Saida Agostini-Bostic’s Remarks at Funding Forward 2022

Editors Note: These remarks were delivered by Saida Agostini Bostic as part of Funding Forward 2022, the annual gathering of grantmakers committed to LGBTQ communities hosted by Funders for LGBTQ Issues. In her remarks, Saida offers reflections on her path to working in philanthropy, the weight of the current political moment, and inspiration to carry our work forward to set our communities free. A transcript of Saida’s remarks is shared below.

Please be advised, the speech briefly references experiences of sexual violence and other forms of violence experienced by our community members.

Good day, I am Saida Agostini Bostic. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and I am proud to be the President of Funders for LGBTQ Issues. It is an honor to work with such a powerful group of members dedicated to funding our fight for liberation. I want to thank our entire team, Alex and Chantelle who have held such lovely and intentional leadership of Funding Forward, to Marvin, Andrew, Alyssa, Ollin, Rebecca, and April. I also want to thank the Lady K Team for all of their work to hold this critical space for us. I am so proud to be in this work with each of you. Please join me in celebrating them and their work not only for Funding Forward, but everyday in service of our mission to expand the scope and scale of LGBTQ philanthropy. I want to thank my Board Chair and brilliant thought partner, Rickke Mananzala for your beautiful introduction. And for the ways that you named the outsized legacy of Urvashi Vaid, forever our movement’s ancestor. 

Before we begin, I’m just going to ask: How are we doing? I’d love for folks to put in the chat, how are you feeling in this moment. I want to name for myself, this is a hard week in a series of hard years. As I speak to you, I’m thinking of my 95 year old grandfather, and his COVID diagnosis. I am thinking of my father and mother, who take care of my grandparents, along with my aunts and uncles. 

I am thinking of love, and in the days before COVID, we would be in person. If we were in person today, I know there would be a fabulous fashion show, and so many hugs, and good food shared, and laughter. And because we have transitioned to a virtual model to protect ourselves, each other and people that we love so deeply, like my granddaddy, I’m going to ask you to speak to me. Drop your thoughts in the chat. I want us to share our love with each other as much as possible. 

Thank you for bringing your people into the room. I hope their spirits can guide us today.

None of us would be here today without our elders and ancestors. When I think of the paths and journeys fought for generations before today, I take hope. I think of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riveria launching STAR; Audre Lorde daring to not only think of the pleasure as erotic, but to write and publish it in the 1970s; the Combahee River Collective taking from the wisdoms of Harriet Tubman’s fabled journey to freedom. And I remember that we live in a magical time where we are practicing the freedoms won by our ancestors and elders over centuries of movement building. We have our path to freedom, we just need to trust ourselves and each other. 

I’d like to take a moment, and invite everyone in the audience to share the names of the ancestors and elders you are carrying with you today into the chat. 

It would be a lie to say that I am not grieving at this moment. Our rights and citizenship in this country remain precarious. That we live in a country that never truly saw people of color, queer and trans communities as free has come into sharp focus. And we know this reality is nothing new. Negotiating instability within a state that denies our humanity has long been a critical coping mechanism. How else do we survive? 

We are here together in this space, on zoom after two and a half years in a never ending pandemic, because we believe we can do more than just survive. We want joy. 

So today, I want to talk about living in a magical time, and what I think is required of funders in this moment. And as do, I want to bring the names of those slain who are known to us in Buffalo New York, Ulvade, Texas, and Orange County, California in the past weeks into the room:

  • Roberta A. Drury
  • Margus D. Morrison 
  • Andre Mackneil 
  • Aaron Salter 
  • Geraldine Talley
  • Celestine Chaney
  • Heyward Patterson
  • Katherine Massey
  • Pearl Young
  • Ruth Whitfield
  • Makenna Lee Elrod
  • Layla Salazar
  • Maranda Mathis
  • Nevaeh Bravo
  • Jose Manuel Flores Jr.
  • Xavier Lopez
  • Tess Marie Mata
  • Rojelio Torres
  • Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia
  • Eliahna A. Torres
  • Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez
  • Jackie Cazares
  • Uziyah Garcia
  • Jayce Carmelo Luevanos
  • Maite Yuleana Rodriguez
  • Jailah Nicole Silguero
  • Irma Garcia
  • Eva Mireles
  • Amerie Jo Garza
  • Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio
  • Alithia Ramirez

We know white supremacy is the connective thread between these shootings, and the carceral violence inflicted upon Black and Brown LGBTQ folks everyday. The shooter in Buffalo specifically named trans folks in his manifesto, along with Black and Jewish people as targets. It is not by mistake that the number of anti-Asian hate crimes are rising across the country. It is not by mistake that the tidal wave of anti-trans legislation, don’t say gay bills are coupled with anti-critical race theory and voter suppression laws sweeping the nation. I know some people shy away from saying white supremacy out of fear that we will lose potential allies by calling a thing a thing. But here’s the thing, allies don’t walk because you say the truth. 

I want to talk about silence today. Audre Lorde, who in my head is my best friend, talks about silence in “Sister Outsider”. She talks about how we often stay silent to protect ourselves, fearing that if we speak out, we will die. The truth is:

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every 

real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with others while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

I want to be real with you today. We need to be real with each other to make this world we believe should be. 

So to start, I am a fat black queer woman; I am a poet. I am a cultural organizer, I am a passionate lover of the king and queen of R&B, Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, I am the daughter of Afro-Guyanese immigrants Michael and Anne, granddaughter of Fanny, Joyce, Victor and Claude — trash talkers, storytellers and big-hearted people who have never met a curry or chow mein they didn’t like, or a soca beat they couldn’t dance to. 

And I am also a survivor of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. My first relationship with another woman was abusive. So much so, that I nearly lost my life. In that moment, when I ran away from my home, the first person I called was my friend Lisa, a Black queer woman I barely knew in a city where I didn’t have roots. When I told her what had happened, the very first thing she said is, “You can stay here”. That generosity broke me down.

Black queer women and femmes have been saving me my entire life.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I would not be alive without people like her and organizations like the Network La/Red, a domestic violence organization working with queer and trans survivors in Boston, that made room for all of me. I got close to Beth Leventhal, the founding ED when I was there, and eventually joined the board. The story of its founding stays with me to this day. A group of lesbian survivors got together in 1989 and started talking about the abuse they were witnessing in the community, and grew heartsick at the number of survivors forced to stay in abusive relationships because of the risks they would face in traditional shelters. Their initial funding came from people passing around hats to raise money in a small room in Boston. 

When I think about philanthropy, I think about Lisa offering me a place to stay, I think about the founders of Network/La Red passing a hat, I think of my granny teaching me how to read and promising me I was a genius when the teachers told me I wasn’t smart, I think about great love. I think about the fact that our community has taught me one simple rule: If you’re not good, I’m not good. 

There’s so much risk in that. It pushes us to reckon with the ways we have been complicit as a movement, times we haven’t shown up for our people, because we held privileges that blunted the lethality of oppression and white supremacy. It asks us to be more human, more soft in the face of great danger, be more expansive and radical in our imaginings. 

This is all a risk. 

It was a risk for Funders to hire me, the first Black woman to ever hold this title of President. I’d never worked in philanthropy before. It’s a risk to ask ourselves publicly why we only hired our first openly TGNC full time staff member four years ago. 

In the words of Kay Uluanday Barrett, “Sometimes you just gotta call out your power, cuz no one else will do it for you.” In philanthropy, over the past few years we have been calling out our power. Calling out the ways we hold the keys to access, social capital and resources that can actually liberate us now. I remain grateful for the groundbreaking work of the Trans Justice Funding Project and their work to fund only organizations led by and for trans people, Groundswell Fund’s commitment to intersectional organizing, and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice’s commitment to funding LGBTQ and people of color movements, and cultural organizing. These are just three foundations that stand out to me for their leadership. These institutions offer possibility models of what we can achieve now in this moment to create the world we so richly deserve. Not in five or ten years, but now. This moment is an invitation for the wider philanthropic community to fully embrace the lessons offered within our membership and beyond.

In conversations about this speech and how our sector can show up, I’ve been thinking about Selma. As civil rights organizers prepared to march from Selma to Montgomery, they felt deep fear. They could lose their lives. They knew marching made their families vulnerable to further harassment, homelessness, rape, and murder. The truth was, they were scared everyday — whether or not they fought. We’ve been haunted by fear for a long time. 

I don’t know a movement that isn’t marked by a profound sense of fear. In the Stonewall Riots, the Bread and Roses Strike of 1909, or for those  forebearers of our movements like  Miss Major, Grace Lee Boggs or Recy Taylor, it’s important to remember fear was always here with us. And it’s okay. My friend and poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis has a few lines that speaks to this in her poem, “thank you Jesus”:

thank you Jesus—becomes the refrain
every time your husband pulls into the driveway,
alive and whole, and no one has mistaken him
for all the black, scary things.

We have to talk about fear. So many of us in this room have been mistaken for scary things, and paid the cost. We’ve lost  a job, our home, or been threatened and assaulted on the street. Many of us in the room have lost people we have loved because they were killed for being scary. The fear is growing, because we know that the stakes are higher. But we need to rise in love. One of things that I keep coming back to is the power of the Black Trans Joy panel. Devin Lowe spoke about how he founded the Black Trans Travel Fund out of deep love and named that when you love something, you protect it. I want us to bring that ethos more deeply into our philanthropic work. 

We fear standing up in our sector for what is right because there is a cost.The possibility of losing relationships, financial stability, or even our livelihood. Yet, Our ancestors and elders have offered us possibility models of what it looks like to organize in moments of apocalypse. To take fear and transform it into love and action. We need each other. We need each other to organize with our colleagues, directors, boards of trustees and donors to create the world that is undeniably our birthright. Especially when we are afraid. This means speaking up when there is an institutional desire to as Aesha Rasheed put it, “Go fast only to move slow”. Meaning moving quickly in moments of tragedy to channel significant sums of money to movement, rather than moving more slowly, moving with intention and trusting in the wisdom of the leaders on the frontline. It means organizing across various levels of power within your institution, and the sector to build allies and relationships that can ultimately shift how money and influence is used. As another plenary speaker spoke to, it can look like paying the fiscal sponsorship fees for all Black trans organizations. I want to reiterate that we have everything we need right now to build the world we deserve. As one panelist remarked yesterday, one thing that the Marriage Equality movement showed us, is that philanthropy has billions and billions of dollars at its disposal that it can move quickly. Our work can ensure that these resources get directly to our movement. 

I recognize the risks explicit in this. It requires speaking out, calling a thing a thing, and potentially risking relationships. I want to name that our work as Funders for LGBTQ Issues is to offer intentional spaces to support this work. In the coming months, we will not only expand our philanthropic organizing capacity, but also offer new ways to engage with political education work to support organizing across the field. This will include a donor briefing series exploring the seismic impact of white supremacy within LGBTQ philanthropy, and the ways in which the challenges we face are bound up in each other’s struggles. 

In the past two years, over three hundred anti-trans bills have been presented in state legislatures across the country, the far right is accumulating resources and power to troubling effect. It is now a crime in Florida and Texas for any teacher to teach the full and beautiful histories of survival and movement building, the history of Black enslavement, indentured servitude, colonization and indigenous genocide. 

Our stories are a crime. In the eyes of the state, we are a crime. 

Again, this is nothing new. It would be a mistake not to speak of the ways trans and gender non-conforming people, undocumented LGBTQ folks, sex workers, and people of color have been telling the larger movement for decades of how the state weaponizes criminalization. The leaked Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Alito not only would take away abortion but also explicitly referenced settled case law that gave us the rights to marriage and intimacy. 

Mariame Kaba said recently, “Let this radicalize you, rather than lead you to despair”.

For me, the work of not sinking into despair requires going back. This is a moment for us to draw from the lessons of our past and use it to bring more rigor and light to our work. It is not lost on me that as Funders for LGBTQ Issues celebrates our 40th anniversary, that we are offered the gift of reflection. This is a moment for simultaneity, of honoring that our movement has won hard battles, and yet our work is not done. 

We have the privilege of asking ourselves and each other: What is the measure of our impact? What is the world we want to build? How can we show up better for our people? One of the tools of reflection we have is our tracking report. With the publication of our first research report in 2005, we were able to measure the impact of LGBTQ philanthropy in the United States. 

Naming the scale and scope of institutional LGBTQ philanthropy is inspiring, difficult and necessary work.

It is inspiring to see the rapid growth of funding from just a trickle of support from a handful of foundations in the 1970s to a growing field of foundations making sustained investments to LGBTQ organizations and causes. In 2016, we found that U.S. Foundation Support for LGBTQ communities surpassed $200 million for the first time ever. What’s important to name in this moment is context. The sharp rise in LGBTQ funding we saw in 2016 was driven in large part by approximately $30 million in funding in response to the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando. 

I think we have to pause and reflect as a sector about how great tragedy becomes a trigger for philanthropy. It’s something I understand because it is human to want to do something when you see others hurting. However, I think we have to ask ourselves what would happen if we were in partnership with movements all of the time? What does it mean that the most generous giving comes when we witness tragedy? What would it mean to have this expansive practice of generosity daily and recognize that for so many communities, tragedies are happening every day. They just simply don’t make the evening news. 

Our latest research — which we plan to publish next month — finds that U.S. foundations invested $201 million in LGBTQ communities in 2020. This is a 4 percent decrease from 2018. This means that for every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations, only 23 cents specifically supported LGBTQ issues. 

And despite the rapid growth of attacks against trans and gender-nonconforming communities, support for for transgender and gender non-conforming people is stagnating in a moment when we need significant growth. In 2020, trans and gender non-conforming communities still received only 4 cents for every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations. 

These numbers speak for themselves. That’s why the work of the GUTC Initiative and Trans Futures Fund exists. That’s why another ten million in new philanthropic dollars for trans and gender non-conforming movements is urgent, and absolutely necessary. 

We also know from our research that the field of foundation support for LGBTQ communities remains top-heavy, sustained by a small group of leading foundations. In 2020, the top ten foundations supporting LGBTQ communities awarded 60 percent of all funding. 

While we are grateful for the trailblazing work of leading foundations, we must also reflect on the precarious position this leaves our movement in. With so much support coming from such a small cohort of institutions, our movement is vulnerable to priorities set by a small group. 

Our research tells us a story, and its message is clear. We need expanded and diversified funding within LGBTQ philanthropy, that is nimble and strings free. We have to find ways to bring in new foundations, and do the work of helping them recognize that whether their priorities are the arts, climate change, racial justice, neighborhood development, workers rights or housing instability, any priority that does not actively center the leadership, wisdoms and communities of Black trans and gender non-conforming communities will fail. 

Later today, our research team will host a session to dive deeper into the findings from our latest research. They’ll share findings from our 2019-2020 report and brief you on our efforts to build the next iteration of our resource tracking report. I invite you to join that session to learn more about our analysis of 2020 funding. 

There are so many lessons to take from Funding Forward, the history of our movement and Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ journey. As we look towards our future and develop our next strategic plan. We are in open conversations with each other, our membership and movement about what it means for us to take the lessons of our journey together, and work to build the world we deserve. This looks like helping our philanthropic colleagues build and deepen our organizing skills, providing more intentional spaces for political education, and asking ourselves how we practice accountability to the movement and our membership. In the coming months, we invite you to celebrate and build with us. I hope you will join us at the Pride in Philanthropy Awards Event this September, and be in community as we ask ourselves what it will look like for us to practice and live our mission in the next five years. 

I’m honored to be doing this work with each of you. 

As I move through the grief that the white supremacist violence the last few years have wrought, on top of the deep historical trauma we bring with us, I think back to June 17, 2015. That week I attended Cave Canem, a national fellowship and retreat for Black poets. I remember coming into that space after living through the murder of Freddie Gray and ensuing uprising, and being in deep fear for my friends marching and protesting against carceral violence in Baltimore. I remember being so scared that people I would love would be killed or harmed. I remember seeing pictures of tanks roll down streets in my home city of Baltimore. 

That week was the first time in months that I could just breathe full and whole. I was surrounded by some of the most impossibly beautiful and generous black people, and some of the most brilliant poets in our country. Folks just dressed to the nines in fabulous outfits and jewelry, hugging, loving and adoring each other, and I remember thinking, it’s okay, I can breathe here. We can breathe here. We are safe. The next morning, I woke up, and the first thing I saw on my phone was the news of the Charleston church shooting, and I wanted to hide. Seeing the faces of Black elders and folks who could’ve been my people, just hurt me to the bone. I somehow made my way to the morning workshop, and the very first thing our workshop leader, Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon, said to us sitting dazed and grieving in her classroom is, “We are artists, we have a mandate for joy, don’t let them take away your joy”. 

It was a dare. It was a demand. It’s our birthright. 

I am remembering right now that this joy is ours. It is undeniably, inarguably and utterly ours. So I am saying to you what I am saying to myself every morning, noon and night: Don’t let them take away your joy. Grieve, weep, wail, take care of yourselves, but trust that the next day when you get up, we will be right here to stand beside you, and fight to claim our birthright. 

As I close out, and you move into today’s concurrent sessions, I want to thank you for all of the million odd ways you show up and fight for justice. I want to close with some words from Harriet Tubman. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a Black feminist poet and author, organized 21 black feminists to take a pilgrimage to the Combahee River celebrating the 150th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s raid against the confederacy. The central text she focused on was Harriet Tubman’s prophecy, “My people are free”. Think about that, what it meant for Harriet Tubman, a 5 foot 2 Black woman living with a disability who could not read or write, who knew nothing but enslavement and brutalization her entire life, who looked at the merciless grind and threat of these systems that enslaved her, and said Nah, and went to claim freedom a so big and wide and loud that her big heart shared it with everyone she could find, kin or not. 

As we look towards our future, I want us to claim our liberation as boldly and audaciously as Harriet. Say it with me, our people are free.