Since the start of 2023 state legislative sessions, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed across the country, with more than 220 of those specifically targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming youth. So far, more than 70 of these bills have become law in at least 18 states, leading the Human Rights Campaign last week to issue its first-ever state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States.
This all-out assault on trans people should concern anyone in philanthropy who cares about liberty and justice. Unfortunately, this emergency situation is not receiving the emergency philanthropic response it deserves.
Philanthropic support has never adequately addressed the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, but in this moment of crisis, the lack of funding is especially problematic. A new report from Equitable Giving Lab at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that LGBTQ+ organizations receive less than 1 percent of charitable giving overall. Of that, a minuscule amount goes to aid trans people.
The most recent tracking report from Funders for LGBTQ Issues shows that for every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations, less than 5 cents, or 0.04 percent, goes to trans groups. By contrast, more than 5 percent of people under 30 and 1.6 percent of those ages 30 to 49 identify as trans or nonbinary.
The rise of anti-transgender authoritarianism requires sustained and flexible investments in trans groups and movement organizing — and a recognition that many of the community’s greatest needs may not fit neatly into pre-existing funding portfolios. These include covering legal costs for medical providers who are risking their professional licenses to give gender-affirming care; costs for out-of-state travel to receive such care; and legal fees for families fighting state efforts to take away their trans kids who are undergoing gender-affirming care.
In response, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, which Saida leads, recently made an open call to philanthropy to dispatch general operating grants to LGBTQ+ organizations, prioritizing groups led by and for trans and gender-nonconforming people of color in states under attack — primarily in the South and Midwest.
More than 75 foundations and philanthropic supporting organizations have signed the Funders for LGBTQ Issues call to action, including theWomen’s Funding Network, which Elizabeth leads, and some have committed substantial investments to the Trans Futures Funding Campaign. It’s an encouraging start, but far more is needed.
Role for Women’s Funds
Women’s funds have an especially important role to play in the fight for trans lives. Historically, the feminist movement made the mistake of not getting involved when an issue didn’t focus on what was perceived as their core constituency — financially secure, cisgender, white women.
But in recent years, many women’s funds have doubled down on their commitment to support transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Because of their experience with community-focused grant making, the Women’s Funding Network has found that women’s funds often can move money faster than traditional philanthropic channels and reach underfunded grassroots organizations that are critical to this work.
Several women’s funds are stepping up now and showing what it looks like to effectively support transgender and gender-nonconforming people facing immediate danger.
For example, the Women’s Foundation of California is awarding $665,000 in annual and multiyear grants through 2024 to groups that provide direct services to people and those pushing for policy changes. These include the TGI Justice Project, which provides legal services for incarcerated trans and gender-nonconforming people, and the Dr. Beatriz María Solís Policy Institute, which has led several successful policy fights. Its efforts have resulted in the creation of the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund within the California Department of Public Health and passage of the Momnibus bill to support transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color through pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
Similarly, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota is funding ERA Minnesota, which is currently working to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution that would prevent discrimination based on gender, gender identity, and gender expression. And in Puerto Rico, the Fundación de Mujeres en Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Women’s Foundation) is funding a local collective, La Sombrilla Cuir, which gives cash grants to transgender people in crisis and educates journalists on how to better report on transgender and gender-nonconforming people, including using the correct pronouns.
New Approaches to Giving
Many of these groups are deploying new models of giving to meet the needs of grassroots groups. For instance, Philadelphia’s Gender Justice Fund created a Trans Resilience Fund composed primarily of local transgender activists of color who are responsible for deciding which grantees to support. The group shifted its traditional philanthropic model to distribute the funds to small organizations that are often overlooked, most with budgets under $250,000 and without 501(c)(3) status.
These investments are more important than ever and should be replicated by women’s funds across the country — and all foundations that value equal rights and justice. Anyone who identifies as a feminist needs to understand that anti-trans laws are an act of hate against all of us, and that we must stand together to fight back.