LGBTQ Philanthropy Grows, Diversifies To Meet New Challenges

06/26/2017 11:56 am ET Updated Jun 26, 2017

The 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City sparked not only the gay rights movement and Pride Parades around the country — it also inspired the beginning of LGBTQ-focused philanthropy. According to The Funders for LGBTQ Issues, none of the roughly 50 lesbian and gay organizations in the United States in 1969 received institutional philanthropic support. The first recorded grants to gay-identified organizations were made in 1970, the year after Stonewall.

At Chicago Foundation for Women, we’ve taken a targeted approach to LGBTQ philanthropy from the outset; CFW’s very first round of grants in 1986 included funds for Kinheart Women's Center’s programming for lesbian and bisexual women. In 1999, The Lesbian Outreach Task Force of CFW launched The Lavender Fund, the first grantmaking entity in the city of Chicago to provide grants exclusively to lesbian communities.

So much has changed since Stonewall. Marriage equality is the law of the land, openly gay women and men serve as civic and corporate leaders, and LGBTQ issues are receiving record levels of philanthropic support, with over $160.7 million going to nearly 2,000 organizations in 2015.

LGBTQ philanthropy has grown and expanded to encompass the diversity of the community it serves. While same-sex marriage was the largest single issue funded to date, nationwide marriage equality has opened up funding for intersectional issues like economic and racial justice. 2015 saw significant growth in funding for criminal justice reform - perhaps not an issue typically associated with LGBTQ rights - and for trans communities, one of the most historically underserved and underfunded of the LGBTQ movement. This funding comes at a key moment, when the trans community is suffering from horrific levels of violence. As is often the case, these two issues intersect, with 1 in 5 transgender women experiencing incarceration at some point in their lives.

LGBTQ grantmaking at CFW has also shifted to reflect the intersectional concerns of the community. The Lesbian Outreach Task Force at CFW evolved into the LBTQ Giving Council, which continues to make grants out of The Lavender Fund to organizations and programs benefiting the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community in the Chicago region. The Council takes a democratic approach to philanthropy, bringing members of the LGBTQ community together to pool their resources and reinvest in their own community, addressing local issues and needs.

This year, grantmaking by the LBTQ Giving Council grew by nearly 50 percent, and included investments in Chicago Books to Women in Prison, Black Youth Project 100, Chicago Desi Youth Rising, which builds leadership and power among South Asian youth, as well as the Youth Empowerment Performance Project, which serves LGBTQ youth experiencing homeless.

As our understanding of what constitutes an LGBTQ issue expands, LGBTQ philanthropy is evolving as well. Community-based groups practice democratic philanthropy, allowing community members to direct resources towards their most pressing concerns. With an increase in LGBTQ-focused giving, both at CFW and nationally, we can be confident that philanthropy is prepared to take on new and emerging issues, and to continue to invest in the future of the LGBTQ community.

Follow K. Sujata and Chicago Foundation for Women on Twitter: @k_sujata and @ChiFdn4Women

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