Denise Kleis, a human resources executive, and Mary Beth Salerno, a veteran of corporate philanthropy, met in the early years of the women’s movement and have been together since 1979. Denise and Mary Beth believe strongly in Astraea’s mission and have supported the foundation since the late eighties. “I first heard about Astraea from one of its founders, and at that time, there weren’t many other organizations focusing exclusively on lesbian issues,” Mary Beth explained. “We thought that pooling our modest resources with others through Astraea was a terrific way to support issues that we cared a lot about; and we knew that if people like us didn’t support this work, how could we expect others to support it?”
Like many donors, Denise and Mary Beth place confidence in Astraea’s knowledge of the issues and longstanding relationships with organizations on the ground. Over the years, they felt fortunate to be able to increase their giving. There is so much “excellent work being done by creative, dedicated people who are coming up with innovative ways to help their communities,” said Denise. “We give to Astraea because of its expertise and leadership in the field of social justice grantmaking, which allows us to support global LGBTI social justice in a way that we just couldn’t accomplish on our own.”
Both women believe there are many different ways to be an Astraea supporter, one of which is to spread the word to others who might not be familiar with Astraea’s work. On a few occasions when they have celebrated an important birthday or anniversary, Denise and Mary Beth have suggested that their friends and family support Astraea in lieu of giving gifts. They share the conviction with the people in their lives that giving back to the worldwide community is important, since it is only by working together that we will be able to bring to life the vision of a more just world.
When discussing a vision for the future, this dynamic and dedicated couple echoes each other. They envision a world in which there is significantly more equality for LGBTI communities across the globe, less poverty and more tolerance of difference. Mary Beth and Denise believe in Astraea’s ability to make the necessary inroads, helping to transform their vision into reality.