LGBTQ Advocates Prioritize Changing Culture


April 10, 2012; Source: Philantopic

The “5Qs” series on Philantopic, the opinion and commentary arm of the Philanthropy News Digest, is really worth paying attention to. The latest is five questions posed to Karen Zelermyer and Andrew Lane of Funders for LGBTQ Issues (Zelermyer is president and CEO and Lane is the chair). The latest report from Funders documents 800 foundations investing north of $771 million in support of LGBTQ issues during the past four decades. The Philantopic Q&A keys off of the report.

Interestingly, the first two questions posed to Lane and Zelermyer address a distinction between funder support for HIV/AIDS versus LGBT issues specifically. Responding to a question about the role of celebrities in promoting LGBTQ philanthropy, Zelermyer distinguishes the HIV/AIDS focus of Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana, for example, with the impact of Lady Gaga and Ellen DeGeneres, the latter two focusing more directly on LGBTQ issues and rights.  Zelermyer makes a special note of their LGBT Racial Equity campaign, aiming “to move funding for people of color issues to 15 percent of overall LGBTQ funding.” Regardless of the advances, both Lane and Zelermyer note that foundation grantmaking for LGBTQ issues is still very, very small as a proportion of all foundation grantmaking, with plenty of needs yet to get significant foundation support. 

Lane, for example, acknowledges the support of foundations addressing hate crimes, especially in the wake of the brutal beating and murder of Matthew Shepard, but pointed out that funder support for advocacy on anti-bullying laws doesn’t end the problem of bullying that LGBTQ students face in schools. He suggests, “New legislation may be the least effective solution.”   Zelermyer adds, “Changing the law is hugely important, but unless we’re able to figure out how to change people’s hearts and minds around these issues, the gay rights movement will be where the reproductive rights movement is right now. The laws can change, but to what end if the culture doesn’t?”

To highlight how much has been accomplished and how much there is to be done, Lane noted that the Obama administration’s stance on hospital visitation by LGBTQ partners may be “the single act on the part of the Obama administration [that] probably will do more to affect the lives of LGBT people—whether they’re single, partnered, or married—than any in recent history.” At the same time as this newswire is being written, however, Peter Wallsten reported the shocking news in the Washington Post that the Obama administration declined to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The message was delivered to gay rights advocates in a closed door meeting with White House aides Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz, who said that President Obama prefers to pursue this through legislation rather than issuing an executive order. To say that LGBTQ advocates were surprised would be an understatement, as the news was greeted as disappointing by spokespersons for the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations. Zelermyer lauds the “between 300 and 350 foundations making grants annually in support of LGBT issues,” but there is no question that in parts of American society, even at the very highest levels, the cultural shift is slow. –Rick Cohen

  • Elaine Fogel – Totally Uncorked on Marketing

    Rick, acceptance of LGBT rights seems to be the last holdout in the country’s evolution to granting full rights to every citizen. Unlike the suffragettes and the civil rights movement, the LGBT community faces a different hurdle.

    Although the country was founded on the separation of church and state, the religious right votes based on literal biblical teachings. So, even if the government passed new legislation, and even if the public school system addressed the bullying and intolerance, we’d still be left with millions of Americans who do not accept homosexuality. Period.

    I agree with Zelermyer that this situation is equivalent to the reproductive rights movement – its controversy is also a result of religious beliefs. So, unfortunately, the culture shift is in limbo.

    As disappointed as gay rights advocates are about Obama’s inaction, I would say the decision is 100% political. If Obama issued this executive order now, it would make his campaign for re-election even more difficult. And, since sexual orientation and gender identity rights will come from the Democrats, one can only hope the situation will be rectified in his second term.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Elaine: I have two thoughts about your excellent comments:
    1. Yes, passing laws doesn’t undo the feelings of people who simply won’t accept LGBTQ people. But changing laws forces people to adhere to standards that they may not like (think about people who still hold racist opinions) and over time I think–maybe I’m naive–people do adjust. Maybe it’s their children or grandchildren who change, but changing the objective structures in which people must function on race, religion, and sexual orientation seems to be the absolutely necessary step that precedes attitudinal change.
    2. Yes, I agree that the Obama decision on federal contractors was a political decision, but I wonder if it was necessary for his election. Public opinion polls are the issue of discrimination by gender or sexual orientation are leaning strongly toward tolerance and fairness, regardless of what homophobes might advocate. Of course people lie in responding to polls, so the 70-30 support for action against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity isn’t probably quite that high, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a national campaign for elective office that is based on the principles that the candidate will actually (hopefully) deploy once elected?

    Thanks so much for your response.

    Rick Cohen