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5 Questions for...Matt Foreman, Senior Program Director, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

July 14, 2016

A year after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, the LGBT community witnessed a day of unspeakable horror, as a gunman massacred forty-nine people and injured dozens at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As terrible as it was, the shooting was followed by proud displays of collective resilience and celebration. On June 24, President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn — a New York City gay bar that is widely considered to be the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement — as the first-ever national monument honoring LGBT rights.

PND recently spoke with Matt Foreman, senior program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, about the significance of these events. Foreman joined the fund in 2008, after serving as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. At the Haas, Jr. Fund, he played a key role in the Civil Marriage Collaborative, a consortium of foundations that helped push marriage equality over the finish line.

Matt_foreman_for_PhilanTopicPND: You have written about how the Civil Marriage Collaborative helped boost marriage equality by funding public education efforts "to change hearts and minds" and by supporting the movement's efforts to develop a shared strategy. What were the advantages of using a funder collaborative? And were there any downsides?

Matt Foreman: The primary advantage of the CMC was that it enabled — and in some ways compelled — the marriage movement's primary foundation funders to consistently align and focus their investments, both through and outside the CMC. The field and the funders jointly identified their priorities, which encouraged the LGBT movement to come together in supporting a bold, long-term vision for marriage equality.  

As for downsides, there were some challenges, yes. At the highest level, creating strong funder collaboratives requires a lot of time and a willingness to compromise, more than it takes to go it alone. Although it sometimes makes the job harder, it also can lead to different, and better, outcomes. Another challenge was that the CMC served as a gatekeeper for how foundation dollars flowed to the field. While that allowed for more efficiency and consistency in supporting these efforts, it also frustrated some organizations that fell outside the CMC's strategic priorities and thus didn't get funding.

PND: What lessons learned from the campaign for marriage equality might be applied to grantmaking in support of other social justice causes?

MF: For me, the most important lesson was that foundations have a unique ability to get organizations to come together, develop plans to win, and then work together at multiple levels — from research to field work to litigation — to get over the finish line. Of course, that also requires foundations to be willing to take the risk of funding the game plan and playing hardball when groups deviate from it. Setbacks are inevitable when you're working on making big, societal change, so it's critical to learn from mistakes and be able to move forward.

After the historic marriage equality decision, we identified eleven lessons that we learned along the way and might be worth consideration among funders of other social justice movements. We've put together a report and a video about those lessons, which include the need to hire staff with social movement experience and to invest early in high-impact, multi-dimensional public education efforts that are data driven, thoroughly tested, and tailored to targeted communities and sectors.  

PND: According to a report from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, U.S. foundation funding for LGBTQ issues reached a record high in 2014, even though it represented only 28 cents of every $100 in total grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations. The report also found that the top ten LGBTQ funders — the Haas, Jr. Fund among them — accounted for nearly half of all the grant dollars awarded in this area. Do you see the funding landscape for LGBTQ issues, particularly the concentration of grantmaking among a relatively small number of funders, changing any time soon?                                          

MF: The picture is very challenging. A major funder recently ended its LGBT domestic program. There appears to be a perception that with the landmark victory of marriage equality, there isn't much left to do in the civil rights arena and that LGBT people have the resources to take care of whatever work remains. The reality is, we've got a long way to go before we can say we've achieved equal rights for LGBT people, and yet we have limited funding to help us get there.

PND: It's been a year since the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. What challenges remain for LGBT activists and funders? And what issues in the LGBT area is the Haas, Jr. Fund focusing on now?

MF: Securing the freedom to marry was a monumental accomplishment that had a profound impact on how gay and lesbian people are viewed. The reality, however, is that daunting challenges still lie ahead. For starters, most gay people aren't married. And federal law and most state laws still do not provide LGBT people with basic civil rights protections. LGBT people — particularly people of color and transgender people — suffer disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration, and violence.

At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we are focusing on two areas. The first is defending the freedom to marry. We've seen that opponents of marriage equality are not giving up, despite the Supreme Court ruling. Second, we're supporting public education efforts to advance non-discrimination protections for LGBT people from coast to coast. The public at large still remains unaware that these basic civil protections simply don't exist.

PND: As someone who has worked to build bridges between gay and immigrant populations, including the Latino community, what do you think are the prospects of the two communities coming together to promote a shared agenda? And what can foundations do to address violence against the LGBT community?

MF: According to the FBI, more LGBT people are victims of hate violence than any other community, even though they constitute less than 3 percent of the U.S. population. Because anti-LGBT hatred and prejudice is learned, not innate, foundations should consider supporting policies and programs that challenge homophobia. As a former executive director of an LGBTQ anti-violence program, I would urge foundations to embrace LGBT-inclusive victim service programs, which are doing heroic work with scant resources.

There is already considerable synergy between the LGBT and Latino communities. For example, LGBT people and issues have been integral in the DREAMer movement, and gay rights organizations have overwhelmingly supported comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will uphold the next president's authority to extend administrative relief to millions of undocumented people, and LGBT groups across the country will step forward to help with those relief efforts.  

— Kyoko Uchida


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