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.”

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.

I Am Black Everyday: A Reflection on Black History Month

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

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

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

Can Radical Philanthropy be the Answer to Our Multiple Pandemics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the focus of their giving: 

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

On what drives their giving:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On trust-based and long-term giving:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On engaging in donor organizing as part of collective care:

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

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

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

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

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Collective care is at the heart of global intersex movements built around solidarity and community

We caught up with Astraea Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF) Senior Program Officer, Ruth Baldacchino, and Program Associate, Loé Petit, to find out more about how intersex communities have been impacted by the pandemic, how they’re adapting their work to best serve their communities in this changing world, and what they need to see them through.

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

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Everything people are doing to take care of the community can be seen as healing justice or collective care and this work has been part of the practices of the intersex movement since its very beginning. It is the very reason the intersex movement was born in the first place.

– Loé Petit, Intersex Human Rights Fund Program Associate

On November 8, we commemorated Intersex Day of Solidarity, an annual day of remembrance during which we reflect on the ongoing struggles of the global intersex community. This year in particular, the global intersex communitylike so many other marginalized communities around the worldhas been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing knock-on effects. From financial hardships to isolation from their chosen communities, intersex people and the growing global intersex movement are experiencing numerous challenges to their ability to survive, organize, and thrive. Yet simultaneously, intersex organizations have continued tirelessly to look out and provide for each other, from building critical online community spaces to setting up mutual aid networks.

As the pandemic continues to rage across the globe, intersex organizationswhich are already amongst the most vulnerable in terms of their access to resources and supportneed sustained, flexible funding to be able to grow and build power for their movements and themselves. We caught up with Astraea Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF) Senior Program Officer, Ruth Baldacchino, and Program Associate, Loé Petit, to find out more about how intersex communities have been impacted by the pandemic, how they’re adapting their work to best serve their communities in this changing world, and what they need to see them through.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and length.]

How have intersex organizations and movements had to adapt their strategies to meet the COVID-19 moment?

Loé Petit: All our grantee partners have had to adjust their strategies and activities. A lot of groups have shifted a lot of their work online to try and create a sense of community in the face of restrictions on movement. OII Europe for example started a series they are calling “Camp Fires” where intersex community members and activists come together to watch movies together and then discuss them. Other grantee partners who regularly provide peer support or family support have moved those activities online. Additionally, while many groups have moved online, groups like the Intersex Community of Zimbabwe have been physically going to rural areas to do trainings around making hand soap and hand sanitizer. In Asia, many of our grantee partners have been providing mutual aid support through either direct donations to those in need and/or supplying food.

Ruth Baldacchino: The main takeaway of all this is that everyone has been impacted and people are not only having to change their strategies but alsolike usshifting the way they work, where they work, how to engage with their members or with other community members. Many have also repurposed their grants, shifting that money from support to the organization to buying, as Loé said, food packages and supporting community members even with temporary accommodations, and medical and other basic supplies. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about how the pivot to primarily online work has been for intersex groups?

RB: Yeah, so even pre-COVID different groups engaged with their members differently; they had different strategies. Some were already doing a lot of online work and they were connecting with other members or other intersex organizations via social media and online, others were doing more community work, going into towns and villages to reach out and support families.

Existing infrastructure challenges play a critical role in this: those who did not have the best access to the internet are still facing those challenges, and in some cases they’ve worsened. It’s also a bit early to determine the long-term impact and shifts. In the first few months, people were really addressing the emerging and very urgent needs like access to food and other supplies, and if this goes on longer I think groups will be continuing to rethink and rework their campaigns and their strategies.

LP: Yeah, I agree. When we talk about shifting to online campaigns, it really depends on the capacity and local infrastructure that is available. In some regions, like parts of Africa and Latin America, it makes things much harder, while in other regionsespecially for those not living in big citiesshifting online has in some cases allowed people to gather more easily because more people can join from their homes.

How have intersex activists and organizers been specifically impacted by the restrictions on movement as a result of the pandemic?

LP: One of the first things that comes to mind is the postponement of the 5th International Intersex Forum which was originally scheduled to take place in March of 2020. This year would have been the first international forum since 2017and the movement has grown and changed a lot since thenand its postponement has had a real impact on intersex movements’ morale as well of course as their capacity building. The forum eventually took place as an online conference from September 30 – October 26, 2020, which was obviously very different than having it in person because while the conference part of the forum is important, it is usually in those other moments, when organizers get together socially and more informally and meet as human beings that connections are really formed. And I would say this is especially important in the intersex community because there are still such few spaces where intersex people can gather and meet.

As I’ve said previously, shifting to online meetings is sometimes more inclusive because it allows those who have less mobility to take part as well. But moving online shifts the focus of these meetings to be centered around political activism work, and doesn’t allow for as much trust building between humans. So I think that could have an impact on the capacity of the grantees to build stronger regional networks, and especially with new people. It becomes especially difficult for a newer generation of activists to get involved, because the regional in-person meetings are also a way to learn from and meet more experienced activists.

RB: I agree, and one of the things that we’ve always argued as a fund and as Astraea, is the need to support the creation of spaces, physical spaces. We’ve built a lot of our work around supporting those spaces, whether it’s the regional meetings, other capacity building work, or the forum. As someone who’s been in those spaces for many years, I could see the huge impact they have had on the movement. We’ve seen declarations, consensus statements coming out from the movement. We’ve seen organizations being formed. We’ve seen agreements and disagreements as well, but that’s how movements emerge. This restriction of movement is significant.

Additionally, these spaces have also become incredibly important for donors. Donors wait to see the outcomes and the key decisions that are made in these meetings. So this also impacts our work as a fund, as a donor. We’ve all built our work around movement, literally moving. For me as a program officer, the conferences and those spaces were always an opportunity to connect, form friendships, and get to understand the intersex activist landscape better.

What has the impact of all this meant for intersex organizations’ ability to do advocacy work?

RB: A lot of the advocacy has stopped or slowed down because people aren’t able to be at the institutions where that work is usually carried out, whether those are regional human rights institutions, or international ones, like the UN. This is of course not just an intersex movement issue. This is a big concern because advocacy strategies are important, they build on past work, they build on connections, on networks, on being in the same physical space as the policymakers and the governments. So it’s difficult to imagine what this means, for activists to not be able to be in New York or in Geneva and keep that momentum, to have human rights mechanisms and treaty bodies really listen to intersex people directly when they’re reviewing countries, when they’re making recommendations. 

Shifting gears a little bit, can you speak about the economic impacts of the pandemic for intersex people and movements?

LP: So at the moment of course we don’t have enough quantitative data, but what we do know as I’ve mentioned is that in general people in more informal sectors and non-traditional sectorswhich many intersex people are a part ofhave been badly affected. Beyond this, I think it’s important to name the ways in which some funders have shifted their priorities and the impact that is having on intersex organizations.

RB: Yeah, what we saw as well as what grantees have reported, was some donors shifting priorities and sometimes also reducing funding for LGBTQI programing and shifting it to development or humanitarian aid as the pandemic hit. That was very worrying because that happened instantly with some funders. It didn’t allow groups to plan or to find other sources of funding to mitigate the effects, and that is still a concern. As donors that’s definitely on our mind.

Following up on that, what do you believe Astraea and the IHRF’s specific role is through this pandemic, both from the perspective of supporting intersex grantees, but also in terms of advocating for more intersex funding with other donors?

RB: Primarily what we started noticing earlier this year when the pandemic began spreading throughout the world and we started learning more about its impacts, was that intersex people were not being mentioned anywhere. They were absolutely missing from all the conversations that donors were having around the impacts of COVID-19. Even within LGBTQI donor spaces, as we were shifting our work to online meetings, trying to understand how to react and support our grantees in this pandemic, intersex people were missing from the conversation. So that has definitely been a big part of our role, to create donor spaces to specifically discuss intersex issues and to share with other donors what we’re hearing and learning from our grantees. That’s always been our role as a fund, but this year it’s particularly important.

In these spaces, we share a lot of what we’ve just discussed and we highlightas we always havethe need for flexible funding. I think the pandemic really reinforces that need. Because of the flexible funding we provided, grantees were in a position to shift their programming, to shift their grants to buy food, provide shelter and accommodation. If that funding was restricted funding, they wouldn’t have been able to do that. And I think hopefully this year should have been a clear reminder to funders that flexible funding is the only way to support movements and intersex organizations. That remains our key message because of all these emerging issues and challenges, flexible funding is the only way to support a movement sustainably and on a longer term.

Finally, how do and how have intersex organizations incorporated healing justice and collective care strategies into their work and activism?

RB: In some ways, this is a question of how we frame healing justice and collective care strategies in relation to intersex movements. For intersex communities and movements, addressing trauma through different strategies and approaches has always been one of the ways that intersex organizations have practiced collective care and healing justice.

LP: I think the work of intersex organizations has really always been about centering community. So when I spoke about OII Europe organizing ‘Camp Fires’ to keep up the morale, that’s community care. And when I spoke about Intersex Community of Zimbabwe delivering trainings on how to make soap and sanitizer, that’s community care. Everything people are doing to take care of the community can be seen as healing justice or collective care and this work has been part of the practices of the intersex movement since its very beginning. It is the very reason the intersex movement was born in the first place.

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Celebrating Bi Visibility Day

This Bi Visibility Day, we are proud to celebrate vibrant and powerful bisexual communities around the world.

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

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by Sabrina Rich, Communications Team

This Bi Visibility Day, we are proud to celebrate vibrant and powerful bisexual communities around the world. Lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women and non-binary people* are not only creating change in all aspects of their own lives, but are also building a new political reality that is inclusive, respectful, and safe for all communities. Alongside lesbian, trans, and queer people, bisexual women and non-binary people are activists, movement leaders, and advocates for their communities. 

LGBTQI communities are beautiful and diverse. Treating a group of people who face vastly different experiences as a monolith is harmful for all members of the community. Bi Visibility Day is significant because it celebrates a group within the LGBTQI community that is often ignored. Bisexual people frequently experience homophobia, but they also face discrimination from their lesbian and gay peers. The notion that “bisexuality is not real” is common, and is regularly perpetuated by folks within and outside of the LGBTQI community. Bi Visibility Day is a necessary reminder that bisexual people are real, whole, complex human beings whose identities are deeply valid.

Acknowledging the unique realities of bisexual communities is important not only for combatting such discrimination, but also for providing tangible support to bisexual communities. The impacts of biphobia include discrimination in workplaces, housing, and healthcare. Celebrating Bi Visibility Day also means acknowledging these issues and working to support bisexual communities in their fight for justice.

Bisexual women and non-binary people, along with their lesbian and queer peers, face violence, discrimination, and exclusion everyday around the world. Earlier this year, Astraea released our report, Vibrant Yet Under-Resourced: The State of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Movements. This report presents findings on the state of lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) movements around the world based on surveys conducted in 2018 with 378 LBQ groups from all regions of the world and 67 donors, including public and private foundations, as well as follow-up interviews resulting in four case studies of LBQ groups. Through our research, we found that:

  • LBQ groups are young and quickly growing in numbers. 
  • LBQ groups work in intersectional ways.
  • LBQ groups utilize multiple robust organizing strategies to achieve their aims.

LBQ groups are doing necessary, meaningful work to build powerful movements and create lasting change, but they lack the proper funding. Our research also found that:

  • LBQ groups have extremely small budgets and very little access to external funding. 25% of groups reported having a non-existent or zero annual budget, and 40% of LBQ groups reported having a budget of less than $5,000
  • LBQ groups receive insufficient support to fully implement their strategies. Fewer than one in four groups using advocacy, community and movement building, and capacity building — the three most common strategies — reported receiving sufficient funds for their planned activities.*

The lack of funding that LBQ groups receive speaks to the erasure of queer women and non-binary people from LGBTQI and women’s funding spaces. General LGBTQI and women’s funding often fail to reach LBQ women and non-binary people, who sit at the intersection of these identities. 

Bisexual women and non-binary people are on the frontlines, fighting back against the various oppressions they face. Bisexual communities around the world are working to dismantle systems of homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, and it is our responsibility to fuel these grassroots movements. 

It is an unfortunate reality that data and research focusing specifically on bisexual women and non-binary people is rarely conducted and difficult to come by, despite these communities facing unique challenges. While our report includes useful findings and recommendations for funders looking to support LBQ movements generally, we have included some resources below that pertain more directly to understanding bisexual communities and their needs. 

* Astraea focuses on bisexual women and non-binary people rather than men because we recognize that these groups face disproportionate discrimination globally, including exclusion, violence, lack of legal protections, and lack of access to health care, education, and employment, along with lesbian, queer, and trans women and non-binary people.

* For our full list of key findings and donor recommendations, visit FundLBQ.org

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For trans communities, collective care is critical to safety and survival

In this blog post, we spoke to our Program Officers, Mariam, Lame, and Brenda to better understand some of the specific ways our trans grantees and their communities have been and continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, social, and political fallouts.

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

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A global pandemic was always going to have a disproportionate and devastating impact on trans communities around the world. 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. So, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit countries around the world in the Spring of 2020, it became clear that trans communities could feel some of the worst impacts of the crisis. In a United Nations statement in April 2020, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said, “LGBTI people are among the most vulnerable and marginalised in many societies, and among those most at risk from COVID-19. In countries where same-sex relations are criminalised or trans people targeted, they might not even seek treatment for fear of arrest or being subjected to violence.”*

In this blog post, we spoke to our Program Officers, Mariam, Lame, and Brenda to better understand some of the specific ways our trans grantees and their communities have been and continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, social, and political fallouts. We also share the innovative, creative, and care-driven ways our trans grantee partners and other grassroots LBTQI groups have been providing critical mutual aid to their people and bringing their communities together – despite not being able to be together physically.

Mariam remarked, “It is astounding to see the ways in which our trans grantees have immediately stepped up to care for their communities. But we have to acknowledge the immense burden on them – the pressure from funders to respond effectively to the situation, to respond to the needs in the community that are really overwhelming as we’re seeing from human rights documentation, to be accessible online to community members 24/7, and to continue their advocacy – all while experiencing the same challenges as everybody else.”

*Michelle Bachelet, COVID-19: Targeted actions needed to protect LGBTI people amid pandemic 

How trans grantees are caring for their people and creatively building community in the midst of this crisis:

  • Gender Dynamix (South Africa) have been working in partnership with a number of trans organizations from throughout the Southern African region to host a podcast shedding light on the realities of trans communities during this time. 
  • A grantee partner in Kenya has been supporting trans people without access to shelter, particularly trans refugees arriving from Uganda
  • Queerabad (India) have been providing mental health resources and support to their communities through their online platforms
  • Nazariya (India) created zoom hangouts for community members, to unpack the impact of COVID-19 on queer women and trans* folks, bringing to light the challenges of being forced to stay home with family members who do not support LGBTQI issues. 
  • Trans*Coalition (based in the Former Soviet Union countries) started a regional COVID-19 response campaign including a fundraiser, emergency response and critical analysis on the impacts of the pandemic
  • TransAkcija (Slovenia) created an online Pride Month celebration when physical celebrations were canceled and led anti-government protests against fascism and mismanagement of the pandemic
  • Zagreb Pride (Croatia) launched an online campaign against the government’s use of surveillance technology to track the movement of citizens, and succeeded in their efforts!
  • Caribe Afirmativo (Colombia) have been providing mutual aid to sex worker communities in Colombia and supporting them to find work
  • TransWave and WE-Change (Jamaica) formed a consortium with larger LGBTQ organization J-Flag to raise funds specifically for LGBTQI communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has COVID-19 along with restrictions on movements directly impacted trans communities?

Lack of access to healthcare: 

  • Trans people already have unequal access to healthcare facilities, putting them at greater risk if they contract the virus. For incarcerated trans people for whom social distancing is near impossible and access to PPE is limited at best, this risk is greatly increased
  • Many trans people going through hormonal therapy – whether utilizing formal or informal healthcare channels – have struggled to access it as a result of lockdowns and slowdowns in mail services etc.
  • Gender-affirming surgeries were/have been postponed indefinitely in many countries to prioritize patients with COVID-19
  • Mental health of trans communities has suffered during the pandemic for a number of reasons from fear of contracting the virus without adequate access to healthcare facilities, to dealing with violence and transphobia as a result of being forced to isolate in unsafe environments

Loss of livelihood:

  • Many trans people work in service industries around the world, which have been some of the hardest hit, and have lost their jobs as a result of ongoing economic crises
  • Trans sex workers have either been forced to drastically cut down on work or stop working altogether as a result of restrictions on movements, and to protect their own health and safety
  • In many parts of the world, trans people work in informal sectors or in part-time positions where they have to ‘hustle’ to get work and negotiate wages. This often means needing to be physically out in marketplaces and communities in order to secure that work and perform it, which has been difficult or impossible as a result of lockdowns  

Housing:

  • Many trans people have been forced to isolate in unsafe environments with family members or others who reject or denounce their identities, and are violent towards them as a result. 
  • As a result of loss of income and an inability to pay rents, many trans people have been evicted or forced to leave their homes

Discrimination and violence

  • Legislations restricting freedom of movement have given police and military forces in several countries the authority to exercise undue power and act with impunity in many cases. Trans people – and especially trans sex workers – who are already often subject to discrimination and violence by the state have been disproportionately targeted
  • Limited access to movement has made it harder for trans people to organize and practice dissent against harmful laws and policies. Coupled with the general public’s preoccupation with the pandemic itself, some governments have used this period as an opportunity to ‘quietly’ roll back rights for trans people or introduce new, regressive policies in the name of ‘health and safety.’
  • In some Latin American countries, governments enacted gender-binary policies to restrict the mobility of its citizens, meaning that men were allowed to leave their homes on certain days and women on others. The policing of these laws had a particularly brutal impact on trans people who faced misgendering, harassment, and violence from authorities.

Limited access to community

  • For so many trans communities, their ability to create and share space with each other is critical to their well-being and to building movements. Lockdowns and restrictions on movements have made these community-building efforts much more difficult.
  • Grassroots trans organizations and drop-in centers provide access to critical information and resources for members; without the ability to meet in person, trans people risk being misinformed or losing out on these resources.

We know that for trans people, this pandemic is only the continuation and exacerbation of years of oppression, violence, and exclusion. As Lame highlighted, it is not sustainable to expect trans communities and organizations to be able to continue this way. At present, they are fighting to support their communities through this pandemic, but that places them back into economies that were already excluding and neglecting them, and societies that discriminate against them based on their very identity and being. As funders, our responsibility is therefore to keep shifting resources into the hands of trans-led organizations, understand what their needs and priorities are, and build their power. Not just now, but always. Join Us.

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Collectively resourcing the ecosystem

The Astraea Foundation is thrilled to announce that we have received a $4 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, as part of her 2019 pledge to donate the majority of her wealth back to the society that helped generate it.

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

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The Astraea Foundation is thrilled to announce that we have received a $4 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, as part of her 2019 pledge to donate the majority of her wealth back to the society that helped generate it. As one of 116 recipients, we are in extraordinary company with many gender, racial, economic and climate justice organizations fighting for transformative social change.

Scott’s giving strategy demonstrates what responsible and values-driven redistribution of wealth can look like for big-dollar donors looking to meaningfully invest in a more equitable society. Her strategy of resourcing across multiple social justice movements is a remarkable model for philanthropy that centers organizational leadership by those most impacted by inequities. Of the organizations awarded funding, “91 percent of the racial-equity organizations are run by leaders of color, 100 percent of the LGBTQ+ equity organizations are run by LGBTQ+ leaders and 83 percent of the gender-equity organizations are run by women, bringing lived experience to solutions for imbalanced social systems”. 

In addition to lifting up intersectional movement ecosystems necessary to drive transformative change, Scott also notes that resources of all kinds are needed by social justice movements and all contributions matter. As a public foundation, Astraea works in strategic partnership with donors of all levels to ensure that their resources reach self-led LBTQI groups working for racial, gender and economic justice who are best positioned to drive transformative change. Each and every single donor who has supported Astraea over our 43 years by contributing their time, resources or energy, we thank you! Whether you commit to donating $5 a month or give a significant one-time gift, you are an integral part of an ecosystem of support that enables us to do the work we are all charged to do – collectively resource our movements. Thank you for being in community and in solidarity with us. 

We know that when we uplift self-led groups and engage in responsive grantmaking with unrestricted, long-term support, we resource movements to build capacity, strengthen coalitions and envision solutions that bring about lasting change. Multi-year unrestricted resourcing supports grassroots groups to navigate crises like COVID-19 and its impacts on their communities even as they continue and deepen their ongoing work to upend complex structural inequities. Grantmaking can and must shift power to those who are closest to the issues being addressed.

Unfortunately, philanthropy as a whole has yet to catch up to this need: as of 2018, only 20 percent of nonprofit funding in the United States was unrestricted, tying nonprofits to donors’ aims. Funding often fails to reach those on the frontlines of social justice movements – especially LBTQI people and indigenous, Black, Latinx and other racialized communities – cutting off resources from where they are most needed. For example, in 2017-2018, the Global Philanthropy Project and Funders for LGBTQ Issues found that global LGBTI foundation funding made up less than 31 cents of every $100 of overall foundation giving. A new report from the Ms. Foundation revealed that total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is about $5.48 per year for each woman or girl of color in the United States. Our own research in collaboration with American Jewish World Service, GATE and Mama Cash shows that most LBQ, trans and intersex organizations are operating with budgets of $10,000 or less.

These statistics further demonstrate what we know to be true: philanthropy is awash in contradictions, with gatekeepers keeping resources from the very communities from whom they have built their wealth. We hold a deep awareness of what it means to steward resources that come from the same harmful systems that we and our grantee partners seek to transform. We recommit ourselves to the long-term effort to dismantle the systems of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy that make an entity like Astraea necessary to help hold philanthropy accountable – even as we sit within philanthropy as a bridge to our movements. We are reminded that it is our movements that have been putting forward this vision over so many years: liberate your wealth and return it to the people from whom you have profited. 

Thank you again to all of Astraea’s donors, partners, and supporters. When we work in concert to be in true partnership with our movements and take their lead in the use of resources, collective liberation is possible. 

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