We Honor the History of Juneteenth

This Juneteenth, we highlight one of our Black-led grantee partner organizations, NQTTCN, working for healing justice across the United States. We are proud to fund this vital organization working for mental health and wellness in a country with a long, ongoing legacy of traumatic violence against Black people.

This Sunday (June 19) marks the 157th anniversary of the day enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were finally told they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation declared it so. The following year, Juneteenth began as a celebration for and by Black Texans to commemorate this day.

Celebrations spread to other Black communities across the United States and last year, Juneteenth became a federal holiday. As the societal consciousness shifts with this new designation, we at Astraea honor Juneteenth’s historical roots as a Black celebration of emancipation and freedom. We acknowledge the work needed to eraticate anti-Black racism and abolish all slavery and forced labor, including mass incarceration and human trafficking.

Today, we highlight one of our Black-led grantee partner organizations working for healing justice across the United States. We are proud to fund this vital organization working for mental health and wellness in a country with a long, ongoing legacy of traumatic violence against Black people.

The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN ) is a healing justice organization working to transform mental health for queer and trans people of color in North America. They are working toward a world where all people have access to healing resources rooted in social justice and liberation to recover from trauma, violence, and systemic oppression. They build the capacity of queer and trans mental health practitioners of color, increase access to healing justice resources, and provide technical assistance to social justice movement organizations to integrate healing justice into their work.

As we honor Juneteenth and Pride this month, we remind our community that both of these celebrations are part of a greater pursuit of liberation for Black and LGBTQI people. To quote Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” As we celebrate our 45th birthday this year, Astraea remains committed to combating anti-Black racism and championing human rights for all.

Learn how to support The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network at nqttcn.com.

In solidarity,
The Astraea Team

Imagining New Technicolor Worlds: Joy’s March 2022 Reflection

In commemoration of TDoV, Astraea is delighted to collaborate with Acacia Rodriguez on their illustration “Trans Joy is Resistance!!” Astraea is committed to supporting queer art and LGBTQI artists because we believe that art allows us to see ourselves in the worlds we live in and are creating, and is a vital tool for social transformation.

Dear Friends,

March is one of my favorite months—in the Western Hemisphere, many of us emerge from grey slumber into a world of promised color, and March is Women’s History Month! Astraea celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 by closing our offices to give our staff an opportunity to rest and reflect on feminist movement building around the world, to celebrate how far we have come, and to take stock of what lies ahead.

March also brings us Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV). Today, we celebrate the power and resilience of trans movements worldwide. Astraea’s longstanding support of trans justice and rights is grounded in our commitments to gender justice and to shifting power to under-resourced communities. Astraea made our first grant to a trans organization in 1994; today, we rededicate ourselves to resourcing trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) futures:

  • In 2021 alone, we moved more than $1.8 million to TGNC-led organizing worldwide.
  • More than 35% of our total 2021 grant-making funded TGNC-led organizations.
  • 100% of grants supporting TGNC organizing in the United States supported groups led by and for people of color.

In commemoration of TDoV, Astraea is delighted to collaborate with Acacia Rodriguez on their illustration “Trans Joy is Resistance!!” Astraea is committed to supporting queer art and LGBTQI artists because we believe that art allows us to see ourselves in the worlds we live in and are creating, and is a vital tool for social transformation. Holding on to this blend of joy and resistance is essential even as we fight against the current waves of anti-LGBTQI legislation banning trans girls from sports, prohibiting transgender youth from accessing health care, and erasing LGBTQI people and experiences from classrooms. These laws cynically instrumentalize the rights and lives of children and LGBTQI peoples to manufacture moral panic and serve as a cultural wedge for political gain.

Acacia’s art reminds us of what we are fighting for—a world where all people can actively and enthusiastically belong, and the ability for all of us to live in technicolor. To me, to live in technicolor is to live in a place of flourishing- where we are able to make choices that allow us to thrive. It means that we will move out of the shadows and transcend false binaries. It means we can act from a place of security–where the measure of love is not fear or loss, but joy.

I wish us all the ability and space to imagine new technicolor worlds, taking Glinda’s words to Dorothy to heart: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it yourself.” 
 
In Solidarity,
Joy L. Chia
Executive Director

P.S. We would love to hear from you! At Astraea, we are currently assessing how we reach and engage our communities so that we can better communicate with you. Take 10 minutes to share your experience with us! The deadline to respond is April 8. Please take our survey here!

Joy’s February 2022 Reflection: Honoring our Black Communities, Celebrating Black LGBTQI Futures

At Astraea, we began the year with a renewed focus on our transformative work. As we continue to navigate through challenging and uncertain times, Astraea is reinforcing our commitment to collective care and continuing our everyday work to build power and resilience with LGBTQI movements around the world.

Dear Friends,

I hope the beginning of 2022 has been a healthy, safe, and generative period for you and your communities. At Astraea, we began the year with a renewed focus on our transformative work. As we continue to navigate through challenging and uncertain times, Astraea is reinforcing our commitment to collective care and continuing our everyday work to build power and resilience with LGBTQI movements around the world.

I write to you as we reach the end of Black History Month – an annual month for reflection and appreciation to collectively pay tribute to Black communities across the U.S. and around the world, and to recognize their contributions and sacrifices in shaping our nation, and our world. 

We condemn the systemic racism that overtly and covertly perpetuates injustice in institutions and communities across the United States. The field of philanthropy itself is not immune to structural racism; we are acutely aware that we have much work to do to better practice our values of equity and justice within our own organization. This moment is an opportunity to elevate the fight for racial justice and honor the Black-led organizations and leaders who have given so much in the name of liberation and justice.

But our commitment extends far beyond the month of February. Astraea was founded on the principles of supporting lesbians and women of color and has a long-standing commitment to uplifting Black leaders and movements in the United States. LGBTQI People of Color battle historic and contemporary structural inequalities, as they live and work at the intersections of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and classism. Astraea strengthens organizations and movements that acknowledge and fight these multiple barriers to self-determination. We stand on the shoulders of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color, trans, and queer movements that have come before us and are committed to supporting and resourcing sustainable movements. 

Last year, 97% of our U.S. funding supported queer and trans BIPOC-led groups, including grantees such as Law for Black Lives, BYP100, MediaJustice, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, just to name a few. On top of that, 100% of our trans and gender nonconforming U.S. funding was for groups led by and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. As our former staff member Sandy Nathan noted in her poignant blog post last year, “I am Black everyday: A reflection on Black History Month”, “these are our foundations, the legacy on which we build to ensure Black liberation, and indeed the liberation of all peoples and the healing of our planet.”

To celebrate the month this year and advocate for Black liberation, we launched the #BlackLGBTQIFutures campaign across our social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter. We invite you to join us in sharing these stories and the stories of other Black heroes who have carried the torch for justice. We continue to work through our own internal challenges with racism and have begun the deep work to hold ourselves accountable for past mistakes and ask the tough questions, to help cultivate an inclusive, anti-racist, thoughtful and productive workplace culture and a community that authentically reflects our values. I’m humbled by your support and camaraderie in my first few months as Executive Director. I’m excited to work with each and every one of you to identify and resource radical movement leaders who are pushing for true equality. Let us lead with empathy as we fight for those who have been overlooked, underrepresented, silenced and disempowered. 

In Solidarity,
Joy Chia

Image credit: Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoz)

Joy’s December 2021 Reflection: On Community, and the Light Ahead

I am grateful to everyone who remains deeply committed to making sustained social change. This work of building power and shifting resources requires time, energy, collaboration, and long-term investment. As a global public feminist foundation, Astraea’s mandate is to make those dedicated investments in our LGBTQI, feminist, People of Color, and Global South-led movements so that they can go on with the daily work that is history-making.

In the Northern Hemisphere today marks the Winter Solstice, which means that while today might be the shortest and darkest day of the year, tomorrow and onward bring only more light.

As we come to the end of a long 2021, I am reflecting on the past year and holding close the challenges that we have faced as both individuals and as communities. Yet even as I think about the heaviness this past year has brought and worry about what might lie ahead, I find myself turning to the advice of Bing Crosby in one of my favorite songs: “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

In my first three months at Astraea, I have felt incredibly blessed to witness glimpses of the bright sparks, bold imaginations, and incredible power of our many feminist, LGBTQI communities around the world, and what I do know for sure is there so much more of that to come.

With that, I want to extend my gratitude to all of you, the Astraea community – our staff, our grantees, our partners, our donor activists, and our board members – for welcoming me into the Astraea ecosystem and family with such open arms. You have made my transition an exciting and enjoyable one, and I am thankful to be on this journey with you.

I am grateful to our powerful grantee partners, who are some of the strongest, most resilient LGBTQI and feminist activists, artists, organizers, and changemakers around the world, working towards our collective liberation. We are immensely grateful for your dedication and courage.

I am grateful to everyone who remains deeply committed to making sustained social change. This work of building power and shifting resources requires time, energy, collaboration, and long-term investment. As a global public feminist foundation, Astraea’s mandate is to make those dedicated investments in our LGBTQI, feminist, People of Color, and Global South-led movements so that they can go on with the daily work that is history-making. I am grateful for the important responsibility that Astraea holds to resource this critical work well.

From December 17th until the new year, the Astraea staff are hitting “pause”. This is part of our now bi-annual tradition to take a break, truly disconnect from work, share dedicated time and space with our loved ones, and importantly, to rest. I hope that many of you will also be able to take some moments of rest as we bring this year to a close, and prepare for all the good fights ahead of us in 2022, and beyond.

Until then, sending my absolute best to you and yours.

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.

——

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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Read more blog posts on our Collective Care Blog!

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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Read more blog posts on our Collective Care Blog!

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

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.”