LGBTQ Philanthropy Since Stonewall: The Top Ten Funders of All Time

LGBTQ Philanthropy Since Stonewall: The Top Ten Funders of All Time

By: Lyle Matthew Kan on June 27, 2019

This June marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York City thrust the LGBTQ people into the national spotlight and ignited our modern LGBTQ rights movement. The Stonewall Riots, led by trans women of color, helped bring attention to both the marginalization of LGBTQ people and the informal organizing LGBTQ people had long been doing across the country. In the intervening years since the riots, LGBTQ people experienced some of the deepest lows imaginable during the HIV/AIDS crisis and also achieved some incredible wins, from unprecedented media visibility to the freedom to marry. However, as so many in our community know firsthand, the struggle for LGBTQ equality is far from over. Trans women of color continue to experience unacceptable violence. Trans people’s health and wellbeing are under attack by the current administration. LGBTQ people can still be fired in for being LGBTQ in the majority of states, and many LGBTQ people still don’t feel safe or comfortable being out. Even in philanthropy the majority of LGBTQ people are in the closet at work, according to our 2018 report The Philanthropic Closet. In all of this, there is a role for philanthropy to play in advancing LGBTQ equality and improving the lived experience of LGBTQ people.

As the network of foundations and corporations dedicated to increasing philanthropic resources for LGBTQ people, Funders for LGBTQ Issues has long documented trends, gaps, and opportunities related to LGBTQ grantmaking. From that experience, we know that prior to the Stonewall Riots, the only known grantmaker supporting LGBTQ issues was the Erickson Educational Fund. Founded by Reed Erickson, a transgender man, the Erickson Education Fund first started funding gay and transgender organizations and research in 1964 — five years before the Stonewall Riots and six years before any other known funder invested in LGBTQ communities.

In 1970, one year after the Stonewall Riots, RESIST became the first non-LGBTQ-specific philanthropic entity to award a grant to an LGBTQ organization. From these humble beginnings, hundreds more grantmakers have invested in LGBTQ causes. Today, these grantmakers include community foundations, corporate funders, private foundations, and public grantmaking institutions. They include both foundations founded by and for LGBTQ people, as well as foundations without LGBTQ roots. This transformation was made possible by the bold and courageous activists who refused to stand by as LGBTQ people were pushed to the margins of society. The story of our own founding is one of courage as our founders insisted that philanthropy response to the needs of LGBTQ people.

Between 1970 and 2017, foundations in the United States awarded more than $1.8 billion to support a wide array of LGBTQ issues and organizations. What started as less than $20,000 in 1970 has gradually increased to more than $185 million in 2017. While these numbers may sound big, they are nothing when compared to philanthropic giving writ large. As of 2017, only 28 cents out of every $100 awarded by foundations goes to LGBTQ issues. Of course, our team at Funders for LGBTQ Issues is dedicated to making these funding figures only increase with time.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, we honor the top 10 funders of LGBTQ issues between 1970 and 2017. These ten funders collectively awarded more than $800 million to support LGBTQ communities, accounting for more than 40 percent of all LGBTQ funding.

Top 10 Funders of LGBTQ Issues, 1970-2017*
1. Arcus Foundation $ 184,957,705 
2. Ford Foundation $ 134,813,677
3. Gill Foundation $ 127,069,236
4. Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund $ 84,479,479
5. Open Society Foundations $ 57,516,534
6. Pride Foundation $ 57,258,871
7. H. van Ameringen Foundation $ 48,271,200
8. Tides Foundation $ 47,106,324
9. Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice $ 36,036,577
10. Horizons Foundation $ 32,450,547

*Note: Between 1970 and 2017, anonymous funders awarded a total of $225,382,193. If the anonymous funders appeared in the above top ten list as a single funder, they would rank as the number one funder of LGBTQ issues.

Reflecting on where we have come from  inspires hope about what is possible in the next 50 years — especially if the LGBTQ movement is properly resourced by philanthropy. As we celebrate 50 years of activism that has changed the world for the better since Stonewall, we recommit ourselves to honoring the legacy of that activism. This Pride Month, we promise to continue to work for increased philanthropic resources for LGBTQ communities. We hope many of you in the philanthropic community will join us!

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