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Digging for
Dollars

Digging for
            Dollars

The Christopher
Street pier is a favorite hangout for many gay youths of
color in New York City -- a place they can “truly be
themselves,” as the narrator of the documentary
Fenced Out puts it. The film, produced in 2001 by a
small LGBT nonprofit called FIERCE, is a major part of the
group’s campaign to save the pier from
Manhattan’s relentless redevelopment. Another
FIERCE initiative? Training LGBT kids of color to be
strong advocates for their rights through workshops on
political education and activism.

But
FIERCE’s work requires money, and securing funding is
“challenging,” says its executive
director, Rickke Mananzala. “Some philanthropic
foundations choose not to support us because we don’t
neatly fit into an LGBT issue or people-of-color
issue,” he says. Many of the larger grant
makers are “invite-only,” and FIERCE is
“very much outside of their scope.”

According to a
new report, that’s often the case for groups that
help gay people of color. In its “report
card” on race released this month, the
philanthropic research organization Funders for Lesbian and
Gay Issues reveals that only 8.8% of all funding for
LGBT causes in 2006 went to groups targeting people of
color like FIERCE -- even though blacks, Latinos,
biracial people, and other minorities make up at least one
quarter of the U.S. population, according to the 2006
Census. Out of 19 prominent foundations reviewed --
whether LGBT-specific ones like the David Geffen
Foundation or ones with broader missions such as the David
Bohnett Foundation, which finances social activism in
general -- only nine awarded grants for race-related
issues in 2006. Of the 10 who didn’t award a
single grant to people-of-color groups that year, four
hadn’t awarded any grants at all to these
groups in the preceding five years.

Svati Shah, a
specialist in race, sexuality, and gender at New York
University, says the report should be a “wake-up
call” for foundations. “Many of them
need to realize that the groups they are funding may be
predominantly white,” says Shah, who has been an
adviser to Funders.

The stark funding
imbalance is partially due to many foundations’
preference for giving grants to organizations with a
national presence -- and groups focused on people of
color tend to be small community-based outfits.
“Before an application process can even begin, many
organizations are immediately ineligible for
support,” says Mananzala of FIERCE.

But the
disproportionate grant allocation can also be chalked up to
the overwhelmingly white leadership at most
foundations. Of the 19 grant makers represented in the
Funders’ survey, 80% have white men as board
chairs or cochairs. That makes for a certain
“one-dimensional” funding approach, says
Robert Espinoza, the report’s author, who is director
of research and communications at Funders.
“Everybody agreed that issues such as diversity
and inclusivity are really important, yet it’s not
happening,” Espinoza says of the decision makers he
spoke with.

Though neither he
nor his report would name names, Espinoza has some
advice for the foundations showing little or no financial
interest in minority gays and lesbians: They need
“to figure out how to bring people of color
into their leadership positions.” It’s the
only way to achieve racial parity, he says.

Of course, some
of the funders in the report already do that, such as the
Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. A FIERCE funder,
Astraea gave 42 grants in 2006 supporting LGBT
people-of-color organizations and projects in the U.S.
-- more than any of the foundations assessed—for a
total of $716,250. By its own mandate, at least 50% of
its board must be people of color, according to
executive director Katherine Acey.

Though Funders
has been around since 1982, the group is raising its
profile this year with this report and others, part of its
new “Racial Equity Campaign.” The aim?
To increase giving to such groups to at least 15% of
total LGBT funding by 2011.

Meanwhile, the
work of FIERCE and other groups like it goes on, despite
the difficulty obtaining resources. As Mananzala says:
“Our communities don’t have the option
to separate LGBT issues and people-of-color issues in
their day-to-day life.”

Tags: World, World

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