Celebrating Our History: 40 Years of LGBTQ Grantmaking

posted on: February 23, 2012

Editor’s note: This is a guest posting by Tony Bowen, author of “Forty Years of LGBTQ Philanthropy: 1970-2010” and Karen Zelermyer, president and CEO of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

Across the globe, communities are evaluating how to best support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) seniors, legislatures are discussing gender identity non-discrimination, and schools are adopting policies to prevent bullying and harassment. The LGBTQ movement continues to make progress almost 43 years after the Stonewall Inn Riots of 1969, and foundations have played a vital role every step of the way.

On the occasion of our 30th anniversary, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the affinity group organizing and educating grantmakers and mobilizing resources for LGBTQ communities, recently released a new publication exploring the more than $771 million in grants that have been awarded to LGBTQ causes in the four decades since Stonewall, Forty Years of LGBTQ Grantmaking: 1970-2010.

In 1982, the year Funders was established, 10 foundations provided $215,000 for LGBTQ issues. We’ve made incredible process since then: in 2010, there were 318 foundations giving $97.2 million. Nearly 800 different public, private and corporate foundations – including a majority of NCRP members – have supported social, economic and political LGBTQ justice.  

The publication explores the variety of eras that have shaped LGBTQ philanthropy’s evolution over the years, such as the early 1980s, when foundations first responded to the AIDS crisis, and the mid-90s, when entrepreneurs cashing in from the tech boom created new foundations. It tells the stories of the funders who took risks on grassroots, fringe organizations, invested in efforts to combat religious discrimination and pooled resources to galvanize local philanthropic support for LGBTQ people. It also highlights catalytic grants awarded for a range of issues. For instance, research uncovered that the first grant to address sexual orientation discrimination in the military came from the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation in 1987 to support Alternatives to Militarism, a small national peace and justice organization.

One theme rings true for every era we explored: the movement’s successes would not be possible without the commitment of progressive allies. When the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, a private foundation in New York, began supporting LGBTQ issues in the 1980s, its bold investments enabled national organizations to strategically implement advocacy and public education campaigns on AIDS and homophobia. It was a seed grant in 2000 from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a family foundation in San Francisco, that enabled the creation of Freedom to Marry. The top ten ally grantmakers of the movement alone have invested $158 million.

As we reflect on 40 years of LGBTQ philanthropy, it is apparent that in at least one respect, the movement has come full circle. The first foundation support to the lesbian and gay community in 1970 came from RESIST, a funder of anti-war, social, economic and environmental justice movements. Today, the LGBTQ philanthropic sector is beginning to form more collaborations, participate in more partnerships and engage more allies driven by an investment in a broad economic and social justice agenda, a recognition of the interdependency of our issues and a commitment to a broader progressive movement.