A Pandemic Year in Reflection

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, we caught up with our Interim Executive Director, Sandy Nathan to reflect on how our lives both within and outside of Astraea, have transformed in a profound manner.

Q & A with Interim Executive Director Sandy Nathan

Q: It has been over a year now since the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic and  what a wild year it has been. How are you doing, both personally and how is Astraea doing as an organization?

Sandy Nathan: Yes, in many ways, it feels that it’s been much more than a year since the pandemic hit. On a deeper level, we have crossed a real chasm and we have entered into what I feel is an era of profound transformation. The pandemic has drawn attention to  the stark inequities in healthcare, racial justice and economics. The underlying story here is that we cannot go back to the way that we were! We are facing competing tensions: this desire to go back to some sense of normalcy, and given all of these inequities, the deeper understanding that we cannot; that we have to advance our energies towards creating a world that works for all of us. And so that shift in the awareness and urgency around dismantling the structures of white supremacy has been the most colossal universal gift.

And by that I don’t mean to minimize in any way the profound suffering that has come as a result of the pandemic, the profound loss of life, the calling out of all the horrific, white supremacist actions that have just called attention to the fact that we can’t bury this stuff any longer. We’re living two separate realities: One that says, “We’ve got to hold on to the way things were, at any risk.” And the other says, “Okay, we need to be about creating a new world and we need to shift all our might towards that vision of collective liberation.”

Q: In birth there’s always a tremendous amount of pain. I’m wondering, how does Astraea, an organization filled with actual people, with feelings, emotions, thoughts, and who are experiencing an immense transformation of their own navigate through such a profound shift?

Sandy Nathan: The first thing that’s critical to any shift is awareness of the need to shift. At Astraea, we have had a deep sense of the need for organizational shifts and cultural shifts for quite some time. When I joined Astraea, I felt like I stepped into this amazing, wildly creative feminist womb. And I just kind of curled up inside of it, because in many ways it was the first time that I felt completely comfortable to just bring my full self as a Black lesbian to an organization.

It was really easy for me to identify with Astraea and the radical, bold and visionary feminist ways. But it also required a lot of nurturing, as there were some historic harms that had not been fully addressed, something that I am learning has been true for so many progressive feminist social justice organizations operating in philanthropy. The pandemic really exacerbated those harms, and emphasized the need for healing. Unaddressed harm and trauma combined with the inability for folks to be together, and added to that the sudden uncertainty folks were facing in their day-to-day lives, you can really understand how challenging it was to fully address those underlying cultural issues that we have begun to hold and nurture within Astraea.

As leaders within the organization, we struggled initially with all the ways in which we needed to recalibrate, so that we were engaging staff and supporting them, and most importantly, making sure that in spite of all the things that we were confronted with, that we were focused on the mission of Astraea. Simultaneously, we had our best year ever of fundraising and we had our largest grant-making year last year – we gave nearly $6 million to our grantee partners around the world. In many ways, we rallied, we stepped up, and we transcended all of the obstacles that we were facing on a day-to-day basis to meet our mission and mandate of standing behind our incredible grantee partners and movements.

Q: Why do you think that that is? Why do you think that in the midst of so much panic, so much uncertainty, that people were betting on Astraea? 

Sandy Nathan: There were a number of factors leading to that, leading with the passion and the commitment of Astraea staff who have really shown up to do the work required of them to shift and transform into an organization that holds reflection, healing, conversation and liberation at its core. As it relates to our grantmaking, our staff have deep relationships with our grantees, and when the pandemic hit, those relationships helped us to understand that the most powerful thing we could do in the moment was to be Astraea, listen to the needs of grantees and get resources to those movements on the ground. We raised over $1 million via our COVID-19 Collective Care Response, an organization-wide initiative with the aim of bolstering our grantee partners as they care for their communities and confront the pandemic’s ongoing impacts across the globe. 

We also adapted our Spring grantmaking strategy to meet the moment and moved additional flexible resources to grantee partners in the U.S. and globally. LGBTQI communities across the globe were not only suffering themselves as a result of the pandemic, but were also being harmed by ongoing state-sanctioned violence, surveillance, and discrimination as a result of the pandemic, with many governments using COVID-19 as an excuse to suppress rights. It was critical that Astraea was able to be nimble and responsive to these needs.

Q: What is your vision for Astraea as we navigate through 2021? 

Sandy Nathan: My vision and hope for Astraea in this year is that we take the time to do the internal work we need to strengthen ourselves for the long-haul in every regard. We have already gotten much of that work off the ground: we are shoring up and building our infrastructure by investing in critical operational improvements, we are – in spite of this pandemic – finding all the virtual ways that we can to safely connect with one another as both colleagues and human beings, and we’re tending to our organizational structure and capacity. We have made key hires, redefined our strategic priorities, centered anti-oppression and anti-racism work to strengthen our organizational culture, and encouraged staff sustainability through structured organizational pauses. We’re building an organization that finally is right sized to its level of growth in revenue. I think that is only going to lead to a much more sustainable organization in the long haul.

Q: How do you think that the internal work that you’ve been able to undertake has either shifted or expanded Astraea’s feminist philosophy and how the organization sees itself? 

Sandy Nathan: It is our uniqueness that excites, that drives the funding support to the organization. It’s our uniqueness that attracts passionate radical staff within the organization, so we continue to be that. This interim period has enabled us to be that much more deeply transformational. A fundamental critical shift that has started to happen within Astraea is that we are really moving from doing to being. We have made a profound shift in that regard, from “let’s just focus on the work,” to “let’s internalize our feminist, anti-racist, social justice oriented values and philosophy within every part of who we are, and so let’s internalize that within everything that we do as a public foundation.”

Collective Care Means Resourcing Trans Futures!

This TDoV, we must challenge the societal constructs that have conditioned us to view trans people as unworthy of support and care. Building the  leadership and visibility of Black and other marginalized trans people is critical for creating transformative change. As feminist funders, we believe our role is to honor the visions of trans people and to invest in those visions over the long-term.

This Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), Astraea celebrates the power and resilience of trans movements worldwide, simultaneously recognizing the need to continue resourcing trans futures. Transgender activist and founder of Transgender Michigan, Rachel Crandall-Crocker started TDOV in 2009 as a complement to Trans Day of Rememberence (TDoR), an annual event memorializing those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. She hoped to instead create an event that highlighted the unique and often understated achievements of the trans community. TDoV was created precisely because supporting and rejoicing in transness is so rare.

Here are just some examples of how our trans grantee partners have been building power for and prioritizing collective care for their communities: 

As funders, we must challenge the societal constructs that have conditioned us to view trans people as unworthy of support and care. Building the  leadership and visibility of Black and other marginalized trans people is critical for creating transformative change. As feminist funders, we believe our role is to honor the visions of trans people and to invest in those visions over the long-term. Our responsibility is to keep shifting resources into the hands of trans-led organizations, understand what their needs and priorities are, and build their collective power.

At Astraea, we are 1 of only 2 funders in the world giving more than 10% of our funding to trans-led groups. 

In 2020 alone, we shifted over $1.2 million to 50 TGNC-led groups. 

26% of our grants supported TGNC-led organizing and 100% of our TGNC-led funding in the U.S. was for groups led by and for people of color. 

Many trans people around the world face a grim decision regarding visibility in an era where modest gains for trans rights coexist globally with rising far-right reactionary backlash. This can be particularly difficult for newly-out and younger trans people or those just beginning to fully embrace the complexity of their identities, as they attempt to navigate the challenging and uncertain terrains of being visibly trans. We value every transgender and gender non-conforming person, so while visibility is to be celebrated (and especially so on TDOV), it is essential that it not be misconstrued as the only measure of authenticity.

As we continue to be impacted by this  global pandemic, we have witnessed how COVID-19 has continued to have a disproportionate and devastating impact on trans communities globally, especially on those who are more visible. As communities that already face systemic discrimination and violence, are often unable to access healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities, and whose human rights are either at grave risk or denied entirely in several countries, trans people have been marginalized time and time again. For trans folks, the isolation measures set in place around the world during the pandemic have made life difficult: everyday microaggressions and obstacles have been amplified, access to life-saving resources and necessary healthcare services are often cut short or unavailable, and physical support systems and networks are often out of reach.

All these barriers are exacerbated for trans people living at the intersections of race, class and ability. When people talk about Black Lives Matter, not all Black lives are necessarily valued equally. This is especially true when it comes to Black trans people, who are killed and incarcerated at disproportionate rates and are commonly erased within power structures and ecosystems across society, from the broader Black Lives Matter movement to entertainment media. In June 2020 – during a summer of uprisings against police brutality and systemic racism against Black people – a Black Trans Lives Matter rally was organized, led by, and centered Black trans women, honoring Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, 27, of Philadelphia, and Riah Milton, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio who were brutally murdered. The march and rally gave trans and gender non-conforming people the opportunity to mourn lives lost, and to convey their resounding calls for justice, fair treatment and access to greater resourcing.

We are in a moment of global resistance and reckoning. Trans communities are pushing back against white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal systems, and demanding pivotal change that will ensure a safer future for us all. It’s well past time we trust trans people and honor Black trans leadership. Speak out and act against violence against trans people. Fall back and let trans people lead. Invest in trans-led organizations, campaigns, and ideas. Fund trans communities intersectionally, across issue areas, movements, and geographies. Amplify trans realities and narratives in nuanced and expansive ways. Against all odds, through times of crisis and times of joy, it is our collective responsibility to shift power and resources so that trans people thrive.

This Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV), we are also delighted to have collaborated with artist M (who creates under the name, Emulsify) to create the beautiful illustration you see in this eblast, “Trans People Deserve to Bloom!” M is a brown genderqueer cultural worker and organizer. They create art that helps them heal, learn, advocate, and imagine new worlds. M is a trained abortion doula, founder of Emulsify Design, and creative director of Arrebato, a space for Queer Trans Black & Brown community. They believe all art is powerful and political. As Astraea, we are committed to supporting artists and their work, recognizing that art is an essential tool for social transformation.

How Do We Redistribute Money and Power in Philanthropy? A conversation with Kerry-Jo Ford Lyn, Deputy Executive Director

In this interview we spoke with Kerry-Jo to explore the power dynamics inherent in philanthropy and how we as a feminist funder must work to break those down in order to uplift and center the voices, work, and priorities of our LBTQI grantee partners.

On trust-building, and navigating internal and external power dynamics in philanthropy so that we can more radically be in the service of LBTQI grassroots movements around the world 

We are thrilled to announce that Kerry-Jo Ford Lyn has been promoted to the newly created role of Astraea Deputy Executive Director. Many of you know Kerry-Jo from her previous role stewarding Astraea’s Global LGBTI Human Rights Initiative with USAID, Sida and Global Affairs Canada. In this interview we spoke with Kerry-Jo to explore the power dynamics inherent in philanthropy and how we as a feminist funder must work to break those down in order to uplift and center the voices, work, and priorities of our LBTQI grantee partners. We also take an internal look at how trust building and anti-oppression work is being threaded through the entire fabric of Astraea as an organization. A leader on staff since she joined in 2015, Kerry-Jo is a strategic systems thinker with impeccable skills in organizational management. She will play an essential role leading Astraea through this time of reinvention and reimagining.  Join us in warmly welcoming her to this new role and please read some of her reflections in the interview below. 

—-

Question: As a person working in philanthropy, you have said that money is a necessary evil. What do you mean by this?

Kerry-Jo: It’s a great question, and so layered. Systemically, philanthropy is premised on and emerges from a capitalist system, which means that money is intentionally disproportionately distributed and consolidated in the largely white owning class, the State and indeed Foundations, especially private philanthropy so there are always communities that will get less of it. And that’s true with LGBTI communities and with communities of color, and worse at the intersections of those communities. 

Where Astraea fits is that it’s our mission to create alternative flows of capital from where it’s been intentionally placed, to where it needs to shift. We create pathways of raising and redistributing that money, which means we’re also doing the work of redistributing that power. Fortunately, one of Astraea’s superpowers has been the authenticity of the relationship that we’ve built over time with LGBTQI grassroots grantee partners, and in ensuring consistently that we grant that money without any conditions. And so, by giving money consistently as core support, we’re not passing down any of the conditionality that we typically get from larger institutions and philanthropic mechanisms – essentially we alchemize the red-tape and open up the flows of money to where they need to be. We’ve consistently had to make the case for ‘better quality money’, money that is unconditional and used according to the needs identified by groups on the frontlines fighting for collective liberation.

Question: Can you say a bit more about “better quality money”? 

Kerry-Jo: Better quality money is money that is as flexible as possible. Money without conditions and that also includes reporting conditions. So, at Astraea we have had to take on as much reporting as is necessary without passing that on to our grantees. We really see it as our responsibility as a conduit, to take on as much of the burden of problematic money and problematic power dynamics as possible so that our grantee partners don’t have to.

In my portfolio for instance, I’ve been responsible for negotiating and navigating the nuance of government funding, and I think government funding has historically been extremely problematic, because it necessarily comes with the conditions and standard provisos that are imperial, colonized, and designed to monitor and control social justice movements. It typically has been horrible.

Question: What have you been able to do to make government funding less problematic and more flexible?

Kerry-Jo: We’ve been able to reformulate government money so that it aligns with the kind of feminist principles of funding that we have consistently applied, which is multi-annual, core support, and flexible funding. The government funding that we have as it relates to USAID, is for core organizational support, which is extremely important and was actually a non-negotiable in establishing our partnership. And we have, over time, reduced the reporting burden on our grantee partners. We’ve also done things like reduce the visibility and exposure to risk to our partners by ensuring that we never disclose their names, which is especially important when you consider many of our partners live and work in countries hostile to LGBTI communities. So even if they get direct funding from our government partners, we ensure that their names are never disclosed in public documents or reporting documents to the funder, specifically the US government. And that’s been a reflection of true partnership.

Question: Why is it important to ensure that the names of grantees are not disclosed?

Kerry-Jo: The important thing is to ensure that our funders are able to achieve their objectives while we achieve ours through supporting our partners, that there is mutuality and partnership. So, if we provide our funders with  the information and the stories of impact needed to fulfil their mission and objectives, then the name of the grantee partner becomes less important. This actually reduces very real risk to our LGBTI partners. One of the phenomenal ways that we’ve been able to negotiate also is to have a ‘branding and marking’ waiver. We recognize that for most of the countries that we grant in, there is a complicated history related to US politics, and so being associated with government funding is a sensitive issue that might actually result in increased harms for our LGBTI partners on the ground. Providing funding in this way, without conditions or requirements around branding and public acknowledgment then truly represents a more authentic model of support that more appropriately (re)focuses the attention on the issues facing LGBTI communities, their priorities, their needs, and is definitely not about giving credit or kudos to funders themselves.  

It’s important for Astraea to consistently play the role of a responsible feminist intermediary by reducing the burden on our grantee partners, by making sure that they have the most flexible funding possible, and that we are actually resourcing according to what they need as opposed to what a donor might think they need.

Question: What kind of feedback do you get from grantee partners about the way that you have centered the giving? 

Kerry-Jo: Consistently, the feedback that we get is that Astraea is the least burdensome of funders in terms of reporting, and that we are one funder who really understands what it means to prioritize their work, their issues, and the solutions they themselves have identified. 

Question: What advice would you have for or what direction would you say that other philanthropic spaces should set up? 

Kerry-Jo: When I first came into Astraea, one of the things that was apparent is that we didn’t realize how much negotiating power and leverage we actually had. We were the ones who had this amazing and trust-based relationship with hundreds of grantee partners across the world. Not the larger funders who were making the grants to Astraea. And those relationships are at the heart of our work and a huge point of leverage. I think that it’s important for organizations to recognize when they have more leverage than they do and exercise that for the benefits of movements. 

Being able to negotiate and use your leverage with funders also means that you need to resource yourselves with the expertise to do so, and you need to build the capacity internally and dedicate that capacity to our fundraising teams, to our people who have the experience with particular funders.

Question: Internally, while you’re trying to do the best for the grantees, how do you do that and then not overburden and overwork yourselves? 

Kerry-Jo: It’s definitely a struggle, because at the core of it, we all do this work because we have such a deep commitment to our grantee partners and to the movements, and we struggle on a daily basis to find a balance between doing the necessary work for our partners, and then taking time, and setting boundaries, and creating spaciousness in our own work plans. And that’s a struggle any organization goes through, especially as we’re going through a pandemic. The need to evaluate the pace at which we operate increased during the pandemic and it is really the remit of leadership to be able to set the course for our staff and the organization to slow down. And what that involves is having frank, honest conversations with funders, to be extremely realistic with them about what is possible and what needs to shift for us to continue to do our work sustainably.

Question: What are your hopes for Astraea this year? What are you most hoping for comes out of 2021, with the way that Astraea is shaping itself up? 

Kerry-Jo: I have so many hopes for Astraea, to be honest. One big hope is that for those who remain committed to Astraea to remember the most essential parts of what makes Astraea great, and why it’s so necessary to have Astraea in this moment, and in this movement. When we ground ourselves in those fundamental things and trust a process, that is a huge hope. Quite frankly, we have been with faced quite a lot over these last few years, as individuals and as an organization – we’re at a point of exhaustion in the face of a global pandemic, racial uprisings, many of our own transitions internally, losing that human interaction in the office, when we travel and with our grantee partners – it fosters a lot of disconnection and fatigue. And trust is in short supply so we’re also trying to find ways to refocus on building psychological safety for our staff. My hope would be, as we are entering what can be an exciting phase of new leadership, new energy, unpacking old ways, reflecting on how we are positioned in philanthropy, dismantling some things, and reinventing others, that we also stay grounded and centered in what has made Astraea great, learn to trust ourselves in pursuing that, and trust each other in pursuing that together, in service of our LGBTI communities across the world.

Astraea honors the women leading us to our liberation!

Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the Black, Indigenous, POC, migrant, lesbian, bisexual, trans, interse and queer women who have and continue to work to free us all.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde | Black feminist writer, member of the Combahee River Collective, and Astraea Sappho distinction awardee

Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the Black, Indigenous, POC, migrant, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer women who have and continue to work to free us all. These are the women leading powerful, intersectional grassroots movements; imagining a world free from policing, surveillance, and criminalization; building a culture of collective care, solidarity, healing, and joy. These are the women leading us to our collective liberation.

In recognition of this day, the Astraea office is closed, giving our staff an opportunity to rest and reflect on theirs and so many others’ contributions to feminist movement building around the world, and celebrate how far we have come. Astraea was founded in 1977 – only three years after and intricately tied to the founding of the Combahee River Collective – by a cross-class, multi-racial group of women activists. Our original purpose was to fund a burgeoning national women’s movement that was inclusive of lesbians and women of color, and in doing so the organization became one of the first women’s foundations in the world. In 1990, we officially “came out” as a lesbian foundation. Today, we are the only multi-racial, multi-gender philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI rights around the globe, we are 1 of only 2 funders giving more than 10% of our funding to trans organizing, and we sit at the nexus of more than 40 years of feminist grantmaking and movement building.

“From the minute that we were founded, from the minute that people sat at a table together, before we even could imagine what we were going to be, the understanding was it had to be inclusive. The recognition of intersectionality before the word was even out there was a given for us,” shared Astraea founding mother Achebe Powell in a 2018 interview.

Our feminism is expansive, and is deeply rooted in and guided by the leadership of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Global South, migrant, and trans and intersex-led movements. Our feminism is proudly radical, it is disruptive, it is intersectional, and it is inclusive of all who are fighting for a future free from injustice and full of joy.

Wishing you a happy International Women’s Day!

In Solidarity,
The Astraea team

P.S. Check out our video on grantee partner GALANG’s work advocating for queer women’s empowerment and inclusivity in the Philippines!

I Am Black Everyday: A Reflection on Black History Month

We’re at a crucial tipping point. LBTQI, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities are fighting to survive at the hands of white supremacy. And these are the very communities securing a liberatory vision for the future. We pledge each and every day to fight and fund the movement our foremothers and forefathers began. These are our foundations, the legacy on which we build to ensure Black liberation, and indeed the liberation of all peoples and the healing of our planet.

Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haulis Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Article by Sandy Nathan As Black History Month draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what it means to carry our celebrations of Blackness and Black history beyond the month of February. America has been trying since 1915 to highlight the contributions of Black folks to the history of America. I value that for sure. But there is something about all the recent sentiment about “Black history is American history” that is insufficient. For far too long America has denied the contributions, innovation and brilliance of Black America. While we have designated February—the shortest month of the year—to the recognition of Black history, upon closer examination you recognize that it is extraordinarily whitewashed. America’s idea of Black history would have us believe that Black Americans were slaves, then Rosa Parks sat down, and King had a dream—the end. Our history is so much more than what this month reduces it to each and every year. What we need isn’t siloed months that check a box, but rather true integration. During the month of February, it seems America has some form of amnesia to the experiences of Black Americans as well as the treatment of our leaders who are consistently lifted up during this period. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a common figure whose quotes and speeches fly high during this month with little conversation about just how radical of a thinker he was—so radical in fact he was on the FBI’s most watched list and lamented by the very politicians that take to social media today to feign their appreciation for his work to create Black liberation. Yet, over 50 years later the same principles Dr. King fought for still remain a dream—like a living wage, racial equity and an end to police brutality and white domestic terrorism. For over 40 years Astraea has stood in solidarity with Black movements and communities in the United States. We stand united in our grief, anger, and outrage at every instance of police brutality and of innocent Black lives lost. What became abundantly clear in 2020 is that these acts of violence against Black people are not isolated incidents but part of a much larger and coordinated strategy to enforce white supremacy at the expense of Black life. We must work to condemn the racism, discrimination, policing, transphobia, and state violence that would have Black people erased. This means not only fighting for the equity that is deserved; but lifting up the humanity of the Black community everyday, not just when it is convenient during the month of February. We can’t continue to have institutions and corporations ‘perform’ anti-Black racism by posting quotes on their social platforms for 28 days while refusing to acknowledge the ongoing structural racism the rest of the year and commit to deep acts of reparation. We’re at a crucial tipping point. LBTQI, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities are fighting to survive at the hands of white supremacy. And these are the very communities securing a liberatory vision for the future. As a queer feminist funder based in the United States, we owe our existence to the civil and human rights activism of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color, trans, and queer movements that have come before us. We are reminded in this month, like every month, that we are not free until Black people are free. We are not free until all of our BIPOC folks are free. At Astraea we will not silo our celebration of Blackness and the fight for liberation to one month. We pledge each and every day to fight and fund the movement our foremothers and forefathers began. These are our foundations, the legacy on which we build to ensure Black liberation, and indeed the liberation of all peoples and the healing of our planet.

Relaunching our Executive Leadership Search

We are excited to be reopening our search for Astraea’s next Executive Director and welcome applications for a strategic and strong operational leader to build on four decades of innovative grantmaking and philanthropic advocacy to fuel the organizing of powerful LBTQI, feminist grassroots movements.

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy as we continue to weather this pandemic and its effects on our communities. For Astraea, in order to be effective at bolstering the resilience of our movements, we must truly build our own. 2021 will continue to be a year of transition, transformation and deep organizational change for us.

We had begun our search for Astraea’s next Executive Leadership in early 2020 but just as the unpredictability of the past year changed the trajectory of so many of our lives, it similarly impacted Astraea’s own transition and this search process. The Search Committee and the Board paused at the end of last year to take some time to restructure and reevaluate the process. Taking into account the challenges that continue to lie ahead, we are excited to be reopening our search for Astraea’s next Executive Director, and are officially relaunching that search today.

Meanwhile, Sandy Nathan, Interim Executive Director, continues to bring her years of executive experience, skills, and wisdom to leading Astraea through this time of transition. Sandy has made key hires, led the team in defining our values and strategic priorities, centered anti-oppression and anti-racism work to strengthen our organizational culture, encouraged staff sustainability through structured organizational pauses, and is investing in critical operational and infrastructure improvements. Astraea is financially strong and received a $4 million gift from MacKenzie Scott last year in recognition of our long-term, intersectional LBTQI grantmaking. Our board is confident in Sandy’s and the staff’s leadership in continuing to steward Astraea’s financial health and transformative grantmaking to the LBTQI, Black, Brown, migrant, indigenous, feminist movements at the grassroots.

The Search Committee is grateful to the candidates who shared their time and energy to engage in the search process last year. We are excited to welcome applications for a strategic and strong operational leader to build on four decades of innovative grantmaking and philanthropic advocacy to fuel the organizing of powerful LBTQI, feminist grassroots movements. We are looking for a leader committed to advancing gender, racial, disability, and economic justice, who has experience with nonprofit organizational development and proven success in building strong and effective teams. Our ideal candidate has an international perspective and lived experience in the Global South and/or East.  If this is you or someone you know, we encourage you to apply or share this announcement widely! We will be accepting applications on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Astraea’s committed Board of Directors will lead this process over the next several months. We will also keep you – our partners, friends, and allies – updated as regularly as possible. Sandy will continue to prioritize sustainability, organizational strengthening, and collective care, while bringing in the fresh perspectives and energy that we need to guide Astraea into the future. We remain clear about Astraea’s mandate during these challenging times and look forward to welcoming new leadership to meet this moment and beyond.  

In Solidarity,

Eboné Bishop and Bookda Gheisar
Board Co-Chairs 

Can Radical Philanthropy be the Answer to Our Multiple Pandemics?

In this time of profound transition and challenge, philanthropy needs to reckon with how we can truly shift power, to a place of respect, listening, honoring, and supporting the visions and organizing of our grantees. They are the architects of our collective liberation. As a foundation committed to abolition it is incumbent upon us to work in concert with our grantees and create a flow that is centered around their self-determination.

Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haulis Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.

It’s been almost a year now (and over a year in some countries) since the world as we have known it has been forced to pivot, and a global pandemic has taken hold of every aspect of our lives. In the last year, we have been challenged to slow down and to rethink our ways of being, moving, and doing, in order to protect ourselves, and the health of our communities. Yet, while each one of us on the planet has been touched by the pandemic, we know that some communities around the world – those who are most marginalized and most targeted by all forms of discrimination and violence – have been hit the hardest, and continue to feel the deepest impacts and reverberations of this deadly pandemic. These are the very communities that Astraea has been working to support tirelessly over our 42 years of existence – LBTQI, Black, Brown, migrant, indigenous, feminist communities working to create transformative change at the grassroots. At the core of the issues we are battling is an unjust and extractive economic system that is steeped in white supremacy–the belief that white folks should always be on the top and a struggle class made up largely of BIPOC should be at the bottom. Economic insecurity is nothing new and yet many act shocked by the outcomes of an unbalanced capitalistic system that has created the heinous racial wealth gap that we are witnessing play out in real time as we see those that are required to risk their lives to put food on their tables and others that are able to shelter in place.

We know Astraea’s grantee partners – the LBTQI organizers on the frontlines – are often the most marginalized in our communities; yet they are the ones charting the path through this, the transformative vision for our collective liberation. In order to support our grantees during this difficult time Astraea launched the COVID-19 Collective Care Response. Grounded in Feminist Funding Principles and Healing Justice framework, our response aims to bolster our grantee partners now and for the long haul as they care for their communities and confront the pandemic’s impacts across the globe. We recognize that a diverse range of strategies are needed to meet this moment and our support for our partners must be just as flexible as they need to be. Policy change and holding the line on attempts at regression remain important, but as survival comes even more to the forefront, we must also center holistic well-being and community care in direct relationship to what our grantee partners and their communities are experiencing. Pandemic response policies are intersecting with LBTQI communities’ well-being in an urgent way.

We know from our four plus decades of work how economic and social inequities have impacted LBTQI communities. We are still at a place in the U.S. where Black transgender women are being murdered at an unprecedented rate and where people can be fired from their jobs for being queer. This hostility is not just focused in the U.S. as we know that trans communities around the world are disproportionately impacted by violence and economic instability. Even in the midst of a pandemic we watched as George Floyd was robbed of his life as the knee of an unjust system pressed on him unbothered by the display of depravity. Ex-Officer Derek Chauvin who murdered George Floyd in broad daylight is emblematic of a system that has been squeezing the life out of marginalized communities for as long as we can remember.

It was this confluence of trauma that has us at Astraea thinking about what our role is as radical, queer, feminist philanthropists at this critical time in our world’s story.

What we have always known to be true is that we are an anomaly. Astraea exists in a landscape of philanthropy that looks very much like U.S. Senate—white, male and deeply paternalistic.  While philanthropy is crucial to help move forward programs and organizations that are on the frontlines fighting inequity, it is set up in a way that the people who are charged with doing the work often have little autonomy over it. In reality we at Astraea have worked counter to the norms of traditional philanthropy since our inception over forty-two years ago. Astraea’s roots are in movements. Our founding mothers came together as lesbians and women of color precisely to resource our own movements from within, recognizing the critical leadership role lesbians and women of color played in all social justice movements of the time.

As a public foundation that raises every dollar we spend, we are dedicated to working in partnership with our grantees not as overseers. As a funder, our primary role is to move resources to our grantee partners in a way that demonstrates our deepest commitment to support those who have the voice and power to tear down systems of oppression and create transformative change. And that has always been by providing long-term, flexible funding that allows grantees to set their own agendas and use resources to respond to their evolving needs and priorities. We have always given our partners who are doing work on the ground the autonomy they deserve. That is not new for Astraea. This is why when the pandemic hit, we were more dedicated than ever to providing the long term general operating funds that organizations needed in order to keep their doors open. 2020 was Astraea’s biggest grantmaking year yet – we gave nearly $6 million to our grantee partners around the world. Our donors and supporters were critical in making this happen; because of them we raised and granted nearly $1 million as part of our COVID-19 Collective Care Response and were able to increase grant amounts to several of our grantee partners who were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. We work to create systems for our grantees that unburden them from the restrictions and hoops that traditional philanthropy sets up as a false way to assess accountability.

In this time of profound transition and challenge, philanthropy needs to reckon with how we can truly shift power, to a place of respect, listening, honoring, and supporting the visions and organizing of our grantees. They are the architects of our collective liberation. As a foundation committed to abolition it is incumbent upon us to work in concert with our grantees and create a flow that is centered around their self-determination. That is what we mean when we use the term radical. As simple and essential as the thought that all people should live free and uninhibited is, in this philanthropic context it is also a radical thought to directly and overtly place power in the hands of movements. This is what we work for, this is how we queer philanthropy and it is also the commitment we are always striving towards.

We Won’t Be Intimidated

As a queer feminist funder based in the United States and resourcing activism across the globe, we owe our existence to the civil and human rights activism of the queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (QTBIPOC) movements that have come before us. We know this backlash is because we are building a new world.

Astraea condemns yesterday’s violent attack on democracy! White nationalists and the police colluded to allow an unprecedented breach of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. At the same time, members of white supremacist group the Klu Klux Klan held a rally and attempted to enter Georgia’s State Capitol building as part of a coordinated strategy to enforce white supremacy and right-wing extremism at the expense of safe, fair elections and indeed of Black and POC life.

This white supremacist violence can be seen in direct response to the election victory in Georgia (GA) and across the United States (U.S.), where Black and Brown people organized and voted to overturn the legislature and alter the course of a nation. Yesterday, they flipped the senate by electing the first ever Black and Jewish senators in GA. We are proud and humbled by this inspired organizing—our joy will not be looted.

The attacks beg the questions: whose safety, whose democracy and whose freedoms are protected by the State? Narratives of ‘safety’ and ‘security’ are often conflated within State narratives to justify the use of violence and surveillance on Black and Brown people. Yesterday’s blatant use and collusion of State power in support of white-led facism, however, yet again exposes the truth of a nation built to protect ‘whiteness’ at all costs.

Sadly, for many of us this was not surprising. It reflects a well coordinated—and indeed, well-publicized—far-right attack on the election results, and the freedoms of all people, especially Black, Brown, immigrant, queer and trans people. White supremacy is what allows Black people to be murdered while sleeping, tear gassed and assaulted by the police in peaceful protest. It is the banning of Muslim people from immigrating to the U.S. It is the murdering and incarceration of folx trying to cross the border with Mexico. It is the mass-criminalization of Black and Brown people across the U.S., all the while white extremists are given open access to the Capitol and enticed to harm people, buildings and public property. This is a system built to destroy Black life and protect white life. This is the legacy of centuries of white supremacy manifesting in the everyday racist violence of police and institutions.

As a queer feminist funder based in the United States and resourcing activism across the globe, we owe our existence to the civil and human rights activism of the queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (QTBIPOC) movements that have come before us. We honor those who have charted and continue to envision the path of liberation for us all. We uplift what is possible when our people come together to organize and contest for power. We know this backlash is because we are building a new world.

This is an exhausting, terrifying and infuriating time, and the work of anti-racism and the abolition of white supremacy will not happen overnight. We also know we cannot heal from what will not be named. We dream beyond dismantling “whiteness” and towards systems of material, emotional and spiritual repair, towards joy, and towards true liberation where all people have dignity, safety, security and life.

We are committed to supporting the QTBIPOC grassroots over the long haul. They are the architects of our future where true change and liberation is possible. Please take care. Check in on your folx. Stay safe and keep organizing.

“Fund Like You Want a Future We Can All Thrive In”: A Conversation with donors Eileen and Leo Farbman

We sat down with new Astraea donors Eileen and Leo Farbman of the Kolibri Foundation to learn more about their approach to giving, why they prioritize long-term and trust-based funding, and what led them to connect and partner with us.

As Astraea, we are incredibly grateful to be able to partner with a community of donor activists here in the United States and around the world. Our partnerships with our donors are built around shared values, alignment, and trust. Our donors are people with whom we have critical and honest conversations about how collective care can mean moving resources to where they are most needed and putting the least administrative burdens on our grantee partners while doing so. These relationships with donors are based in a shared sense that our movements are creating the futures we all need to thrive – and to do so, they need the resources to lean into their visions for lasting change. Together with our donors, we work to redistribute wealth and shift power for grassroots LBTQI movements working for racial, gender, and economic justice around the globe.

Mother and son duo Eileen and Leo Farbman of the Kolibri Foundation are some of Astraea’s newer donors, with our partnership beginning in early 2020. Their generous donation helped seed Astraea’s Collective Care Response, which recognizes that the repercussions of the pandemic are going to stay with us for a long time to come, and that the communities Astraea exists to support – LBTQI, Black, indigenous, Brown, migrant, poor and working class – will continue to be those hardest hit by COVID-19 while also being on the frontlines of pandemic response. Astraea aims to bolster our grantee partners now and for the long haul as they care for their communities and confront the pandemic’s impacts across the globe. 

We sat down with Eileen and Leo to learn more about their approach to giving, why they prioritize long-term and trust-based funding, and what led them to connect and partner with us. Check out the video above for highlights from our interview, or read more about our conversation below. 

Eileen & Leo would like to thank Cara Page, Thenjiwe McHarris and Lorraine Ramirez, who have been offering guidance in the process to set up the Kolibri Foundation and its grantmaking. 

Join Us: Find out more about how you can become an Astraea major donor!

On the focus of their giving: 

Eileen Farbman: We’ve really decided to take our focus to working at the intersections of racial and gender justice. To support movement building and to take our time to listen and learn and really carefully figure out the best model of granting that would work, really taking trust-building seriously and humbling ourselves and being transparent along with some movement leaders that are helping us to make Kolibri the foundation that I’ve always dreamed of having.

On what drives their giving:

Eileen: Money is only part of it for me, it’s really the trust-building, and if the grantees are up to it, the relationship-building that really excites me and being able to support those that we grant beyond just the funding that’s really exciting for me. For the past 30 years, I’ve been in philanthropy, I’ve worked with domestic violence and human trafficking survivors and throughout all of that time, I’ve seen lots of system stacked against women, women of color, disproportionately against black and brown women, and men for that matter, and I’ve always seen white leadership on top and not necessarily helping these systems get to those closest to the ground that needed it and sometimes making things very complicated. I’d really like to continue to fund the areas that I funded but really shift to helping those movements work more fluidly and more seamlessly.

Leo Farbman: I was working at the intersection of family law and incarceration, so working really with family separation and education. So when this foundation and this opportunity was lifted up as possible, I was really excited to jump on it and really take it seriously, and figure out how my work and my values could be utilized in this project. And fortunately, my folks were down with that. So we’ve been on the journey of: how do we get in line with this movement and how do we support the leadership of those closest to the issue, and understanding that our decisions and our things that we think are right are inherently filled with blind spots. How do we de-center ourselves, but still step into our power and say, “this is where we’re gonna move money.” 

On how they were inspired to connect and partner with Astraea:

Leo: I’ve organized with Resource Generation and being around movement spaces and activist spaces, I really saw how much respect and trust they were showing to Astraea. When we think about our positionality and the way we’re moving money, a big value of ours is to have a chunk of our granting going to organizations that are in relationship with those closest to the issue, and people who are re-granting and are in the field and building relationships. And knowing that we want to give directly to on-the-ground organizations as well, and we’re figuring out how to do that. 

But a big value of ours also is to step up and say, “Astraea is out there doing this, has been doing it and will continue to do it.” This is the type of organization that needs to be seeded for the present and the future. 

Eileen: I would just add: the part about granting when we did at the crisis moment for COVID was, we really just wanted to just meet the moment. Although we’re relying on the movement leaders to help us decide how we’re gonna grant, we decided, look we have to move some money, we can’t just sit here. We’re not waiting, worrying about the stock market or anything. We just really trusted in your leadership that you have a community, you have a LGBTQI community that we’re not positioned to reach out to in the ways that you are, we’re not gonna get funding to the people that really need funding, the people that are really struggling. 

On trust-based and long-term giving:

Eileen: The trust-based philanthropy or the trust-based giving is something that I’ve just always believed in, which is just sort of giving to general operating expenses. Partially because I’ve been on the development side as well as on the social work side. I know what that’s like to kind of have to jump through those hoops, and I just don’t believe it’s valuable to anybody, and it just puts a burden that’s completely unnecessary. Funding with no strings attached …we’ve never regretted it. And multi-grant commitments is really part of that. 

It helps for your stability, it helps basically for your infrastructure, and obviously it helps for your budget planning as well, just the concrete truth answer. And it really helps you to keep your kind of ecosystem that you have built in having a security that you wouldn’t necessarily have if we were giving a short-term gift. So that’s really what our goal is, and why we think it’s so important. 

Leo: I think that’s something that I think we’ve, as a foundation and a family, been able to say like, we need to fund those closest to the issue and then build a relationship…and go from there. It takes conversation but it also can’t be like, “let’s be on four calls and then maybe we’ll give money later.” That’s not building trust, that’s actually just stringing organizations along. 

On grappling with the power and privilege inherent in philanthropic giving:

Eileen: Yeah we’re very humble to the fact that there’s power and privilege and an imbalance when it comes to philanthropy, it’s inherent. We have to be humble and we have to be transparent, and we have to be accountable because there is a built-in imbalance in power and privilege that we have to acknowledge.

Leo: We are excited and walking through what it means to be in relationship around deciding what the foundation is going to look like. It’s a step further back than just grantmaking, it’s like, what’s the make up of the board? What do the investments look like? How do we want to grant? We’re definitely very much in an iterative place of what that looks like. 

On engaging in donor organizing as part of collective care:

Leo: Yeah, I think in this donor-philanthropist space, I think it’s engaging with our people in this world, the philanthropists, donors, people who just have access and a similar class background, white folks, for us Jewish folks, and engaging them in these conversations, continuing to be able to speak about it from our place, and why we care and implicate ourselves in the work, which I think is so important, and will they be committed over the long-term to engage in those conversations and challenge people, and help people move along. Because I think the closer people get to movement work, the more exciting it is and the more understandable it is. So I think it’s like bringing people in and within those conversations, getting people to move money. 

On why you should join us in fueling LGBTQI movements for racial, gender, and economic justice:

Leo: I think now is an absolutely crucial time to step up and fund Astraea and look at their track record and trust in what they’ve been doing since the mid ’70s: supporting those closest to the issue and the LGBTQI communities across the world. I think it’s clear to all of us that this is a historical and important inflection moment, so fund like you want a future that we can all thrive in.

***

Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haulis Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Want to read more from our Collective Care Blog? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to stay up-to-date on the latest posts!

Technologies for Liberation – Our New Report is Here!

We’re so excited to share our newest report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures!

Dear Friends,

We’re so excited to share our newest report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures!

Across the U.S., queer, trans, Two-spirit, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QT2SBIPOC) organizers are leading powerful movements for abolition and decriminalization. Through expansive, imaginative, community-led organizing, they are envisioning a future that is safe for us all.

In recent months, it has been galvanizing to witness dialogue around abolition become more mainstream in the United States. Simultaneously, the aggressive expansion of the webs of criminalization, surveillance, racism, and white supremacy continue to be a terrifying reality for so many. Technologies designed to collect personal information are deployed to control, police,  and surveil QT2SBIPOC communities, and limit the flow of money and power. Narratives of ‘safety’ and ‘security’ are often conflated within state narratives to justify the use of surveillance technologies on the public. 

“We’re seeing this conflation of safety and security that has caused a great deal of harm. Law enforcement and city government tout increasing safety for communities and almost always use the security mindset to do that. We’re trying to drive home the narrative that surveillance is not safety. Safety is knowing who your neighbors are. Safety is a resource community center. Safety is thriving public education. Safety is making sure that your neighbors have water and food. Those are things that are safe.” – organizer and researcher

Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures explores the disproportionate impacts of mass criminalization and surveillance technologies on QT2SBIPOC communities. It amplifies the bold, intersectional, community-centered movement interventions, technologies, and responses that organizers from within these communities are employing to create safer, more joyful, and more just societies.

Yet, as the report finds, there is an immense gap in resourcing for this type of liberatory organizing. Philanthropy has a critical role to play in funding, fueling, and sustaining this ecosystem. Through concrete recommendations and strategies, the report is an invitation to prioritize and support these dynamic movements rooted in abolition, transformative justice, and healing justice.

We are grateful to Research Action Design (RAD) and the generous movement technologists and organizers who collaborated with us to bring this report to life. Filled with powerful organizing examples, critical evidence, and rich illustrations, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures is just a glimpse into the critical work of these brilliant movements. We hope it inspires and energizes you, as it has us.

In Solidarity,
Brenda Salas Neves, Senior Program Officer