Carrying on the Fight: What's the State of LGBTQ Funding?

 Victor Moussa/shutterstock

 Victor Moussa/shutterstock

When the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land, the funders who’d helped make it possible got to declare victory, a rare pleasure in the world of philanthropy. But as many of the movement’s leading figures made clear at the time, the work was far from over. Despite a sea change in American public opinion favoring LGBTQ rights, varying forms of discrimination are still legal in many states—and hate crimes against LGBTQ people still abound. In the wake of the marriage equality victory, though, advocates worried about a fall-off of funding as foundations and majors donor shifted their attention to other areas.

    But there's no evidence that LGBTQ funding by U.S. foundations declined overall after 2015—quite the opposite. In its 2016 tracking report, released earlier this spring, Funders for LGBTQ Issues documents a relatively steady increase in annual foundation dollars dedicated to the cause since around 2010, including after 2015. Even without nearly $30 million raised to support victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, total funding in 2016 amounted to $172.8 million, an increase of 7.5 percent from the year before.

    Just over 60 U.S. foundations increased their grantmaking by 25 percent or more in 2016, earning them a place on Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ 2016 honor roll. Some of the most significant increases came from the Andrus Family Fund, the Arizona Community Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the San Diego Foundation. They all doubled their support from 2015 to 2016. The Arcus Foundation and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, already top funders in this space, also sizably increased their grantmaking.

    In other words, some very big names in liberal philanthropy bumped up their support after the marriage equality victory, as well as a good number of regional and local community foundations. Some of the 2016 increases, it must be noted, originated in tragedy. Relief funding following the Pulse shooting pushed total support above $200 million for the first time ever, a goal advocates hoped to achieve by happier means. “Unfortunately, [those funding streams] are likely to be needed again in the months and years to come,” writes Ben Francisco Maulbeck, the president of Funders for LGBTQ Issues. “As shootings and natural disasters continue to plague the nation, LGBTQ communities and other vulnerable communities are likely to be explicitly targeted and uniquely affected.”

    Another interesting finding pertains to community foundations, which have been more willing to fund LGBTQ causes as social stigmas fall away. In 2016, community foundations provided $6.8 million in support, less than the $8.3 million they furnished in 2015. At the same time, funding levels “per LBGT adult” have picked up in regions like the South, where we’ve been reporting on a focused campaign by community funders and initiatives like the Out in the South Fund to correct regional disparities. States like New York and California still get the most LGBTQ support overall, but the South is no longer comparatively under-resourced. Instead, parts of the Midwest and the upper Northeast are now lagging. 

    Maybe the most striking story about funding for LGBTQ rights lately is the rise of global funding in this area. In collaboration with the Global Philanthropy Project, Funders for LGBTQ Issues released another report last month that details how much philanthropic and government support LGBTQ communities receive worldwide. 

    The 2015-2016 Global Resources Report follows a previous study covering 2013-2014. It paints an optimistic picture. Compared to the prior period, 2015-2016 saw a 23 percent increase in global funding, along with a 35 percent jump in number of grants awarded. A great deal of that growth came from a rise in support for international advocacy work by organizations like the Council for Global Equality, OutRight Action International, and Human Rights Watch. 

    In perspective, overall dollar amounts for LGBTQ causes are still very low relative to the size of this group's population in the U.S. and abroad. The Global Resource Report estimates that worldwide foundation funding for these communities comes out only to 17 cents for every $100. That’s quite paltry. But at least the overall trajectory of LGBTQ funding continues upward.

    It will be interesting to see what data eventually reveals about funding in 2017. As we've often reported, the political climate since 2016 has led funders to increase support for communities feeling pressure from Trump policies and to support intersectional movement-building that includes the LGBTQ community.