As you reflect on Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, how have you seen The Foundation’s work evolve to match the needs of LGBTQ+ communities?
I think The New York Women’s Foundation, over its three decades, has evolved in its inclusion and its ability to be present, see, expand and “walk the walk” of inclusion of LGBTQ+ communities. The initial level of inclusion was first about lesbian and bisexual women, but as an institution that has a gender category in its name, it is critical for us to understand the construction of gender and that it is relatively arbitrary. It’s necessary for us to expand, dilute and make the category permeable so that it does not become a category of oppression—a box where people don’t fit in; that it doesn’t become a thick border that excludes others. The fluidity of the concept of women has evolved for us and our grantmaking reflects that. I think that in the last decade we have intentionally examined our grantmaking through those eyes.
What specific moments in your experience at The Foundation stand out in this evolution?
The moment is 2008 when the Great Recession happened, and we saw the vulnerability of nonprofits in New York City. We saw the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ community-centered organizations and when we examined the landscape, we noticed that they tended to be smaller organizations. We also saw that organizations that included gender-fluid communities were much more underfunded. This created an opportunity for us to really step up and direct more of our funds in the areas of economic security, anti-violence, health, gender identity, reproductive health and justice, making sure that we intentionally included organizations by and for LGBTQI communities in the city. I think that moment in time facilitated our understanding of the urgency and the incredible need that existed. Since then, we have consistently continued to do that. More recently, we have joined other funders in initiatives that propel philanthropy forward. Grantmakers United for Trans Communities (GUTC) is one of them.
What else stands out about The Foundation’s support of LGBTQ+ communities? What top initiatives and values, come to mind?
As a funder that is concerned with the intersectionality of race, gender, economics and other structures that separate and control and oppress people, we have been very committed to not making the funding of LGBTQ+ organizations an initiative that has a beginning, a middle and an end. We structurally integrate it in all grantmaking we do. More recently—and not just at The New York Women’s Foundation, but in philanthropy—we have had to confront our small investments in LGBTQI+ communities. We’ve especially had to confront this with trans communities, particularly those of color. When we are doing an analysis of needs, looking at race, ethnicity, gender and economics is an imperative. But we must also look at gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation in a very intersectional manner. We also need to look at ranges of ability and disability. And when we do that as grant makers, we get to the bullseye: the center of disinvestment, of disenfranchisement, of lack of opportunities, of highest rates of early deaths, least rates of opportunities to achieve education, safety and health. In this, we find communities of color, gender-fluid and trans communities and communities that are immigrants and undocumented immigrants. And they have, either to trauma or to other health disinvestments, different ranges of disability—they may be invisible, but they’re there. Grant makers, we like to have contextual information. When we do that, we are forced to bring forth the investment in LGBTQI communities of color, poor communities, undocumented communities. They all will find that nexus there.
How important is it for philanthropic organizations to make their processes for grant seekers accessible for LGBTQ organizations?
When a community is already disinvested, members have very little access to resources. They are strong, very resilient, very resourceful, but as far as tangible resources and opportunities, they are depending on the structures of communities and societies. The organizations tend to be small and underfunded and volunteer based. Philanthropy sets these thresholds—you have to write big proposals, you have to have a board of directors with impressive names and the board needs to be fundraising. But the reality is, if the board is authentically rooted in community, then the board is going to be as economically underinvested as the community is. Philanthropy has to meet people where they’re at. The time to write a sophisticated proposal, is, for small organizations, a luxury. And many queer organizations tend to be small. I remember meeting a couple of trans leaders in Brooklyn saying they were struggling to have a place to meet. Organizations where people are working, they’re bringing the community together, they’re organizing, but they do not have the ability to write a robust proposal or pace to meet —philanthropy needs to be user-friendly for them. The Foundation funds differently, with a simpler proposal and then we go from there. This allows the organization to fund the grant writer for the bigger proposal and to rent space periodically. We need to be flexible. Real accessibility means people have the tools to be able to succeed. The New York Women’s Foundation is an organization that funds groups in their earlier stages. We get them to be able to have the fundamental resources that they need to grow as they see themselves. But in the beginning, those kinds of requirements are impossible to be met.
How can philanthropy better respond to the current attacks and rollbacks on LGBTQ+ rights on the federal level (particularly trans rights)? In what ways has The Foundation stood apart in their efforts?
When you think about philanthropy the first thing you think about is funding, and it should be about that. But there’s something that philanthropy and philanthropic leaders can do beyond that, which is influence. When leaders of foundations speak up and say that Black and brown members of trans communities are being killed at an alarming rate, different people listen. That’s using our influence and leveraging our voice. Philanthropy is a field that has to constantly be aware and work with its own biases and shortcomings. One of the biases we have is we are removed from daily suffering. We are not direct service providers, we’re not direct community organizers. We are not responding to people’s wishes, pains and hopes in that way. We get really comfortable not taking a risk because we don’t experience the urgency. Using our voice, stepping up and saying something that really can move the field—a community of listeners, some members of government, other philanthropists– to a more effective world, a more just world. It’s not about political parties; it’s about the conditions of life. The justice or injustice of such conditions. It’s about invitation for humans to rise to another level of solving problems.