How Bay Area LGBTQ Organizations Are Providing Direct Relief During COVID-19

Three men at the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, sitting behind a table with packaged food and other supplies.
The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, ready to provide food and supplies to their community.   

In the absence of meaningful, sustained government support from the Trump administration throughout 2020, Horizons’ COVID-19 grantee partners stepped up to provide direct relief to the most impacted members of the Bay Area LGBTQ community.

Before the pandemic, accessing basic needs was already a challenge for many in the Bay Area LGBTQ community. According to Horizons’ 2018 SF Bay Area LGBTQ Community Needs Assessment, more than one in five respondents had trouble meeting at least one basic need — food, shelter, medicine, transportation, gas, electricity, or water — in the year prior. And it’s not difficult to imagine that COVID-19 has strained access to resources even further.

The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center typically offers a broad range of programs to enhance the wellbeing of LGBTQ individuals, but COVID-19 has necessitated a greater focus on providing swift, direct relief to the Oakland community — including immediately distributing hundreds of food bags and hygiene kits. “We literally had to empty out our complete pantry in less than a week to service people with food,” reports Joe Hawkins, the center’s CEO.

Another service in high demand is their Housing First initiative. Building on their previous housing advocacy and support efforts, the center is providing emergency rental assistance to low-income LGBTQ individuals. “We were inundated with over 500 requests for rental assistance,” explains Hawkins. “Keeping people off the streets in the safety of their own homes, or helping them pay for new, safer housing, is critical right now.”

The Transgender District, a legally recognized Cultural District in the Tenderloin neighborhood, also prioritized direct relief by creating a COVID-19 Mutual Aid Fund to meet urgent needs. “We’ve been able to help over 500 transgender people with cash grants and address things like food insecurity, access to transportation, supplies,” shares Executive Director Aria Sa’id.

The organization chose to provide cash grants because it recognizes that no two individuals’ situations are precisely the same, especially at a time like this: “With no restrictions, people were messaging us saying, like, ‘I was able to get all my hormones stocked up,’ or, ‘I was able to get supplies,’ or like, whatever it was that they needed to maintain their safety during the uncertainty of this pandemic.”

Their direct relief efforts have expanded over the past year to include care packages, prepared meals, and free COVID testing. The organization has also compiled a substantial list of available resources and is “so very proud to have led the charge when it comes to how trans-led organizations across the country have responded to the current pandemic.”

The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center and The Transgender District are only two of many examples. To support often-overlooked LGBTQ seniors, Openhouse shifted from hosting meals to delivering groceries, medications, and essential household items. Peacock Rebellion, an artists collective, also provided direct relief by sending cash grants to queer and trans artists of color in East Oakland, a neighborhood especially hard hit by the pandemic.

The survival of community programs like these hinges on continued financial support. According to preliminary results from Horizons’ 2020 survey of nonprofits, more than half of respondents from Bay Area LGBTQ organizations had reduced programs already due to major decreases in revenue, with an additional 18% reporting it as a possibility for 2021. At the same time, 39% reported an increase in demand for services. This dual pressure has resulted in more tenuous budgets than ever for many nonprofits.

With a new administration in the White House, government assistance for the remainder of the pandemic may be forthcoming. However, the LGBTQ community knows all too well our own history of stepping up at moments of great need — many times we have had to take care of our own. Horizons’ LGBTQ COVID-19 Response Emergency Fund, which awarded nearly $1 million in grants to Bay Area LGBTQ organizations, was made possible thanks to contributions from individual donors, partners, and Horizons’ own LGBTQ Community Endowment Fund – created to support LGBTQ nonprofits, like these grantee partners, in meeting needs we could never see coming.