any given point in time. Marriage is one of them, and it's an important one. But we are perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. One of the reasons we feel so passionate about the need to grow this sector is because we see the range of needs involving the transgender community, for example, whose organizations are much less developed and generally smaller. A bigger sector will enable us to address a more diverse range of needs.

KZ: We're at an exciting moment, both within philanthropy and within the social justice movements we support. There is value in working together. We're much stronger together than alone, and we've seen this in the many cases around marriage equality issues, where organizations like the NAACP and United Farm Workers of America have stepped up. Or the ways in which the LGBT movement has stepped up in support of immigration and a host of other issues not LGBT-specific. Right now, there are somewhere between three hundred and three hundred and fifty foundations making grants annually in support of LGBT issues. At the same time, there's a greater openness within philanthropy to LGBT issues, part of a cultural shift that is happening. Andrew and I hope we'll be able to inspire some of those other foundations to turn that openness into actual support. It's certainly a challenge for us, but it's also a challenge for the field.

PND: A challenge and an opportunity?

AL: Absolutely.

KZ: For all of us, yes.

-- Regina Mahone

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Posted by Michael Seltzer  |   April 13, 2012 at 01:01 PM

Thank you, PND, for running this important interview with Karen and Andrew. As one of the founders in the 1970's of what was then called the Working Group on Funding Lesbian and Gay Issues, I can certainly attest to the progress that we have made in capturing foundations' interest in our communities. We had a long and difficult uphill battle. And it is very heart-warming to see how far we have gotten.

Andy and Karen importantly point out the road ahead. I would add to their list the importance of supporting LGBT efforts outside of the United States. As more individuals self-identify themselves in countries as diverse as Russia, China, Uganda, and many others, local civil society organizations are fighting desperately to protect their lives and to change oppressive laws. Fortunately, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice started funding internationally many years ago to assist such efforts.

Posted by Regina Mahone  |   April 13, 2012 at 04:22 PM

Thank you, Michael, for stopping by and adding to Andy and Karen's list of some of the other areas in the LGBTQ community that need to be addressed. According to the Forty Years of LGBTQ Philanthropy report, international organizations received about 9.41 percent of overall LGBTQ funding between 1970 and 2010, and 50 percent of international giving went to organizations based in the United States. Like many of the LGBTQ issues, international organizations could use a boost.

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