Celebrating Two Years of the GUTC Pledge: A Discussion with Program Director Alexander Lee

Celebrating Two Years of the GUTC Pledge: A Discussion with Program Director Alexander Lee

Celebrating Two Years of the GUTC Pledge: A Discussion with Program Director Alexander Lee

Celebrating Two Years of the GUTC Pledge: A Discussion with Program Director Alexander Lee

By: Luis Ramirez on August 11, 2021

Two years ago, on 2019’s Transgender Day of Visibility, Funders for LGBTQ Issues launched the Grantmakers United for Trans Communities (GUTC) Pledge to encourage institutional funders to go further in their support of transgender communities and the transgender rights movement. Today we are excited to announce the addition of our 50th, 51st, and 52nd pledge signatories: the Curve Foundation, the New York Foundation, and the Marguerite Casey Foundation!

Our GUTC initiative aims to inspire a philanthropic culture that is inclusive and supportive of trans people through grantmaking and decision-making. The GUTC Pledge asks grantmakers of all types, sizes, and issue areas to make four key commitments that help define what it means for funders to support transgender people.

While it is still too early to gauge the pledge’s impact on grant dollars to trans communities, there have already been other immediate effects. We are heartened to see that there are now more out transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary individuals employed in the philanthropic sector than ever before. Additionally, more grantmakers than ever have reached out to us for assistance as they grow their trans cultural competence in their grantmaking strategies, as well as in their internal policies and practices.

To mark these milestones, I spoke with our colleague and GUTC Program Director, Alexander Lee, to explore the origins, successes, and future of the GUTC Pledge.

How did the GUTC Pledge come about, and what does it aim to achieve?

In 2015, Funders for LGBTQ Issues helped convene a group of long-time funder supporters of trans communities to respond to the findings of our groundbreaking report TRANSformational Impact: U.S. Foundation Funding for Trans Communities. That report was a real wake-up call showing how philanthropy was very much leaving transgender people behind. They created GUTC as a long-term strategy to reverse course and encourage more foundations to give more money to trans communities, while also transforming the sector to include more transgender people as grantmakers themselves. 

The GUTC Pledge serves a few functions. First, it is a public commitment that foundations take to make transgender communities a priority, no matter what sector they fund. Second, the pledge can act as a structured roadmap for foundations that don’t have a history of funding trans communities to become allies. For example, our landmark 50th signatory, the newly-launched Curve Foundation, just started their grantmaking to support LBTQ emerging journalists and creatives. When I asked their Executive Director, Jasmine Sudarkasa, why they wanted to commit to the pledge, she wrote, “As we [the Curve Foundation] begin to define who we are in the world, we want to emphasize the role that trans people have always played in telling fearlessly queer stories, and reflect this in our grantmaking and future staffing. The GUTC pledge gives us the opportunity to align our commitments with a set of concrete actions, and we are proud to name GUTC as our first philanthropic pledge.”

For foundations that have historically been committed to funding trans-led groups, like the New York Foundation, the pledge helps push that commitment into their staffing. As Fatima Shama, NYF’s Board Chair, and Rickke Mananzala, NYF’s new Executive Director, told us, signing the pledge lets them “celebrate the trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary members of our team, and strive to create an inclusive organization where we are encouraged to bring our full selves to work.”

Taking the GUTC Pledge is often just the beginning of a longer journey for the funders, and we continue to work with signatories to provide the resources and training needed to achieve the pledge’s goals.

The GUTC Pledge also includes a call for funders to commit to internal change to be more trans inclusive in their organizations and decision-making. Why did that become part of the pledge?  

It goes back to the funding! While it’s true that in the last decade U.S. foundation funding for domestic and global trans issues increased more than eight-fold, it has not in any way kept up with the severe challenges global trans communities continue to face. 

These challenges include continued attempts to undermine transgender people’s right to simply exist, such as the recent multi-state attacks on the rights of transgender youth to receive medically-necessary healthcare. This also looks like continued extreme levels of violence, imprisonment, and poverty, particularly experienced by transgender women of color. Without more resources from the philanthropic sector, trans communities lack the capacity and infrastructure to take care of ourselves and mount stronger defenses against these continuous attacks. 

Unfortunately, because mainstream philanthropy – like many sectors of our society – has excluded transgender people in their hiring, most foundations don’t have the on-board organizational knowledge to make effective grants to the transgender community. We estimate there are fewer than 100 out transgender staffers employed at foundations. So even if a grantmaker wants to start funding trans communities, they often don’t know where or how to start. 

The pledge includes a commitment to increase hiring and advancement of transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary people on staff at foundations to help address this problem. It’s a long-term strategy to institutionalize trans cultural competency in philanthropy. 

What are some of the impacts you’ve seen coming from the pledge campaign? Any surprises? 

I’m happy to say that things are moving! Over the past two years, signatories have increased their grantmaking to trans communities, sometimes double and triple what they were granting before, as well as having serious conversations about changing their hiring criteria, management practices, and benefits policies to be more trans-inclusive. We have also done a lot more trainings for foundations. This summer alone, we’ve done four trainings with foundations who want to dive deeper into some or all of the pledge’s four components. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the sector’s appetite and enthusiasm for the pledge and the support we offer around it. Despite all the terrible things that have happened worldwide in the last couple of years, the interest is very high with no sign of slowing down. We are at the point now where our trainings are booked solid for several months at a time.

Another surprise has been how useful the pledge has been for trans-led groups seeking foundation funding. As word of the pledge has spread, more and more trans groups reach out to me every day, asking me about the signatories and the best ways to reach them. Since the list of signatories is on our website, it became a very easy-to-use list of grantmakers that trans groups, especially those that have never gotten a grant from a funder before, can start with. To my knowledge, there is no other continuously-updated public list online of grantmakers in the U.S. that have the intention of funding transgender communities and groups. The only one that exists is our GUTC Pledge signatory page. 

Finally, I’ve been surprised by how personal this is to many cisgender people in philanthropy. Many have trans family members or close friends who are being harmed by discriminatory legislation, or by transphobia and racism. The majority honestly want to do better as allies. That is driving a lot of the conversation. 

What are some opportunities for grantmakers to get more involved?

We are always looking for more signatories! I am always happy to talk to any grantmaker about the GUTC Pledge, and how they can use it to not just help the trans community in their existing funding priorities and portfolios, but also to help push back on right-wing agendas that would harm us all.

Funders for LGBTQ Issues is proud of the GUTC Pledge and the role it plays in advancing trans leadership and funding, and I am grateful to Alexander for sharing this insight into his work. Each new signatory reflects the growing success of the GUTC Pledge and it will be exciting to see what the coming years hold in store.

Learn More! Check out these links to resources mentioned in the interview:
Download a PDF of the GUTC Pledge
Grantmakers United for Trans Communities (GUTC) Professional Development Fellowship Program
GUTC Infographic: Foundation Funding for U.S. Trans Communities
U.S. Foundation Funding For Trans Communities

Image note: Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

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