Flash bulbs flood their subjects with light, reveal the necessary detail

posted on: November 17, 2009

At Funders for LGBTQ Issues, a national philanthropic group that studies US foundation giving to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities, a flash bulb in our annual research shed light on a lingering disparity.

In 2007, our research tracked 71 foundations in the US that gave roughly $3.6 million to organizations explicitly serving LGBTQ people of color. Considering that the broader philanthropic portrait contains more than 72,000 foundations giving nearly $43 billion, support for LGBTQ people of color revealed itself as a blip, an almost invisible pixel.

Sociology teaches us that societal barriers play out through our economy, public and institutional policies, mass media and everyday interactions. They rear their heads as bigotry, stereotypes and unfair representations. They persist from generation to generation, seemingly intractable and often coded in values of individualism. “If the lone, talented public figure can make it,”—goes the myth of meritocracy—“why can’t everyone?”

And yet for decades, studies have emphasized how deeply embedded discrimination, produced across generations, has critically impacted the quality of life and self-advancement of communities of color—despite the same level of individual effort. For LGBTQ people of color, these conditions are exacerbated by attitudes and structures that treat people differently based on their sexualities and their gender identities and expressions.

As evidence, a growing body of research continues to demonstrate this “heightened vulnerability” among LGBTQ people of color—to health risks, verbal and physical violence, and institutional discrimination, among other areas. LGBTQ people of color also face the disregard of institutions; they are relatively unexplored as research topics and rarely considered as constituencies affected by public policies or in need of culturally and linguistically sensitive services.

So what happens when organizations that were set up to reverse these conditions receive little support from philanthropic sources? What becomes of a healthy civil society when its most vulnerable populations remain impoverished? Is this how philanthropy upholds its purpose?

A few weeks ago, as part of our multi-year Racial Equity Campaign to raise philanthropic support for LGBTQ communities of color, Funders for LGBTQ Issues released a landmark web site that begins portraying the realities of these diverse communities. This toolkit aims to reach grantmakers of all types, providing multiple entry points for foundations with unique interests and approaches.

The Racial Equity Online Toolkit compiles original grantmaking tools, publications and commentaries from foundation and nonprofit leaders around the country. It reminds us that inequality has a geographic footprint, that hardship changes shape across neighborhoods, towns, cities and regions. Funders in any locality can be change agents.

The stories featured in this toolkit also demonstrate the potential of working across difference, understanding the root causes of inequality and forging solutions that originate in the communities where hardship is most deeply felt. It’s a flash bulb that illuminates the nature of inequality, as well as some avenues for addressing it.

More importantly, it’s a flash bulb for funders who crave focus, an additional lens, a more complete picture.

Please visit the Racial Equity Online Toolkit at

http://www.lgbtracialequity.org/.

Robert Espinoza is the director of research and communications at Funders for LGBTQ Issues.