Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haul, is Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.
It’s been almost a year now (and over a year in some countries) since the world as we have known it has been forced to pivot, and a global pandemic has taken hold of every aspect of our lives. In the last year, we have been challenged to slow down and to rethink our ways of being, moving, and doing, in order to protect ourselves, and the health of our communities. Yet, while each one of us on the planet has been touched by the pandemic, we know that some communities around the world – those who are most marginalized and most targeted by all forms of discrimination and violence – have been hit the hardest, and continue to feel the deepest impacts and reverberations of this deadly pandemic. These are the very communities that Astraea has been working to support tirelessly over our 42 years of existence – LBTQI, Black, Brown, migrant, indigenous, feminist communities working to create transformative change at the grassroots. At the core of the issues we are battling is an unjust and extractive economic system that is steeped in white supremacy–the belief that white folks should always be on the top and a struggle class made up largely of BIPOC should be at the bottom. Economic insecurity is nothing new and yet many act shocked by the outcomes of an unbalanced capitalistic system that has created the heinous racial wealth gap that we are witnessing play out in real time as we see those that are required to risk their lives to put food on their tables and others that are able to shelter in place.
We know Astraea’s grantee partners – the LBTQI organizers on the frontlines – are often the most marginalized in our communities; yet they are the ones charting the path through this, the transformative vision for our collective liberation. In order to support our grantees during this difficult time Astraea launched the COVID-19 Collective Care Response. Grounded in Feminist Funding Principles and Healing Justice framework, our response aims to bolster our grantee partners now and for the long haul as they care for their communities and confront the pandemic’s impacts across the globe. We recognize that a diverse range of strategies are needed to meet this moment and our support for our partners must be just as flexible as they need to be. Policy change and holding the line on attempts at regression remain important, but as survival comes even more to the forefront, we must also center holistic well-being and community care in direct relationship to what our grantee partners and their communities are experiencing. Pandemic response policies are intersecting with LBTQI communities’ well-being in an urgent way.
We know from our four plus decades of work how economic and social inequities have impacted LBTQI communities. We are still at a place in the U.S. where Black transgender women are being murdered at an unprecedented rate and where people can be fired from their jobs for being queer. This hostility is not just focused in the U.S. as we know that trans communities around the world are disproportionately impacted by violence and economic instability. Even in the midst of a pandemic we watched as George Floyd was robbed of his life as the knee of an unjust system pressed on him unbothered by the display of depravity. Ex-Officer Derek Chauvin who murdered George Floyd in broad daylight is emblematic of a system that has been squeezing the life out of marginalized communities for as long as we can remember.
It was this confluence of trauma that has us at Astraea thinking about what our role is as radical, queer, feminist philanthropists at this critical time in our world’s story.
What we have always known to be true is that we are an anomaly. Astraea exists in a landscape of philanthropy that looks very much like U.S. Senate—white, male and deeply paternalistic. While philanthropy is crucial to help move forward programs and organizations that are on the frontlines fighting inequity, it is set up in a way that the people who are charged with doing the work often have little autonomy over it. In reality we at Astraea have worked counter to the norms of traditional philanthropy since our inception over forty-two years ago. Astraea’s roots are in movements. Our founding mothers came together as lesbians and women of color precisely to resource our own movements from within, recognizing the critical leadership role lesbians and women of color played in all social justice movements of the time.
As a public foundation that raises every dollar we spend, we are dedicated to working in partnership with our grantees not as overseers. As a funder, our primary role is to move resources to our grantee partners in a way that demonstrates our deepest commitment to support those who have the voice and power to tear down systems of oppression and create transformative change. And that has always been by providing long-term, flexible funding that allows grantees to set their own agendas and use resources to respond to their evolving needs and priorities. We have always given our partners who are doing work on the ground the autonomy they deserve. That is not new for Astraea. This is why when the pandemic hit, we were more dedicated than ever to providing the long term general operating funds that organizations needed in order to keep their doors open. 2020 was Astraea’s biggest grantmaking year yet – we gave nearly $6 million to our grantee partners around the world. Our donors and supporters were critical in making this happen; because of them we raised and granted nearly $1 million as part of our COVID-19 Collective Care Response and were able to increase grant amounts to several of our grantee partners who were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. We work to create systems for our grantees that unburden them from the restrictions and hoops that traditional philanthropy sets up as a false way to assess accountability.
In this time of profound transition and challenge, philanthropy needs to reckon with how we can truly shift power, to a place of respect, listening, honoring, and supporting the visions and organizing of our grantees. They are the architects of our collective liberation. As a foundation committed to abolition it is incumbent upon us to work in concert with our grantees and create a flow that is centered around their self-determination. That is what we mean when we use the term radical. As simple and essential as the thought that all people should live free and uninhibited is, in this philanthropic context it is also a radical thought to directly and overtly place power in the hands of movements. This is what we work for, this is how we queer philanthropy and it is also the commitment we are always striving towards.