On June 1, Foundation Center West held a panel discussion, “Beyond Marriage Equality: What’s Next in Funding LGBTQ Issues?” The panelists were: Roger Doughty, president of the Horizons Foundation; Matt Foreman, senior program director, gay and lesbian rights at the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund; J. Alexander Sloan, vice president of strategic partnerships and communications at Tides; and Christine C. Tien, M.P.P., J.D., program manager, South Sacramento at The California Endowment. Foundation Center West director, Michele Dilworth, moderated the discussion.
Dilworth asked the panelists to talk about their philanthropy work since the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision in 2015. Each lamented the fact that, since 2015, the most common attitude towards LGBTQ causes has been one of indifference. Many feel that the LGBTQ communities have “made it” now that they “have marriage,” Doughty says. But the panelists explained that, especially since the Trump Administration came into office, LGBTQ communities are facing more obstacles than ever. Tien commented that it is the duty of funders to “resist this rising trend of intolerance and hate.” The question is: how?
As Doughty pointed out, organizations serving the LGBTQ communities are “severely under resourced.” But there are signs of hope. Public charities and donor-advised funds offer more and more people the opportunity to become philanthropists. They shift away from the model of a foundation with a large endowment, to a diverse pool of many donors, who, with the help of funding advisors, donate to causes that speak to them. Tides and Horizons Foundation are both public charities which are major funders of LGBTQ causes and have been able to support besieged members of these communities both at home and abroad. "We're seeing a lot of our donors focusing internationally," Sloan said. "Either advancing LGBTQ rights, or doing the emergency, get-the-men-out-of-Chechnya kinds of work."
The panelists also spoke about the intersectionality of philanthropy which benefits LGBTQ people and the need to collaborate across issue areas to maximize benefits. For example, funders focusing on criminal justice reform can positively affect LGBTQ prisoners; philanthropists who focus on homelessness can – inadvertently or not – aid LGBTQ people who are struggling in tough housing markets. So, because funders support various populations, and LGBTQ people are, inevitably, a cross-section of those populations, collaborating with other issue areas is important. But, still, it is important to focus on causes that affect these communities directly, like transgender rights in states like North Carolina, and the federal government’s refusal to collect census data on LGBTQ people.
Foreman said that, in order to get more and more people on board with LGBTQ causes, messaging is incredibly important. He explained that ultimately, what drove the marriage equality victory home was the simplest framing possible: that marriage for same-sex couples is fundamentally the same as marriage for heterosexual couples. It’s about love. Originally, pride funders framed their argument around fundamental human and civil rights, and it didn’t catch on very well. He said that we need to continue to frame LGBTQ causes effectively, and tell better stories about need for funding and support.
The panelists acknowledged that, while the country is seemingly moving backwards in terms of progress for LGBTQ people, they are ultimately optimistic. Sloan referenced Martin Luther King, Jr., and said that “the arc of justice is in our favor,” but that “the last gasp of chauvinism is against us.” But as he says: we are facing the final gasp, and there is lots of good work to be done to get us through it.
If you would like to view the entire panel discussion, please find the recording here.