Something special happened in Charlotte, North Carolina at the end of July. The first summit of the LGBT Southern Funding Project not only attracted over 50 funders, representing 39 organizations, from 11 different states and the District of Columbia (8 of those states being Southern States), but it also built some real momentum for strategically increasing funding for LGBTQ communities in the U.S. South.
On July 29th and 30th, Funders for LGBTQ Issues convened a summit to assess the assets, gaps and opportunities for funding LGBT communities in the US South. Some of the key findings included:
- In 2011, U.S. Foundation funding in the U.S. South added up to just over $4.3 million or roughly 3% of all LGBTQ funding.
- This is a major under-investment given that more than a third of the LGBTQ population in the United States lives in the 14 states we are collectively calling the U.S. South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia)
- In the South, community foundations and public foundations are playing a larger role in funding LGBT issues than they do in the U.S. overall.
- In the South we see higher percentages of funding supporting HIV/AIDS and health services, and a lower percentage of funding supporting marriage equality and other policy issues. Not a single grant in our 2011 grant database targeted marriage equality in the South.
- The formalized LGBT nonprofit sector in the South is relatively small. With approximately 120 organizations based in the South, the combined annual expenses of these organizations makes up only 9.2% of all expenses of the U..S. LGBTQ nonprofit sector.
- Against tremendous odds, Southern-based LGBT groups are not only surviving but are succeeding in changing laws and impacting people’s lives in positive ways. With limited resources, many are using innovative methods, using a strong intersectional lens, and building coalitions with a range of allies. The region is ripe for increased strategic investment from both national and Southern funders.
Based on our conversations at the first summit, several overarching goals emerged that are paramount for our members and funding partners committed to advancing LGBTQ rights in the region:
- winning “hearts and minds” for LGBT equality in the South, with a particular focus on communities of faith, people of color, and moderates;
- fostering more democratic systems, protecting voter rights, and increasing civic engagement in the South;
- advancing legal equality of LGBT people in the South, which may include supporting efforts at the municipal and county-level as we work toward wider acceptance of LGBT rights in the region;
- building and expanding LGBT philanthropy from and for the South, so as to assure sustainable resources for LGBT communities in the region; and
- building the capacity of LGBT nonprofits and programs in the regions, particularly for the achievement of the above four goals.
Throughout the summit, many Southern funders articulated the importance of national partners taking the time to build relationships and to develop a deeper understanding of the region. There was clearly a strong commitment from the group to do exactly that, to take the time for thoughtful relationship-building, research, and strategizing over the next several months. To that end, Funders for LGBTQ Issues will work in collaboration with its members and partners on several immediate next steps:
- Expand on the research conducted for the first summit, including a more in-depth mapping of LGBT community assets and identification of promising practices and strategies for LGBT work in the South.
- Continue to engage, connect, and convene foundations and other donors committed to LGBTQ issues in the South.
- IIdentify opportunities for LGBT funders to work in collaboration with other funders to advance voting rights and democratic participation in the South.
- Explore potential models that could be used to coordinate and increase funding for LGBTQ issues in the U.S. South.
We will continue to work with a range of partners in this work and would welcome the involvement of any new funders and partners. If you’re interested in sharing ideas or getting involved, please contact Ben at [email protected].
As the LGBT Southern Funding Project moves forward, we hope this initiative will engage a wider range of Southeastern funders in LGBTQ issues and will serve as a catalyst for advancing the full empowerment of the region’s LGBTQ communities.