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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

History of LGBT+ philanthropy

lgbt philanthropy

While LGBTQ+ organizations have become more visible in recent years, they have existed for decades. First, they were communities where its members could freely express their sexuality and engage in discussions about the advancement of their rights and place in society. 

But, after direct attacks of violence, discrimination and harassment toward LGBTQ+ people, these organizations began to do advocacy work in the legislative arena and some members even took to the streets as demonstrators marking the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1960s.

This further foundation support for LGBTQ+ organizations for the first time ever and marked the beginning of a tradition of giving from people and organizations outside the LGBTQ+ community. 

Since then, U.S.-based grantmakers have awarded more than 88,300 grants to LGBTQ+ organizations and projects totaling $2.45 billion, according to reports by the Funders for LGBTQ Issues. 

While funding for LGBTQ+ issues in the United States continues to grow every year, a new study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University found that LGBTQ+ nonprofits are underfunded. 

They received $560 million of charitable donations during 2019, which made up only 0.13% of philanthropic giving. 

They have had major victories like the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage and the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia ruling that banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

But, there have been setbacks. This year to date, 491 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures in the U.S., according to American Civil Liberties Union data, which is more than double compared to last year and marks a new record high. 

LGBTQ+ people continue to endure acts of hate and violence like the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, one of the biggest mass shootings in U.S. history. Data from 2022 by the Williams Institute at the School of Law highlighted the high prevalence of violence against the community when it found that LGBTQ+ people are nine times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of a violent hate crime. Of those, 85% report that the bias motivation was related to gender identity and sexuality. 

In the face of discriminatory policies and acts of violence against the community they serve, LGBTQ+ nonprofits have become centers of action leading advocacy efforts, raising awareness and providing resources. 

They have come a long way with the help of individuals, institutions, grantmakers and organizations of all kinds. They became an inherent part of the history of LGBTQ+ philanthropy as they were the first to envision a society where LGBTQ+ individuals could live and love freely. 

LGBTQ+ organizations before foundation support

The history of LGBTQ+ philanthropy traces back decades before the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1960s to the early gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organizations. 

The Society for Human Rights, which is the oldest documented national gay rights organization, was founded in 1924 by Henry Gerber and the Mattachine Society, known as the first national gay rights organization, was formed by Harry Hay in 1951. 

Established in San Francisco were the Daughters of Bilitis –the first lesbian rights organization– in 1955, the Imperial Council of San Francisco by Jose Sarria in 1965, and the National Transsexual Counseling Unit –the first world’s trans rights organization– in 1966, after police raided Compton’s Cafeteria and tried to arrest the transgender and queer people that were hanging out there.

While there were approximately 50 organizations that supported LGBTQ+ issues by 1969, none had received foundation support. The small financial contributions to these organizations often came from within the community. However, this changed after the Stonewall Riots. 

As noted by Eric Marcus, the founder and host of the “Making Gay History” podcast, the collective advocacy work that veteran activists and young members of the LGBTQ+ community had done in preceding series of protests and demonstrations culminated during the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which is regarded as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.

A year after, people marched from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in the streets of Manhattan to commemorate the riots in what was then called the “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” known as America’s first LGBTQ+ pride parade. The official chant was, “Say it loud, gay is proud.”

On July 5, 1970, the New York Times published an article covering the first pride parade titled, “The ‘Gay’ People Want Their Rights” that gave national visibility to the LGBTQ+ movement. 

It was during the spur of organizations as a response to the Stonewall Riots and the newly national recognition of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement that RESIST, a Massachusetts-based foundation with a history of supporting grassroots and activists groups, decided to award the Gay Liberation Front a grant in 1970, the first grant supporting LGBTQ+ issues in history. 

LGBTQ+ organizations through time

Since their establishment, LGBTQ+ organizations have been instrumental for the advancement of the community by achieving marriage equality, raising awareness about AIDS education and providing resources like counseling. During times of crisis, they are the first ones to show up, support LGBTQ+ individuals, advocate for their rights and ensure their wellness. 

1970s - 1980s: The establishment of the first LGBTQ+ foundations 

For most of the 1970s, foundation grants were directed to health-related LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations that focused on counseling, alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation services. 

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, financial support went to policy oriented grants because LGBTQ+ individuals started to get involved in civil rights activities and the political arena. 

This era also saw the establishment of the first two lesbian and gay foundations in the world: the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (originally the Astraea Foundation), founded in 1977 in New York and the Horizons Foundation (originally the Golden Gate Business Association Foundation) founded in 1980 in San Francisco.

Astrea continues to be the only public philanthropic organization to support lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and intersex lives worldwide. 

The Horizons Foundation created a subsidiary, a “gay United Way,” to focus on collective fundraising efforts and stimulate giving among LGBTQ+ individuals. 

By 1981, the first private foundations supporting gay and lesbian communities were founded by wealthy LGBTQ+ individuals including the Howard Gilman Foundation, Newpol Foundation, and the Chicago Resource Center. 

1980s: The HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The 1980s era of the LGBTQ+ movement was defined by foundation support and response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Specifically, the community’s new focus on meeting the needs for health services, care, research, testing and advocacy for equality at state and federal levels. 

Allies joined LGBTQ+ organizations in supporting educational, advocacy and community building efforts to destigmatize HIV/AID and increase civil rights protections against discrimination and violence in all sectors of society.

Discussion of a “homosexual disorder” in the media began in the summer of 1981 after the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention published on June 5 of that same year a report about five gay men in Los Angeles who were treated for a rare form of pneumonia, which was later determined to be AIDS-related. It wasn’t until the summer of 1982 that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention coined the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or “AIDS.”

By the end of 1981, 80 men gathered in one of the founder’s apartment to discuss the creation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first HIV/AIDS service provider and the largest recipient of foundation donations during this era. Formally founded by Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport and Edmund White, the organization established the first AIDS service hotline, a newsletter, fundraising events and service programs. 

The first known AIDS-related grant came in 1982 a time when cases in the country were increasing at an alarming rate of three per day to fund a newsletter by the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation (now called the San Francisco AIDS Foundation) that provided reliable and up-to-date information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

By 1983, Brother Help Thyself, the Charles A. Dana Foundation, the Chicago Resource Center, the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, the Howard Gilman Foundation, the Louis Calder Foundation, the Morris Goldseeker Foundation, New York Community Trust and the San Francisco Foundation had awarded HIV/AIDS-related grants that totaled almost $200,000 nationwide. 

30% of the HIV/AIDS related-grants during the early 1980s were from LGBTQ+ foundations.

The Mertz Gilmore Foundation made its first grant to the LGBTQ+ community in 1985 to Lambda Legal for providing legal protection services to people with AIDS. It later became one of the largest donors to the LGBTQ+ movement with grants exceeding $700,000. 

It wasn’t until 1987, almost 20 years later after the first grant awarded to an LGBTQ+ organization, that funding for LGBTQ+ issues exceeded $1 million. 

LGBTQ+ issues that were also funded during these years were initiatives to increase civil rights and protections, combat homophobia and violence, and support community building in educational, military, spiritual and international settings. 

In response to hate crimes and domestic violence, the New York City Anti-Violence Project was established in 1980 and received its first grant in 1984 from the Chicago Resource Center.

LGBTQ+ student clubs at East and West coast universities and eight local chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, an LGBTQ+ ally advocacy organization, received funding for the first time to further support of LGBTQ+ issues in educational institutions. 

1990s: Foundations raise awareness about the importance to support LGBTQ+ organizations

During this era, foundations became critical in raising visibility of LGBTQ+ issues in the philanthropic sector and came together to create a partnership that would advocate for funds at the local level.

Charitable support also went to human rights and social change organizations overseas and to immigration and protection against violence and harassment efforts. 

In 1993, a small group of foundations partnered together to establish the National Lesbian and Gay Community Funding Partnership that would promote charitable giving in local communities from non-LGBTQ+ organizations and create LGBTQ+ issues-related grants exceeding $100,000 . 

Between 1994 and 2005, the partnership raised more than $9 million for LGBTQ+ causes at the local level and further support to LGBTQ+ organizations through donor-advised programs and endowments. 

With $48,000 from the Partnership and significant support from Allan Gilmour, retired vice chairman of Ford Motor Company, The HOPE Fund at the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan was established in Detroit in 1994. It has given the most dollars to support LGBTQ+ causes than any other non-LGBTQ+ partnership grantee. 

Immigration Equality an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants that was created in 1994 –the same year the the Justice Department recognized sexual orientation as a human right that should be protected giving immigrants the opportunity to seek asylum on this basis– received grants from the H. van Ameringen Foundation in 1997 and 1998 to cover general operating costs. 

A hate crime against a member of the LGBTQ+ community sparked national conversations when on October 7, 1998, 21-year-old university student Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie. Wyoming. The philanthropy community responded immediately providing funds to community organizing and funeral costs. Shepard’s parents created the Matthew Shepard Foundation that gave instrumental support to the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, the first federal hate crime legislation including sexual orientation and gender identity. 

While most of the events that sparked the need of funding among LGBTQ+ organizations are part of the history of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, their mission, support and values remain present. 

They used tragedy and pain to give the movement a spotlight in national conversations and highlighted the needs for social justice, educational, and health resources to further support from governmental and private non-LGBTQ organizations. 

The month of June, known as Pride Month, is a good time to reflect on the philanthropic journeys of LGBTQ+ organizations that have advocated and ensured the protection of human rights for individuals that are part of the community at local, state, national and international levels. 

This commemorative article was based on the Funders for LGBTQ Issues historical review on LGBTQ+ philanthropy. 

Illustration by Lillian Finley / ASU Lodestar Center

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