Astraea’s Principles for Pride: Reclaiming our Radical Roots!

Our Pride – true to its roots – is a rebellion and an uprising of actions towards queer and trans liberation. It seeks to transform, rather than to assimilate. Astraea’s vision for Pride is based in all we have learned from our global LGBTQI communities and movements over the past four decades. 

Our Pride – true to its roots – is a rebellion and an uprising of actions towards queer and trans liberation. It seeks to transform, rather than to assimilate. It looks towards Afro-futurism and queer and trans radical traditions that imagine liberation as a future where we all belong. Astraea’s vision for Pride is based in all we have learned from our global LGBTQI communities and movements over the past four decades. 

Our Pride…

1. Honors the visions of our queer ancestors and elders, and has roots in rebellion and uprisings led by Black and Brown LGBTQIA people. 

Led by Black and Latine queer and trans women like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and so many others (who were organizing for queer liberation even prior to Stonewall), we are reminded that Pride began as a riot. Queer historian M.E. O’Brien writes, “The riots were initiated and led by the most marginalized of New York City’s working-class queers: homeless youth, Black and Puerto Rican trans women, sex workers, and visibly gender-nonconforming people. The riots catalyzed the most radical elements of the queer counterculture, previously rather marginal, and an explosive organizing energy spread across the country.” We adamantly believe that Pride must continue to be led by and for the communities who continue to be most impacted by discrimination, violence, gendered oppression, and injustice in all forms. 

2. Is truly intersectional, inspired by the visions of Black, Brown, migrant, Indigenous, sex worker, disability justice, and Global South LBTQI feminist movements.

Rooted in the radical imaginations of trans and intersex people, bisexual and queer women, and non-binary people, pan, and asexual people, our Pride simultaneously lifts up our movements’ accomplishments and wins, and shines a spotlight on the many political, social, and cultural struggles still ongoing around the world. A liberatory Pride recognizes that all our struggles are interconnected and that LGBTQIA people are at the helm of multiple social movements. Therefore, our Pride is necessarily pro-climate, pro-abolition, pro-sex worker, pro-labor justice, pro-Indigenous sovereignty, pro-labor rights, pro-disability justice, pro-internationalism, and pro-Palestine. It is also anti-police, anti-prisons, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist, anti-occupation, anti-imperialist, and anti-white supremacist. 

3. Celebrates Black and trans joy at the center of our fight for queer liberation, and uplifts care and healing justice as critical to our communities’ ability to survive and thrive. 

Our Pride celebrates and centers Black and trans lives. Collective care is the heart of all we do and support. We acknowledge the historical and disproportionate impacts of violence, discrimination, and intergenerational trauma on our communities, and seek reparation for these harms. Healing justice means recognizing the importance of the survival practices which center the collective safety, joy, laughter, celebration, and wellbeing of our communities, and ensuring that our Pride encompasses them. We have learned from our grantee partners how these practices and traditions can be tools for building power, and how they can deepen and sustain the long and hard work of movement-building.

4. Is fiercely abolitionist; it rejects the policing, surveillance, and criminalization of our communities and uplifts care and the wellbeing of our communities.

Following the lead of Black and trans-led abolitionist movements, the political vision of our Pride prioritizes eliminating systems that imprison, criminalize, surveil, and police our people and our bodies. Our Pride demands lasting alternatives, based on our communities’ safety and wellbeing, and prioritizes investing in public housing, employment, education, access to food and healthcare, and community resourcing for our people.

Pride began as a rebellion against the police. Therefore our Pride necessarily excludes the police, law enforcement, and the use of violent surveillance technologies at any actions and uprisings. As Roxane Gay writesFor decades, the police have tormented our communities. They enforced laws about how we dressed, where we congregated and whom we had sex with. They beat us, blackmailed us and put us in jail.” 

5. Condemns the dehumanization of LGBTQI people, the depoliticization of our causes, and the homogenization of our identities and struggles.

Resistance, action, and political urgency to bring justice for all our people is at the forefront of our Pride. Our Pride does not lose sight of the many struggles our people continue to face and resist: an ongoing global pandemic, police brutality and systemic racism, anti-immigrant laws and sentiments, threats to indigenous land and ways of living, the rise of authoritarianism globally, rollbacks of trans rights and access to healthcare, the closing of civil society, climate collapse, and more. Pride has always been political, and we will fight to keep it that way. 

6. Proclaims LGBTQI peoples’ bodily autonomy, self-determination, and diverse gender expressions and sexualities.

Bodily autonomy – the ability to make decisions about our bodies and how we choose to live in them with dignity and pride, and without judgment – is critical to our collective liberation. Disability justice, kink, fat liberation, and Black and trans bodies arecentered and visibilized. Pride must continue to make visible kink, queer erotic desire, and queer love; the very things that queer communities have for so long been criminalized and vilified for. 

Our Pride must therefore ensure that people can live genuinely, authentically, freely and joyfully in their identities, their bodies, and their sexualities. We actively protest the systemic erasure and discrimination of our people and their bodies, and protect trans people and LGBTQI people of colors’ right to accessing gender affirming care, HIV treatments, and reproductive and sexual health.

Pride is incomplete if it does not amplify a diverse spectrum of gender expressions. Here, we are reminded of Emi Koyama’s words in the Transfeminist Manifesto: “Transfeminism believes that we construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint….instead of justifying our existence through reverse essentialism, transfeminism dismantles the essentialist assumption of the normativity of the sex/gender congruence.” 

7. Rejects rainbow capitalism –  we will NOT allow our movements and ourselves to be co-opted, complicit, or silent. 

As a public foundation that works to re-allocate money and resources to redistribute power to our people and our movements, we take a stand within philanthropy against the problematics of corporate Pride and work to ensure that resources are re-invested in grassroots, LGBTQI actions and uprisings.

Many modern day Pride marches and celebrations have been taken over by cis, capitalist, white institutions whose primary goal is to seek profit from our identities and struggles. We resoundingly reject this rainbow capitalism, the pinkwashing of our movements, and the co-option of liberatory movements for capital gain. Instead, our vision for Pride works to shed the shackles of capitalism that would profit off our bodies, through a return to the grassroots. 

8. Uplifts Pride actions that are truly radical, political, and liberatory, and are committed to the sovereignty of the Indigenous people on whose land they take place.

The original Pride marches combined radical politics, kink, and celebration. They provided visibility to LGBTQI communities and were an opportunity for queer communities to voice their demands and spotlight the needs and struggles of queer communities. In the 1980s, the culture around Pride began to shift, with less radical activists moving to the forefront, and many Pride actions dropping words like “freedom” and “liberation” from their names. Today, many state-sponsored Pride marches draw millions of people around the world, but do not center those in LGBTQI communities most impacted by discrimination.

We stand by our communities in the belief that Pride must return to its roots as a protest, and a call to action for justice and joy for our people. We are so proud of the ways our communities have worked to reclaim Pride actions over the last several years, and to fight for Pride actions that are free from policing, violence, transphobia, and intersexphobia. Just a few examples of these truly liberatory Pride actions include: The Queer Liberation March, Dyke Marches, the March for Black Trans Lives, Zagreb Pride, and Soweto Pride.

9. Recognizes that the struggle for queer liberation is ongoing, we stand with our movements not just in June, but 365 days of the year.

Our grantee partners work day in and day out to realize liberation, collective care, and healing for their people. It is therefore our commitment to them that we will always act on our responsibility as a feminist philanthropic institution to amplify, resource, and support the LBTQI organizations, movements, and communities who are not always heard or visibilized during Pride month, or at all. 

Join us! Check out the work of our powerful grantee partners in our 2020 Annual Report, and on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. As you are able to, we encourage you to consider becoming a monthly donor to Astraea, ensuring that our grantee partners around the world are supported and celebrated 365 days a year.

Care and Connection as Resistance to State Violence and Surveillance

This year, we are commemorating International Sex Workers’ Day by sharing a personal essay from fellow sex worker organizers and close friends, Red Schulte and Alisha Walker. Told through personal narrative and reflecting on years of visits to Alisha that have been mediated by prison technologies, Red reveals the violent ways these technologies seek not only to disconnect sex workers from the outside world but how it’s also used to further punish them.

By Red Schulte and Alisha Walker
with contributions by Mihika Srivastava, Astraea Communications Program Officer
Image credit: Commissioned as a gift to the Support Ho(s)e Collective by Matilda Sabal, a pen pal and comrade of Alisha’s, this beautiful piece was created by Amira Lin

June 2, 2021

This year, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is commemorating International Sex Workers’ Day by sharing a personal essay from fellow sex worker organizers and close friends, Red Schulte and Alisha Walker. Red is a community organizer currently based in New York. They coordinate the Justice for Alisha Walker Defense Campaign and are a member of Survived & Punished NY, Hacking//Hustling, and the Support Ho(s)e Collective. Alisha is a 28 year old former sex working person originally from Akron, Ohio. She was criminalized for an act of self-defense when a regular client threatened her life and the life of a fellow worker in January 2014. 

Told through personal narrative and reflecting on years of visits to Alisha that have been mediated by prison technologies, Red reveals the violent ways these technologies seek not only to disconnect those on the inside from those on the outside but to further punish them. The piece illuminates how sex workers and political organizers (and most often, individuals at those intersections) are no strangers to attempted and successful stigmatization, infiltration, entrapment, criminalization, risk of arrest, jailing and/or incarceration, and the ways in which those experiences prepare them to creatively navigate these complex systems of surveillance as a form of resistance.

This piece is part of our ongoing political education and advocacy work to highlight the intersections of criminalization and surveillance, centering movement and organizers’ voices. This work began with our report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures which launched in December of 2020. The report explores the ways in which queer, trans, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and sex worker communities in the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by criminalization and surveillance, and highlights the powerful community-centered technologies and interdependent networks of care and solidarity they are building to fight back.

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My entire friendship and comradeship with my fellow organizer Alisha Walker is mediated by prison technologies. Our knowing each other initially in this life was determined by state violence, and our friendship has been maintained in spite of it. The mutual care and love that we continue to foster and grow between us is routinely scrutinized, accessed, recorded, and used to further punish her while she’s incarcerated. We’ve been communicating and dis/connected, for over five years now. 

Alisha is an artist, inside organizer, criminalized survivor and former sex worker currently incarcerated at a state prison in central Illinois. She was sentenced to fifteen years for an act of self-defense, saving herself and a fellow sex worker from a violent attack on their lives while working. Alisha and I have used every available outlet for sanctioned communication: ConnectNetwork, JPay, Western Union, Securus Tech, GTL Network, the United States Postal Service, FreePrints, Amazon, etc. Each of these methods falls short, intentionally, of allowing for unfettered, authentic connection because of the prison gaze

Communication Technologies, Weaponized 

Prison technology is state violence. The same modes of sanctioned communication to “connect” people outside to those inside also exist to alienate, exploit, and disconnect. This dual communication experience is meted out through prohibitive costs, intentional obsolescence, scrutiny, surveillance, and censorship. 

I can never really shake the first time Alisha described the full body cavity search before our first video visit. That thought hadn’t actually occurred to me, that they’d force the same visitation protocols for a remote visit, but then again (like Mariame Kaba reminds us) prisons are sexual violence. The digital obstacles to video visiting are immense. Lost connections equal lost time and visits altogether—once I blew a fuse at my apartment, lost power, and had to use a personal hotspot to stay connected to Alisha; it shot my phone bill through the roof. Pixelated versions of ourselves greet one another each video visit. My beautiful friend is transfigured into small, disparate squares that jarringly jump on my computer screen. My partner and I were once almost banned from video visiting because of the t-shirts we were wearing: me something sleeveless and him an undershirt; the prison gaze creeps into your home. 

“They’re not just surveilling my body, but images and words and relationships too,” says Alisha. She has frequently alerted us to correctional officers’ name-dropping outside loved ones and comrades’ social media names and profiles, and mentioning things that they could only know if they were watching our online posts and clicking through to find out more about our other online personas. Another way this played out was as Alisha was building networks of care and social support inside: “They [the correctional officers] were watching my (and of course everyone’s) relationships inside to use against me, and when you get punished they find what hurts you most, they find the thing you need most and take it away.” 

Alisha has frequently noted the stressful impact of the rigid and ever-shifting policies the prison enacts against phone use, making it harder for those inside to reliably communicate and organize with loved ones. “Rigid policies since the pandemic began have shifted from no calls, to 15-20 minute enforced call times at various times during lockdown, to housing unit specific call days or times, to “odd and even” call days or nights, and of course everything is subject to the mood of the correctional officers on duty.” 

Alisha says, “Most of my mail gets sent back or is heavily censored or disappears due to retaliation from the correctional officers. Mostly we don’t have the kinds of pens, sharpened pencils and paper we need to correspond available when we shop [commissary]. Mail is so important to us, and it’s a terrible feeling to get your mail and see it torn open every time or to wonder how much mail is actually being kept from you.” 

Sex workers’ resilience in navigating systems of surveillance

Alisha and I are no strangers to creative modes of communication catalyzed by state surveillance. Outside political organizing and sex work can come with their respective experiences of attempted and successful stigmatization, infiltration, entrapment, criminalization, risk of arrest, jailing and/or incarceration. I learned early when I was becoming radicalized about the history of informants, watch lists, and raids on dissenters, community leaders, and movement people. I experience(d) first hand overt and covert attempts by state agents to disrupt and destroy movements and campaigns I was organizing amongst. Community organizers engaged in work that challenges or opposes state violence and unaffiliated radicals are accustomed to being vigilant about communication, actions, and identities because of the level of state surveillance. From these experiences I’ve developed gut checks, careful vetting of what I share, and with whom, and shared security culture with trusted comrades. I’ve translated much of learned personal and work safety protocols I use while organizing from those passed to me through sex working community. 

“I can’t speak freely, I’ve been locked up for 5 years, I’m forced to learn new ways to speak, I guess I’m institutionalized…” For Alisha, who is currently incarcerated, her relationships are not only mediated through technologies, but her communication has also been institutionalized, meaning that she has been forced to learn new ways of speaking and behaving in order to avoid retaliation and further punishment from correctional officers, prison counselors, and the administration in general. “I have a voice, but it’s not always my own voice,” Alisha says. 

Because of these overlapping shared lessons, experiences, and strategies for mitigating all the harms and dangers they can bring with them, Alisha and I were fire-tested and (un/fortunately) better prepared to creatively code our language and gut check when communicating and trust building—radical community organizers, formerly incarcerated activists, and sex working people taught us. That being said, the violent obstacles, frustrations, and impediments were (are) still many.

As the Astraea Foundation’s report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures, finds, “Platform moderation, or the policing of a platform’s content, is a critical site where the criminalization of sex work intersects with threats to internet autonomy. The 2018 congressional bills FOSTA-SESTA further police sex work online and exacerbate existing platform policies and practices that censor online sex work and suppress digital organizing efforts, such as shadowbanning, content moderation, and deplatforming.” 

As sex workers, we are accustomed to our relationships being mediated by (surveillance) technologies, but that certainly does not engender a complacency with this violence. Whether the relationships be monetary or exchange-driven (i.e. between worker and client), social (in public or virtual space), marketing (between worker and potential clientele), romantic, or one of banking (between worker and financial institution), each of them is monitored and poised to be terminated by an algorithm, a new online content policy, a processing discrepancy, stigma fueled by rescue industry narratives and violent, discriminatory legislation, moral and social “policing,” and good old fashioned bodily harm, trauma, and incarceration. 

Imagining community care, technology support, and resourcing

When people are released from jails, detention centers, psychiatric wards, and prisons, there are immediate, extensive material, communal, and emotional needs that must be met. Some of the most basic immediate needs involve accessing and using technology—including: hardware, systems, and support. Not everyone on this side has access to computers, cell phones, social media platforms, government and organizational websites, knowledge of search engines (to name a few), but our chance of access are exponentially higher than those who are currently incarcerated, and still higher yet than those people newly discharged from the state’s cages. As such, we take our respective levels of access for granted, and do not fully realize the extent to which technology support must be amongst the basic necessities of those coming back into community, back home, or charting a new course/building a new place for themselves after incarceration.

Alisha and I have been organizing together with the Support Ho(s)e collective for almost five years now. Support Ho(s)e is a small collective of current and former sex workers and trusted accomplices seeking to build radical community for sex working people in Chicago and NYC. During this time we’ve both also become more involved with another sex work focused collective, Hacking//Hustling, which has given Alisha and I the space and resources to try and imagine what comprehensive “tech support” could look like post-incarceration. Together with Support Ho(s)e, we’ve co-created a compensated opportunity to experiment and explore direct tech resourcing by piloting the Formerly Incarcerated Worker Support Program, funded by Hacking//Hustling and envisioned by mine and Alisha’s experiences with dis/connected tech while she’s been inside.   

Upon Alisha’s release, this will be the first trial of the Hacking//Hustling Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program, naming Alisha as the first recipient. This program would span three to five months depending on the tailored needs of Alisha and her support crew. We intend to approach the program with the flexibility and understanding of post-release catch-up and also with an eye toward Disability Justice focused crip time. Post-release catch-up can mean a lot of things depending on how much time the state stole from someone—filling technology gaps, re-meeting friends and family, navigating a different sort of surveillance, taking time to explore adjustment and creating one’s own schedule, in brief, all that comes with absorbing the changes (or lack thereof) in the world on this side of the Wall. 

The Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program works with comrades, and organizations that can help us acquire free/funded technology-focused training, computers and phones, college level or vocational school courses, ensuring that at all times the majority of the funding goes directly to the recipient, helping them re-establish financial independence. The program will be in direct collaboration with the needs of those it supports. After an initial trial period, Alisha can do an exit interview and/or remain on as part of the core collective team to become a mentor themselves. 

The need for sustained support post-release cannot be overstated. Time and time again, when people are finally released from prison or jail stints, they have virtually no financial, technological, housing, or sustained community support. Basic needs, skill sharing and financial support must be made available to those folx establishing themselves after the violence of incarceration. We must also resource and build sustainable support programs that equip those of us on the outside (especially those who have been impacted by incarceration) to show up for those navigating life within and beyond prison/jail/detention. 

The Astraea Foundation’s report finds that work and programs such as the Hacking//Hustling Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program are critical to helping communities learn more about the dangers of carceral technologies and creating interdependent networks of care and solidarity that disrupt the state’s reliance on punishment and policing. Yet, this work is resource intensive and at present movements, organizers, and movement technologists face significant financial barriers to implementing and maintaining digital safety strategies and community-owned and centered technologies.

Community-centered harm reduction technologies have always been an answer. The mutual aid, creativity, and the creation of networks of interdependent care and solidarity in the face of criminalization, censorship, surveillance, and punishment has long been a way of life and organizing for marginalized groups such as queer, trans, undocumented, rural, migrant, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and sex workers, survivors of gender violence (including online doxxing), and currently and formerly incarcerated people. These are the communities that have created community safety in the face of constant threats and danger, who have been forced into technological creativity. 

We invite you to listen and learn from these community members and unapologetic resource makers. Imagine a world where technology isn’t synonymous with violence and exploitation, and the prevention thereof. Invest in this work. Dream alongside us, and support our people to build the abolitionist technologies and community-centered networks and systems we need to live fully liberated lives free from surveillance and state violence. 

Learn More:

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Q&A with Sandy Nathan

We sat down with our Interim Executive Director, Sandy Nathan to discuss what her journey with Astraea has been like, how the organization has always been about shifting power to grassroots LGBTQIA movements and the legacy she is leaving behind for Astraea’s next leader.

  • Sandy, you have led Astraea through so much – a global pandemic, racial justice uprisings and internal transitions. What did this mean for you and Astraea and how did you shift your leadership to respond accordingly?

I was hired as Astraea’s Interim Executive Director by the Board of Directors in August 2019 for an initial nine month period. On average, it takes a board that period of time to recruit a new Executive Director. As Astraea’s Interim ED, I saw my role as helping the Board assess the actual state of the organization after the departure of its last ED so that there was a clear and shared vision of what the organization needed in its next permanent leader. 

As an Interim ED, my approach was always to assess organizational strengths and challenges, make recommendations to address those challenges, and steady the ship until a new permanent leader was recruited. As a seasoned executive leader with prior positions in government, national nonprofits and philanthropy, I consider myself adept as both an operational and strategic leader. Mind you, all my prior experiences had been in very traditional and patriarchal institutions and organizations. As a Black feminist, I have had very deep and personal experiences socially and politically in feminist settings and in and around social justice movements, but I had never worked directly in an explicitly lesbian feminist organization. So, the very first major shift was realizing that I no longer needed to compartmentalize myself in terms of my race and sexual identity, and for the first time in my professional life, be a truly integrated leader for Astraea. This was by no means an easy transition for me, as the actual state of the culture, systems and ways of being in the organization challenged my conventional sensibilities. But in reflecting on all the core values Astraea espoused – justice, integrity, liberation, intersectional feminism, collective care, and transformation – they deeply aligned with my personal values. This was the primary factor that made all the subsequent shifts even easier.

When the global pandemic hit, it was a major disruption as we were in the midst of engaging in meaningful work to build more alignment between the board and staff, addressing internal issues and building staff morale. What the pandemic accomplished for me and Astraea, however, was understanding how important it was to shift from an organizational change process to one of organizational transformation. The pandemic felt apocalyptic to me, everything that was normal was suddenly gone. Last year truly changed everything, including my prior theories, notions and approaches to leadership, which upon reflection, centered the needs of the organization rather than a focus on listening to staff needs and centering their care and well-being as the highest organizational priority. 

In addition to the pandemic, the racial justice uprisings that so dramatically spotlighted all the inequities and deeply rooted systems of oppression and white supremacy, simply made focusing on all the ways that I as a Black, queer, feminist leader needed to step up in that moment even more compelling. And of course, I had to deal with my own pain and anguish even as I constantly thought about all the ways that Astraea’s staff needed to be held through those moments.

  • You joined Astraea at a specific moment of leadership transition, can you chat about what transition leadership has allowed you to do that would not have been possible for a permanent leader?

Astraea was my third transitional leadership position. As a transitional leader I make three explicit commitments to the board: 1) that I will always be transparent, 2) that I will speak truth to power and not shrink back from having difficult conversations; and the most important one is 3) that I will not apply for the permanent position. With transitional leadership you have a very finite period of time in which to be impactful and make needed changes, so you must be laser focused on setting priorities, having clear expectations from the board and adhering to those. And if you are not in your integrity and decide you will throw your hat in the ring as the permanent Executive Director, there is a tendency to see yourself as constantly auditioning for the permanent role rather than being the most effective interim leader you can be. As I referenced earlier, I saw it as my role to stabilize the organization, refine fiscal and human resources systems and make key hires to build out the leadership team, and most importantly to identify the critical next steps that a new permanent leader needed to come in and prioritize. All this required taking on a critical view of the organization while at the same time, seeing all of its possibilities.

In many ways Astraea was not prepared for a new permanent leader and bringing in a transitional leader was a great strategic decision by the board. Taking the needed space to listen to staff and build authentic relationships with them and the board, conduct a robust organizational assessment and identify needed changes without the demands of heavy-duty fundraising and being externally focused really enabled me to concentrate on the needs of the organization at that time.

  • Your leadership has exemplified what it means to build policies and procedures that center care. When you joined many of us were burned out and collectively feeling exhausted. What are some of the ways you centered care and healing in your transitional leadership and why was that important for the next leader?

One of the real sources of pride for me in leading Astraea was how we were shifting the field of philanthropy by focusing on healing justice. I must recognize Cara Page as another Black queer feminist leader at Astraea who developed this incredible framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and bring collective practices to change the consequences of oppression. When I say that Astraea was leading the field – we were doing that with conference presentations, publications and in other tangible ways. What really struck me, however, was how we were not living the values of healing justice internally. The state of mind and bodies for many staff people at Astraea really underscored for me how important it was to center care. I made self- and collective care organizational priorities because of the extent of burn-out and exhaustion at Astraea. The average staff person was managing multiple roles and functions within the organization and it was simply not sustainable as the fall-out from that exhaustion impacted both individuals and the culture. I worked for months with the management team to develop work plans that focused on the most essential priorities. It was a challenging task because as smart and capable as the management team was, they hadn’t been supported in cultivating a practice of priority-setting but rather to take on more and more work.

The pandemic honed our focus on self and collective care as an absolute imperative. When I saw how challenging it was to adhere to policy changes in response to the pandemic such as a 20-hour work week, I instituted an organizational pause for two weeks and encourage staff to take the time to rest, journal and reflect on all the ways in which they needed to show up differently for themselves, their loved ones and the work they were so passionately dedicated to at Astraea. I only wish I could have made the pause for 30 days, because that is widely recognized as the baseline period in which it takes to shift behaviors. But the organizational pause was highly effective in that it was at least a sanctioned period to step away from work, rest and heal. I am extremely grateful to Reverend angel Kyodo Williams who guided us spiritually into that pause and enabled us to reflect collectively after it ended so that we could all understand that self-care was a radical practice we needed to embody moving forward.

As we continue to deal externally with state-sanctioned violence and oppression not just in the U.S. but across the globe, it is critical for Astraea’s next leader to now lead an organization that is finally institutionalizing healing justice practices internally through self and collective care. This will be required if we are to continue to do our work effectively and best serve grassroots LGBTQI movements.

  • What have been some of your highlights over the past two years?

The major highlights for me over the past two years have been the depth of relationships I have had a chance to cultivate with Astraea’s staff, board members and our external stakeholders. Astraea’s staff, past and current, are some of the most creative, thoughtful and passionate folks I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The board of directors are all amazingly dedicated to Astraea and bring a true commitment to providing governance and strategic leadership in all the needed ways. I have been excited to see how they have enjoyed board/staff retreats, strategy sessions and joint learning opportunities. They care deeply about the organization and its staff and as is typical in many organizations, that alignment is not always apparent. And our institutional partners and donors have been wonderful to get to know. Their support to Astraea has enabled the organization to weather this transition as well as it can.

  • You have spoken about how Astraea has been a political “home” for you that is able to hold your identities as a black lesbian unicorn in philanthropy – can you tell us more about this and how this is part of Astraea’s vision to shift the nature of philanthropy?

I was in a conversation recently with someone from Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and we were discussing the numerous challenges that BIPOC and LGBTQI individuals encounter working in the field. We do have to often shield our multiple identities and with every foundation and its culture, it is a calculation about what part of yourself you must leave at the door. As a very young feminist in the 80’s, I had heard about Astraea as this unique lesbian feminist foundation founded for and by a group of multiracial, cross-class women who came together to raise resources to fund their community. From its inception, Astraea was redefining philanthropy and “democratizing” it before we were using those words. You did not have to be a millionaire to give to Astraea, and it attracted other lesbians from all economic levels because it was in response to the lack of recognition there was at that time of our issues. Astraea was always about reimagining philanthropy and shifting power. So, for me to step into this role as a black feminist queer leader and be that touch stone and link back to our founding mothers has been truly transformational for me.

I also want to add that seeing the pain and suffering of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities as a result of the pandemic and the racial uprisings last year had a deep personal impact on me. As difficult as that time was, I cannot imagine what it would have meant to be anyplace other than Astraea, where my feelings and concerns were supported and uplifted.

  • What legacy are you leaving for the next leader of Astraea?

The first legacy that I hope to leave for Astraea’s next leader is to lead this organization with love, compassion and understanding that Astraea cannot be what the world needs it to be without continuing to center its staff at the heart of every key decision. She will have to be a people-centered and trusted leader because I feel that is what staff have become accustomed to. We are as strong as we are today because we have had to practice resilience. We have had to dig deep to bounce back from the obstacles of the past and we are recovering in the face of continued external challenges. At Astraea, we have come to know the difference between urgency and importance, and we have finally come to understand that there are no adverse consequences if we take some risks for us to create a solid and sustainable future. Most importantly to me as a transitional leader, is knowing with absolute confidence that we collectively have created a stronger Astraea than we were two years ago, thus we are now better able to serve our movements.

  • Do you have closing words for Astraea and the new leadership?

My closing words for Astraea are that I never imagined it possible to fall in love with an organization and its people, but that has been my experience. There has been something so unique to me about leading Astraea at this time that simply required giving of myself as a leader in ways I never had to step into. And each time I realized that we were creating momentum and shifting things internally, it was because we had developed relationships of trust and open communication. It was not always an easy journey and there were certainly disappointments along the way, however Astraea is an amazing organization and I know that the best is yet to come. I know without a doubt that I will continue to stay connected to Astraea and all the people within its ecosystem that I have come to care about deeply.

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On IDAHOBIT, a reminder to double-down in our support for LGBTQI communities globally

This year on IDAHOBIT, we recognize and honor the LGBTQI grassroots organizers, advocates, and artists who are fighting not just for equal rights and an end to discrimination and violence, but for dignity, joy, healing, and care.

May 17 marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). The annual event was created in 2004 to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics. 

This year on IDAHOBIT, we recognize and honor the LGBTQI grassroots organizers, advocates, and artists who are fighting not just for equal rights and an end to discrimination and violence, but for dignity, joy, healing, and care. We are living through a time marked by overwhelming grief: from a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted the most marginalized around the world and legitimized states’ use of surveillance technology to crackdown on these communities; to the alarming rollbacks of queer and trans rights; to increased police violence against queer, trans, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities; and a growing climate crisis. Yet through it all our movements are continuing to care for their people, fighting hate and discrimination through transformative policy and culture change, and building solidarity and resilience within and across communities.

  • In India, grantee partner Ondede filed for a public interest litigation (PIL) for COVID-19 relief measures for transgender communities. Subsequently, the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to supply free rations to transgender persons.

  • In Zambia, the Human Rights Commission invited grantee partner organization Transbantu to nominate a representative to sit on the Human Rights Commission Thematic Committee on Rights of Minority Groups. As part of their work on the Commission, Transbantu will provide inputs at the national level as to the discrimination faced by trans people.

  • In Fiji, which has recently been affected by natural disasters on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, grantee partner DIVA for Equality has provided feminist support and aid directly to over 15,000 Fijians living in urban poor, rural and maritime areas overall, in ways that are underlaid by ongoing accompaniment, advocacy, referrals, and direct service provision.

  • Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Croatian grantee partner Zagreb Pride launched an online campaign against the government’s use of surveillance technology to track the movement of citizens, and succeeded in their efforts!

  • Grantee partner Mesahat played a critical role in national grassroots LGBTQ effort to change Sudan’s sodomy laws. In July 2020, as a result of grassroots advocacy efforts Sudan’s Sovereign Council made critical change to Article 148 of the penal code, abolishing the death penalty and flogging for same sex activities. However, with the imprisonment sentence increased from four to seven years, the work continues.

Make no mistake. The threats to our communities are greater than ever, as we witness the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world, the ongoing closing of civil society spaces, and the growing influence of far right anti-gender movements. Trans rights in particular are experiencing a “global recession” according to LGBT activists at Transgender Europe (TGEU) who say that governments are using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to rollback trans rights while simultaneously religious, anti-gender, and trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) groups continue their attacks on trans rights around the world. Here are just a few of the hostile contexts our LGBTQI communities are living under in the current moment:

  • In the United States, coordinated efforts by hate groups and right-wing elected officials have led to legislation targeting trans youth in 33 states. According to the National Black Justice Coalition, no other year on record has seen as many anti-trans pieces of legislation compared to 2021. A staggering 117 bills have been introduced in the current legislative session that target the transgender community. It’s the highest number the organization has recorded since it began tracking anti-LGBTQ legislation more than 15 years ago. Four states—Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Tennessee—have already passed anti-trans bills or implemented parts of those bills through executive action. A new study by the Williams Institute finds that more than 45,000 transgender children are at risk of losing the health care they need amid this year’s record-breaking wave of anti-trans legislation.

  • In India where a devastating second wave of COVID-19 has swept the country, trans communities continue to be disproportionately impacted. When the pandemic first hit India in early 2020, trans communities overwhelmingly lost access to livelihood, food, shelter, and healthcare. Trans community members and trans-led organizations also noted that trans communities were left out of the relief package announced by the government in March 2020. Now, as the situation grows more dire, with infections and deaths on the rise and ongoing lockdowns, trans communities have once again been left without critical safety nets, and access to basic provisions and safe housing.

  • In Ghana, outcry from religious groups, politicians, and anti-LGBTQ rights organizations earlier this year forced the temporary closure of the country’s first LGBT+ community center. The situation deteriorated into a witch hunt of LGBTQ people with many hiding out in their homes or seeking shelter elsewhere after harassment from their own communities. Last year, as a result of major lobbying from far-right Christian groups, the Ghanain government banned the Pan Africa conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Association while in 2019, the World Congress of Families, the Global Christian anti-LGBTI lobby hosted their summit in the country. In Ghana, same sex activities are punishable with up to three years imprisonment.

The global anti-gender and far-right movements have built and funded a network across different religions and bridging secular and religious divides. If we want to end homophobia, biphobia, intersexphobia, and transphobia and systemic discrimination against our communities, we must bring the kind of committed funding and support to our movements that far-right, fascist groups have brought to anti-gender movements. 

This is precisely our mandate as Astraea, a feminist funder of the LGBTQI grassroots for over 44 years. Our unique vantage point puts us at the nexus of the very communities most under attack – LGBTQI communities, People of Color, ethnic and religious minorities, Indigenous people, and women. We exist to shift power to these very communities, particularly those whose voices are most often silenced, but who as the most impacted, are best suited to make lasting change. We do this by providing funding that is necessarily flexible, that is nimble, and that is long-term – funding that is responsive to the needs and priorities of our movements, so that they can care for their communities. 

Until we are all free, none of us are free. Our collective liberation is dependent on protecting, nurturing, listening, supporting and sustaining the radical LGBTQI grassroots visions of the future – ones that are rooted in self-determination, radical love, accountability, collective care, right relationship with the earth, and with each other. That is the resilient, joyful future we have a responsibility to support. Join Us.

To read our additional stories, visit our Collective Care Blog here

To Transform Policing, Philanthropy Must Support Efforts to Abolish It

If philanthropy wants to have a genuine impact on the fight for racial justice, we need to fund grassroots abolitionist movements and resource them well.

This article was originally published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Image Credit: BILL CLARK, CQ-ROLL CALL, INC, GETTY IMAGES

Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict last week in the murder of George Floyd brought momentary relief — and finally some accountability. Yet this is just the beginning of a long journey toward ending police brutality in the United States and bringing about true justice. For philanthropy, now is when the real work starts.

Foundations have rallied in support of racial justice this past year, but are we really any closer to understanding what it will take to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy? Are we putting our dollars into the organizations that will get the work done and that are leading the charge against racial injustice in communities nationwide?

Either out of misunderstanding or ignorance, most foundation leaders remain uncomfortable with the ideas pushed by activists at the forefront of the racial-justice movement — specifically their calls to abolish modern-day policing and dismantle the prison industrial complex.

What exactly do we mean when we talk about abolition? In its organizer’s tool kit, the national grassroots group Critical Resistance defines abolition as “a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.” Abolitionist activists such as Angela Davis note that the movement is not exclusively concerned with abolishing unjust systems but is about re-envisioning how we want to live in the future — about building anew.

Many people wonder why revamping policing isn’t enough, why we should abolish policing entirely. The human-rights lawyer Derecka Purnell put it this way in an op-ed for the Atlantic: “Policing is among the vestiges of slavery, tailored in America to suppress slave revolts, catch runaways, and repress labor organizing.”

Proof that the system doesn’t work is all around us. Since the start of Derek Chauvin’s trial on March 29, more than three people a day have died at the hands of law-enforcement officers. Duante Wright, Adam Toledo, and Ma’Khia Bryant are just three of them.

Over all, Black people are more than three and a half times as likely to be killed by police as white people are. Black Americans represent 33 percent of the country’s prison population, despite making up only 12 percent of the adult population. As a whole, Black, brown, Indigenous, migrant, and LGBTQI people are far more likely to be victims of police violence. For example, a 2019 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that more than 58 percent of trans people who interacted with law-enforcement officers in the previous year reported being harassed, abused, or otherwise mistreated by the police.

In a recent report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures, my organization, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, highlights the critical questions today’s abolitionist movement poses: What resources were not available to communities that led to relying on government for a sense of safety? What resources do communities need to build and sustain safe, healthy alternatives to policing that are based on individual well-being rather than violent punishment? What community-led solutions would eliminate the need for technological surveillance tools that criminalize people of color and LGBTQI individuals, including police body cameras, security cameras, and facial recognition tools?

If philanthropy wants to have a genuine impact on the fight for racial justice, we need to fund grassroots abolitionist movements and resource them well. These movements are building alternative solutions to policing and creating tools and technologies that shift responsibility for public safety away from government and into the hands of community organizations that understand what works. Their goal is not to remove safety and accountability mechanisms by abolishing the police and prison system but rather to ensure mechanisms are in place that address real need and build trust.

Need for Systemic Change

As foundations continue to support racial-justice work, they should ask themselves whether their funds will actually create the systemic change they are seeking. Are their grants going to groups challenging existing systems of criminalization rather than those simply calling for piecemeal improvements? Will their dollars help curtail the expansion of technological surveillance by law enforcement or reinforce narratives promoting the false notion that these tools protect communities?

Grant makers should take the time to examine the critical work abolitionist groups have done for years with little support. This includes organizations such as the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which led a successful, hard-fought campaign to eradicate Chronic Offender Bulletins used by the Los Angeles Police Department to track so-called persons of interest in low-income communities of color. The bulletins were part of an LAPD program that relied on algorithmic data to predict where crimes would occur and identify individuals most likely to commit a violent offense.

The coalition sued the LAPD to stop the practice. A resulting audit of the department’s predictive policing practices found that nearly half of those “chronic offenders” appeared to have zero history of violent crime. In August 2018, the department suspended its use of Chronic Offender Bulletins.

But the coalition’s goal wasn’t only to end a harmful policing practice — it was to redirect funds that had supported the predictive policing program into community efforts that “promote real public safety.” That includes investments in public housing, education, health centers, youth development, healthy food, and steady employment.

Another group, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, a Black trans-led nonprofit in Atlanta, similarly works to halt problematic policing practices and replace them with something better. The group observed that cameras with enhanced surveillance capability mounted on police vehicles led to more arrests of Black residents. In response, the nonprofit worked with the city to create a pre-arrest diversion program so that those who were frequently stopped by police could avoid arrest and detention and receive supportive services instead. Since the program began in 2017, 130 arrests have been diverted, according to program organizers and the city officials who worked with them and tracked the arrest data.

The collaborative also worked with Women on the Rise, a sister organization led by formerly incarcerated women, to close down the Atlanta City Detention Center. In line with the abolitionist vision of shifting resources away from criminalization and toward community solutions, the groups are currently working to repurpose the former jail into a community space.

Funding forward-looking work of this kind requires long-term investments that center the knowledge, vision, and expertise of movement organizers. Grant makers must ask these community leaders what they need — and then help them get there. That will require forgoing traditional funding approaches that segment resources into areas such as racial equity, criminal justice, or technology.

Instead, grant makers need to recognize that these issues are deeply interconnected and then find innovative ways to support abolitionist movements that are doing the long, hard work of reimagining and building a future that is safe and just for all.

How LBQ groups are leading the way in changing culture and caring for their communities

As Astraea, we are proud that nearly 40% of our grantee partners identify as LBQ-specific groups. LBQ groups work intersectionally and choose not to be constrained by artificial issue “silos” that can limit work across movements and issues.

LBQ activism is young and growing all over the world. According to Astraea and Mama Cash’s 2020 report, Vibrant Yet Under-Resourced: The State of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Movements, 89% of LBQ groups have been founded in the last twenty years. These vibrant groups are determinedly doing their work with intense commitment and very little money, often in quite harsh and repressive circumstances. In their organizing across diverse movements, they are improving the lives of LBQ people while advancing multiple social justice causes.

They are, however, also struggling. LBQ groups are under-resourced and under-staffed, and they have weak safety nets. 40% of groups have an annual budget of less than $5,000 and one-third receive no external funding. Today, only 8% of the total $560 million in LGBTI funding can be identified as LBQ-specific, according to the latest Global Resources Report. LBQ groups organize intersectionally but are typically funded through narrowly defined portfolios. They envision creating long-term structural and systemic change, but are principally funded with short-term, often project-based grants.

As Astraea, we are proud that nearly 40% of our grantee partners identify as LBQ-specific groups. LBQ groups work intersectionally and choose not to be constrained by artificial issue “silos” that can limit work across movements and issues. More than half of LBQ groups identify with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans movements and women’s rights movements because their lives sit at the intersection of both. They also identify with broader movements and issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (45%), the right to healthcare (32%), HIV and AIDS (30%), rights of intersex people (29%), young people’s rights (26%), and sex workers’ rights (20%), among others. Here are some examples of the LBQ-led organizing we are so honored to support:

  • Aireana (Paraguay): Aireana Grupo por los Derechos de las Lesbianas was established as a lesbian feminist group in 2003. They are concerned not just with lesbian liberation or the ‘LBQ collective’, but with the liberation of all oppressed peoples, including trans people, other sexual and gender dissidents, cis-straight women, and all those who are economically and racially oppressed. Their intersectional approach is embodied in the visible presence of their drums band which performs in other movements’ demonstrations, such as those led by peasants or by the families of victims of institutional violence and in their leadership of a multi-stakeholder coalition, including people with disabilities, Indigenous and rural peoples, and migrants, among others, that led to the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Paraguay. Aireana works at many different levels ranging from political advocacy to running a hotline for those in crisis. However, they view their cultural change work—projects like their theatre group or drums band—as having the greatest and most lasting impact.

  • Mesahat (Egypt and Sudan): Since its founding in 2015, Mesahat Foundation for Sexual and Gender Diversity has emerged as a critical support for LBQ people in the Nile Valley area (Egypt and Sudan). Activists created Mesahat to elevate the concerns of LBQ people and respond to the ongoing threats, discrimination, and violence they face. Mesahat uses a three-pronged approach to improve the lives of LBQ people in Egypt and Sudan: 1) building the capacity of queer youth leaders, 2) providing holistic security, including personal safety through protection and sheltering, tools and awareness on digital security, and self-care and psychologcial well-being, and 3) compiling queer oral history that captures the life experiences of queer people in Egypt and Sudan. This past year, Mesahat launched its campaign #NotEnough to spark a conversation around the recent reforms to the Sudanese Criminal Code and its impact on the status of Sudanese women and individuals of sexual and gender diversity in Sudan. The campaign also presented recommendations and demands for improving the living situation for women and queer communities in Sudan.

  • Queer Sista Platform (Armenia): Queer Sista Platform was formally founded in 2019 and is led by and for queer women in Armenia, where LGBTI communities continue to face widespread discrimination and hostility from the public and the state. The organization’s programming is currently focused in the areas of healing and well-being, and community organizing. In 2020, Queer Sista Platform re-opened their “Queer Home” space, as part of their work to create more safe, inclusive spaces of LBQ womxn in Armenia. The Queer Home serves as a critical community organizing and community building space, and will be a central hub for the organization to hold meetings, trainings, self-care and well-being workshops, and more. The space will also serve as a temporary shelter for those facing homophobia-fueled violence, discrimination, and homelessness. Another achievement for the organization in the past year has been the organization of their “Queer Camps” which center wellbeing and collective care and build community and solidarity. In the next year, they hope to keep up the operation of their healing community space as well as the organization of camps, if possible, given the pandemic.

By providing more and better quality funding to LBQ-led groups, donors can unleash the power of LBQ groups to secure transformative change in their communities. Given rising conservatism, nationalisms, and fundamentalisms around the world, and the importance of building and supporting strong movements to fight back, funding grassroots LBQ groups who are working intersectionally and addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing our world is a smart and underutilized strategy that will enable all donors to support and advance progressive political organizing around the globe.

For more, read our full 2020 report, Vibrant Yet Under-Resourced: The State of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Movements at fundlbq.org

The Importance of Philanthropic Advocacy: A Conversation with Iimay Ho

We sat down with our Former Board Co-Chair and current chair of the Executive Director Search Committee Iimay Ho to discuss what the last year has been like and where Astraea is headed in 2021 and beyond. 

For 44 years Astraea has been the leading exclusively LGBTQI, global feminist funder. When COVID-19 hit, Astraea, like many organizations, needed to quickly pivot to meet the needs of the moment both internally and externally. We asked ourselves: What does it look like to create spaciousness and center staff wellness and sustainability in the midst of a global pandemic? How do we meet the needs of grantees who are struggling to remain open and grappling with the various impacts of the pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities? Former Astraea Board Co-Chair and current chair of the Executive Director Search Committee Iimay Ho discusses what the last year has been like and where Astraea is headed in 2021 and beyond. 

Q: 2020 has been described by some as a “visionary year” in that the collective eyes have been ‘opened’ to the far reaching extent of systemic injustice; from racism and transphobia to climate collapse. How do you think Astraea has been positioned to meet this extraordinary moment?

Iimay Ho: Astraea, ever since its founding as a multi-racial, cross-class intersectional lesbian feminist organization, has always prioritized funding those most directly impacted to create the solutions that we needed. When I think about last year–it revealed who had been doing the work all along on racial justice, combating anti-Black racism specifically, and creating transformative change. Suddenly there was a reckoning and we saw all the corporate statements about Black Lives Matter or the apologies, especially from white institutions suddenly taking account of the harm or complicity. It exposed who hadn’t done their work and who hadn’t been accountable, or reflective about their work from a social justice lens. At Astraea, we had already been having a lot of these conversations but we also needed to double down internally.

Q: Astraea it seems has always been “doing the work”, right?

Iimay Ho: For over 4 decades Astraea has had that lens and has funded the grassroots LGBTQI movements and BIPOC-led work here in the U.S. and internationally. I think it speaks to the deep work that’s been done in the past that there doesn’t actually have to be a huge pivot of, “Oh, suddenly, now we have to think about racial justice”, as it’s already just been so integrated in Astraea’s work. That doesn’t mean that there’s not work for us as an institution to tackle, and always change and grow, and sharpen our own analysis, but I think it’s more about a deepening and a reaffirmation that the approach; for example, Astraea’s radical intersectional funding approach of no strings attached, multi-year general operating support has always been and is still needed now.

Q: How then does Astraea share its approach and funding philosophy beyond the organization, to reach those who may not yet have embedded racial justice into their work as an ongoing practice?

Iimay Ho:  I think that’s where I really appreciate that philanthropic advocacy is actually one of the core pillars of Astraea’s work. Of course, there’s a grantmaking side, but Astraea always positioned itself as a funder that’s organizing other foundations and funders. Through being an intermediary we can take some more restricted dollars and channel them through Astraea and turn those into general operating support and actually fund grassroots organizations that many larger private institutions aren’t able to because they don’t have a relationship with, or don’t understand the field. Astraea also amplifies those voices of the people on the frontlines, and then through reporting, communications, and our own storytelling, also helps shift other grantmakers’ perspectives, who in turn see the value and the impact of Astraea’s advocacy strategy.

Q: Astraea is an extraordinary organization, it holds such a complex space. Knowing that you are in the midst of searching for a new Executive Director, what kind of person do you think is needed to lead Astraea in these challenging times?

Iimay Ho: Astraea needs someone who has experience helping organizations transform, scale and build infrastructure, an excellent manager who can inspire senior leadership teams and the organization at large, a skilled facilitator, listener and collaborator. That kind of internal capacity building is really critical. We’re looking for someone with all that complexity and nuance who can bring together lots of different voices and help articulate what the shared vision is. 

Q: Finally, What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing Astraea as we head into this unknown future, understanding the gravity of the kind of the moment we are living in? 

Iimay Ho: There is a real need to take the time and the space to invest in our infrastructure. And as a 44 year-old organization, we have been reviewing our systems and operations structures to meet this moment. We have grown very rapidly in the last five to eight years from about $5m to become a $20m organization and we haven’t necessarily scaled up the infrastructure needed in order to lean into our global, multi-million dollar grantmaking, since our founding as a grassroots funder. We’re addressing all of that now. It’s definitely a challenge and I think it feels difficult to turn towards the internal work when there’s so much external urgency, and that is the critical balance we’re committed to. But I also think that taking the time now to really be thoughtful about our strategic plan is critical.  

We’re strengthening and leaning into the team’s shared analysis of Astraea’s values, and deepening Astraea’s commitments to anti-oppression work, and addressing anti-Black racism and transphobia internally and externally. We’re looking at how the staff and teams live the values in a way that supports the external work, as well as supports the continued distribution of money to the LGBTQI frontlines. It’s definitely a mix of both the culture and the structure if we are to be stewards of collective queer liberation. 

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 below titled “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. 

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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.