Left out in the south: National funding foundations leaving southern LGBT nonprofits high and dry

Of the estimated 8 million “out” LGBT adults in the U.S., nearly 2.7 million―or about one-third―of them live right here in the South. But according to a new report, the region receives only three to four percent of domestic LGBT funding, and local organizations are feeling the pinch.

The report released in February titled “Out in the South” by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, a 30-year-old organization dedicated to improving funding to LGBT organizations, came about last year thanks to an informal conversation between several southern LGBT donors.

That conversation led to a roundtable discussion last April, resulting in a historic meeting in Charlotte, N.C., that drew more than 50 people representing 30 organizations from 11 states―including seven southern states. Local organizations Georgia Equality, Southerners on New Ground and SPARK Reproductive Justice Now were a part of that conversation.

“This meeting solidified support for the LGBT Southern Funding Project―a project specifically focused on expanding the scale and impact of funding for LGBTQ communities in the U.S. South,” says Funders for LGBTQ Issues President Ben Francisco Maulbeck.

The report is not only useful to donors, but to LGBT organizations as well to see clearly what they have known all along―the South is often left out.

“While sadly the information contained in this report might not be surprising, it is always a useful starting point for any conversation to have all the facts and this report paints a pretty clear picture of foundation funding for LGBTQ issues in the U.S. South,” says Lyle Matthew Kan, director of communications and education for Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

(Click on graphs to enlarge)

And the report clearly shows that while the rest of the country is riding on a tidal wave of LGBT equality, from marriage equality to transgender rights to state employment non-discrimination laws, the South is lagging behind.

From the report:

“Unfortunately, recent momentum and policy gains for LGBTQ equality have largely not reached the U.S. South. Of the 14 Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia), not a single one has passed employment non-discrimination legislation, and every state bans recognition of same-sex marriage. Still, the South is home to an impressive cohort of LGBTQ leaders and is rich with opportunities for LGBTQ advancement. LGBTQ Southerners are among the most likely to be raising children and to be living in poverty. Moreover, the challenges facing LGBTQ Southerners are exacerbated by a lack of philanthropic resources for LGBTQ communities in the Southern states. In the face of these challenges, LGBTQ leaders in the South have done much with little, developing innovative advocacy strategies, cost-effective service organizations and deep intersectional coalitions.”

There were several other items that jumped out in the report, including:

• Between 2011 and 2012, LGBT domestic funding averaged $5.78 per LGBT adult nationwide, with the northeast receiving an average of $10.10 per LGBT adult. But if you’re gay in the South? The average per LGBT adult was just $1.71.

• Between 2011 and 2012, LGBT funding for the South totaled $9.2 million. By comparison, in 2012 alone New York City received $10 million for local advocacy and services.

• Atlanta was only one of two cities home to organizations receiving more than $1 million in LGBT funding―Houston was the other.

• Health issues receive the largest percentage of southern funding, while civil rights receive a much smaller percentage.

• 47 percent of LGBT funding in the South comes from southern-based funders. The other 53 percent comes from funders based outside of the South.

• The top four groups to receive LGBT funding in Atlanta between 2011 and 2012 were Southerners on New Ground ($365,825), Georgia Equality ($232,150), SPARK Reproductive Justice Now ($113,333) and Jewish Family and Career Services ($100,500).

• No other group in Atlanta besides those four received more than $100,000 in LGBT funding between 2011 and 2012.

Also from the report:

• In 2011 and 2012, foundation funding for LGBTQ issues reached record highs at $123 million and $121.4 million respectively.

• Domestic funding of LGBTQ issues totaled $95 million in 2011 and over $101 million in 2012. Excluding funding for national organizations, funding dedicated to local and statewide work came in at just under $51 million in 2011 and just over $46 million in 2012.

• However, funding for LGBTQ and allied organizations based in or serving the 14 Southern states totaled a mere $4.4 million in 2011 and $4.8 million in 2012.

• This total is equivalent to between 3 percent and 4 percent of all LGBTQ funding and between 8 and 10 percent of funding dedicated to local and statewide work.

• By comparison, in 2012 New York City received over $10 million for local services and advocacy―more than the entire South received in both 2011 and 2012. San Francisco received just over $4 million in 2012―nearly the same amount as the entire U.S. South in either 2011 or 2012.

‘Our community is substantial’

While the issue might just be coming to light now for most, it’s something local LGBT nonprofits have known about and have been trying to work through for years.

“Our community has needs just like any other community,” says Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham. “When you ask folks in the LGBT community where they’re most comfortable receiving services, it’s from an organization that is LGBT, so they can feel safe being who they are.”

Southerners on New Ground, a group that works primarily with rural LGBT southerners on issues such as immigration, poverty and racism, participated in the report. Caitlyn Breedlove, co-director of SONG, says the facts presented show “breathtaking gaps” in funding discrepancies.

But, she stressed, the discrepancies do not mean there is not significant LGBT equality work being done in the South already―and the report is not an invitation to groups from the North or West to come and plant their flag on southern ground with the intent to take over organizing for the LGBT movement.

“Our community is substantial. It may not look like the infrastructure elsewhere, but it is important to fund the groups already on the ground,” Breedlove says. “National groups don’t want to come in and do training. And most national groups do not know what our needs are.”

SONG has an approximate $500,000 annual budget and receives funding from groups including the Arcus Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Astrea Foundation.

With this funding, SONG works directly in communities to empower the people who live there, Breedlove explains.

“Our money goes to leadership development within the membership base [throughout the South] and also with coalition and ally work,” she says.

One of the most important things funders need to work at as they decide where to award grants is the fact that in the near future, the South will not be an majority-white population.

“We need a multiracial movement, we need organizations ready to tackle these issues―it’s important to fund that work, period,” she says.

South seen as ‘unwinnable’ by national LGBT funding groups

Brad Clark, national HRC spokesperson, referenced the report March 9 during a panel discussion at the 2014 Northeastern Regional Prides/Prides of the Southeast Joint Conference at The W Atlanta – Midtown hosted by Atlanta Pride. He told the crowd there now exists what he calls “this emergence of two Americas” where one state or region has rights and another doesn’t.

“We scratch our heads and wonder why there isn’t more progress in certain parts of the country and the reality is that our own community isn’t investing here,” he said. “We can’t afford as a community to let some people have rights and some people not. We need to make deeper and smarter investments in places that have historically been overlooked.”

In the Life Atlanta, along with party promoters, helps put on the largest Black Gay Pride festival in the nation. ITLA  spends big bucks to make it happen using an all-volunteer staff.

The group’s annual budget is about $315,000 according to Executive Secretary Tyai Green, of which $250,000 goes towards Black Gay Pride that Labor Day Weekend alone. He says the remaining $65,000 is used throughout the rest of the year for rent for office space, printing costs for marketing materials, for meet-and-greets, transportation to other Pride festivals that staff members attend, advertising and other expenses. So in other words, “We operate on a skeleton budget most of the time,” he says.

“We consider it to be a successful year if we come out of Pride with the bills paid,” Green continues. “We never come out in the black.”

77 percent of ITLA’s budget comes from grants and corporate donations, with the remaining 23 percent coming from individual donations.

Green says that with an extra $250,000 a year in operating funding, they would hire two paid staff members, move to a larger office space and upgrade their existing telecommunications and office equipment, all of which would allow them to continue to find opportunities for and increase the visibility of Atlanta’s African-American LGBT community.

“The South has for so long not been able to secure funding because it wasn’t seen as the major metropolis that it has become,” Green says. “Major corporations need to understand that there’s a definite need for the programming and services that our non-profits provide.”

The Health Initiative’s annual budget of $405,000 includes The Rush Center, whose operation is shared with Georgia Equality. Without The Rush Center included, its budget is approximately $300,000. The bulk of funds come from grants and contracts, all of which are local dollars, except for the federal money coming through SEEDCO for the Affordable Care Act expansion, all of which is earmarked for Georgia, says Health Initiative executive director Linda Ellis. At least 80 percent of its funding goes directly to programming costs.

Ellis says it’s a challenge for southern LGBT organizations because so few local or regional funders are willing to fund LGBT-specific services, and national funding sources that are LGBT-friendly rarely fund projects that don’t have a national reach.

“And when they do fund regionally specific efforts, the South is often overlooked and seen as ‘unwinnable,’” she says. “Our challenge is further compounded by the fact that many funders―including individual donors―still equate LGBT health only with HIV/AIDS.”

LGBT advocacy orgs provide safety nets that states don’t offer

SPARK is a reproductive justice organization that also works in particular to help to LGBT youth of color, as well as women of color and young parents.

Their approved 2014 budget is $303,000, primarily of which they get through private support along with grassroots fundraising efforts.

SPARK has three core programs that its budget goes toward: The Fierce Youth Reclaiming & Empowering (FYRE) program that develops the civic leadership of LGBTQQ youth of color and allies in the reproductive justice movement, the Speak Justice Take Action program  that informs its base and legislators of key reproductive justices issues, and the Women of Color Organizing and Public Policy Initiative that engages a cohort of emerging women of color reproductive justice and sexual health advocates.

So SPARK has its hands in several different issues affecting multiple segments of people, which can be especially difficult with the funding shortfalls throughout the region.

“Many of the advocacy organizations in the South have to do multiple kinds of work to make up for what the states don’t provide in terms of social safety nets,” SPARK Executive Director Malika Redmond tells GA Voice.

“Organizations need a long-standing investment from funders, which includes long-standing support in the way of general operating expenses.”

Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, one of the few transgender-led organizations in Georgia, wants to become an official 501c3 non-profit. All the paperwork to do so has been completed, but money, or lack thereof, has kept the organization from applying for the federal tax-exempt status.

“We would like to have a grant yearly,” says founder and executive director Cheryl Courtney-Evans. “We don’t have a budget per se because we don’t have any money. We operate solely on donations.”

Courtney-Evans notes TILTT received a $1,000 grant from the Atlanta-based Lloyd E. Russell Foundation in 2012, and a $2,000 grant from the New York-based Trans Justice Funding Project in 2013, an organization purposely founded to financially assist trans-led organizations.

The money TILTT does receive goes to basic expenses such as paying annual corporation fees, maintaining a website and paying for educational materials needed. Last year grant money was used so TILLT could have its first booth in Piedmont Park during Atlanta Pride to spread awareness of trans issues.

Courtney-Evans says her organization has a unique challenge most other LGBT groups do not face.

“Overall, transgender groups do not get attention from funders,” she says.

Currently TILTT is working with several other organizations in a coalition to fund and maintain housing for transgender people.

“I would love for us to be able to find a property,” Courtney-Evans says. “It doesn’t have to be TILTT-sponsored. It could be a collaboration. We need to open this type of facility. We don’t have any place to go for our own.”

Large funders focus on Northeast or West Coast

Georgia Equality’s annual budget is about $300,000 according to Executive Director Jeff Graham, which he says is considerably larger than it was two years ago when they struggled to get in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, mostly due to the economic crisis. But he says it’s still a constant challenge to raise funds.

Grants make up approximately $175,000 of their budget, with the remaining $125,000 coming from individual donors.

Graham says a big reason why the funding disparity is so vast is because the large foundations that support LGBT services and advocacy are located in the Northeast or on the West Coast.

“So they will be more in-tune to the needs of their local communities or regions,” he says. This leads to what he calls a “multiplier effect” because those organizations will then hire staff from their own region who, when they do begin funding nationally, will direct it to the agencies, programs and services they’re most familiar with.

Graham also says so many LGBT organizations in the South have small staffs, “so they will not have the funds and the track record to have an audit and sophisticated accounting procedures in place.”

Graham told the NERP/POSE audience that one of Georgia Equality’s top priorities is being able to pay student interns.

“The internship program is just not fair to those lower income students that don’t have the luxury of being able to work 10 or 20 hours a week without pay,” he says. “We now know we need to be investing in that internship program so that it will be more open and more accessible to all young people, especially lower income people and younger people of color.”

Graham thinks this first step―identifying what the problem is―is just the beginning to solving it.

Once local LGBT nonprofits can start offering not only salaries, but competitive salaries with benefits packages, they’ll be able to compete with bigger, more established organizations around the country.

“That’s what I saw with the HIV organizations in the ’90s where we had the same problem,” Graham says. “There was a huge effort in the last half of the ’90s to build the infrastructure of those organizations so they could compete for major federal grants.”

And compete they did, he says. “So that keeps me hopeful that five or 10 years from now it will be a different situation.”

Graham recalls speaking with the Empire State Pride Agenda, Georgia Equality’s New York counterpart, about 10 years ago. The New York group had done a similar report to the Funders for LGBTQ Issues report and realized there were practically no state contracts going to LGBT organizations in New York state. So Empire State Pride Agenda started working with elected officials to work with state budgets and set aside dollars to serve the LGBT community.

“I believe they now have tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, coming from the state budget of New York to serve the LGBT community,” he says. “But it doesn’t happen overnight.”

What now?

National funders and national funding collaborative s are looking at the issue, which is a start. Graham advises people to have a “balanced approach to giving”―give nationally, but be aware that donating some money locally goes directly to working toward equality in Atlanta and Georgia.

He also says that local organizations need to have conversations with local foundations and philanthropic communities to make sure they understand funding for LGBT advocacy and services. He cites the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation in particular.

“We’re so blessed to have that foundation. They’re committed to building and growing the local community,” he says. “Without them, we would not have the Phillip Rush Center.”

Georgia Equality is also in the midst of a $50,000 fundraising campaign for its “Marriage Matters Georgia” initiative to bring awareness about marriage equality to the entire state. This amount can only cover the basics, Graham said, such as polling as well as sharing the stories of Georgia residents as the backbone of its educational campaign. Graham has said that repeal efforts in other states have cost up to $10 million and more―a price tag that is definitely out of the picture for Georgia right now.

But what about the argument that it’s wiser to devote money where victories are more likely to happen?

“We need to seize momentum and score big wins for the LGBTQ movement where we can, but we also need to ensure no area or group of LGBTQ people is being left behind,” says Lyle Matthew Kan of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

“We can’t ignore that the South is home to more LGBT adults than any other region of the country,” he continues. “Every LGBTQ person deserves legal equality and societal acceptance even if it isn’t easy or straightforward to achieve,” Kan adds.

Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a project of the New York-based Freedom to Marry national organization, is a $1 million multistate initiative to bring the South into the discussion of the national discussion on marriage equality. The money raised from private donations will go to field organizing, social media campaigns and possibly paid advertising.

The kickoff event for the initiative was held in Atlanta last month along with Georgia Equality and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The new campaign is the beginning of a much-needed conversation in the South, said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, who attended the event.

“The country is moving forward and we now have the added victory in the Supreme Court which has given us constitutional guidance and have won five federal court rulings in a row, many of them in the South,” Wolfson tells GA Voice.

The South has not been forgotten by larger organizations such as his, and certainly not by the LGBT families that live here, Wolfson adds. But organizations have to work where they can build on what can be done.

Now, though, thousands of same-sex couples have gotten married in different states and come back home to the South where they now face discrimination. All of this is driving national groups to step up the conversation and ensure the South is included in creating a climate for a “huge national win” that will completely turn the tide, especially on marriage equality.

“Just because the legislature in your state may not be willing to do anything, that doesn’t mean you don’t speak to people, share your stories and become part of that climate that creates change,” Wolfson says.

— Dyana Bagby contributed.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders