Helping Ourselves: A BAR Op-Ed

header2A few days after Thanksgiving, I stepped out of a modernist East Side building into a cold New York evening – elated. The building houses the rather grand offices of the Ford Foundation, generally regarded as the world’s most influential private foundation. And Ford had good news for the LGBT community.

A foundation steps up

That day, Ford had gathered people from the foundation and LGBT advocacy worlds to launch a major new initiative called “Out for Change.” It came with a commitment to grant $50 million over the next five years to LGBT causes.

Advocates like Horizons Foundation and the national Funders for LGBTQ Issues have long called for more private foundations to fund LGBT causes. While that advocacy has helped bring millions of dollars to our community over the years, total LGBT funding remains but a small fraction of one percent of all foundation grants. So the dollars alone promised by Ford will help. Equally important, Ford pledged to put its considerable institutional weight to work as well and encourage other wealthy private foundations to fund more LGBT work.

Great news and yet …

Especially coming on top of the November election results, the Ford announcement came as great news. Of course, Ford’s commitment alone – welcome as it is – won’t change much overnight. Relatively few LGBT nonprofits will actually see Ford money, and nearly all will remain as chronically under-funded as they were before.

That’s a problem. And wonderful developments like ballot-box election victories don’t mean – unfortunately – that our movement has landed on some track of historical inevitability. Equality, freedom, and justice aren’t guaranteed, even when it feels like the wind – finally – may be blowing at our backs. After all, the four winning ballot-measure states are all quite blue, and no fewer than 30 still have state constitutional provisions barring same–sex marriage.

Marriage also hardly ranks as LGBT people’s only concern. Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on marriage next year, more than half of LGBT Americans live in states where they can still be fired, or denied a hotel room or an apartment, even a table in a restaurant. Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Six percent of young gay and bi African-American men are infected with HIV every year. Right here in San Francisco, our elders face the all-too-real possibility of social isolation, subsistence income, and even having to go back into the closet.

Funding a movement – and a community

Progress happens for lot of reasons. Smart leaders, solid organizations, effective strategies, collaboration across the movement.

Progress requires one more thing: money. It’s no coincidence that in the four victorious ballot-measure states, we significantly out-fundraised our opponents. (Now that they’ve lost, you can bet our opponents will double down on the next contests.)

Everyone knows that money’s not the only ingredient in a formula for victory. But it’s an essential one. And just like with our advocacy groups, health and service and cultural organizations – those that touch thousands (yes, thousands) of LGBT people right here in the Bay Area every day (yes, every day) – need funds to function.

Up to us

So where will those funds come from? We can’t look to the Ford Foundation to do it for us. Nor will other big mainstream foundations, no matter how many come on board. They’ve got a world full of problems they’re trying to solve – climate change, education, health care, poverty – and LGBT causes number, at best, as just one cause among multitudes.

In the end, it’s up to us, pure and simple. Sure, support from allies is vital, but it will never substitute for our supporting our own community. Yet studies by both Horizons and the Movement Advancement Project suggest that less than five percent of LGBT people give to an LGBT organization. Five percent.

Reassuringly, nothing seems to suggest that LGBT people are less generous overall. It’s just that we don’t appear to give many of our donations to our own community.

When asked, people who don’t give often say that they don’t know what organizations even exist. If you’re one of these people, please look at Horizons’ annual “QGiving Guide” that’s inserted into this newspaper. It lists LGBT organizations around the Bay Area, gives capsule descriptions, and website links.

As the BAR recently editorialized, it’s a good idea to try to learn about an organization before giving. An organization’s own website or an on-line information source like Guidestar make for good starting places. You can also call Horizons to talk about your giving – without charge – at 415-398-2333.

But most importantly, please give. If you’re worried about an organization’s effectiveness but don’t have time to research it, give anyway. It’s much more likely that your gift will genuinely help than be wasted. If you think your gift is too small to make a difference, please think again. Small gifts have powered countless campaigns and valuable nonprofits. It takes us all to win our equality and to build the kind of thriving, diverse, and compassionate community that so many have dreamed of – and toward which so many have already given so much.

The original article appeared in the December 13-19, 2012 issue of the Bay Area Reporter.