German philanthropy should get behind LGBTI rights

 

Felix Oldenburg

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Many Alliance readers will know far more about LGBTI issues than me. However, I will not hide behind a convenient lack of expertise but rather speak out inspired by the courage of many others.

I do so not only in my role as Secretary General of the Association of German Foundations but also simply as a fellow citizen. After all, talking about the rights of the LGBTI community is talking about human rights.

The the first and obvious answer to the question of why philanthropy should pay attention, and no more so than today, to funding and supporting LGBTI groups:

Wherever the rights of individual groups are compromised or violated, our rights are compromised or violated. Protecting against discrimination protects democracy for all. In an ideal world, the argument and this talk could end here. Period. Over and out.

However, I am afraid we will need additional reasons to increase the attention paid by foundations and donors to LGBTI issues.

Here is one: For the first time in two generations, we see the space for democracy and civil society not expanding but shrinking. People who dare to live their lives differently increasingly find themselves at the margins, in countries not on the other end of the globe but next door.

Many foundations may have shifted away from these fundamentals but unless we tackle the shrinking spaces in all their manifestations, and sooner than later, we will find we will have fewer of the people we rely on most for our work.

And for those who need pragmatic rather than political reasons to start investing in LGBTI, I have yet another rationale: Recently, I read about the latest in a series of studies in The Atlantic about what makes cities successful, competitive, whether in high tech or other industries. The best indicator remains the share of gay people.

From my experience supporting social entrepreneurs across Europe, I can confirm this correlation: Many of the best change makers I have met are from LGBTI communities.

Many of the new, often radical ideas for solving social problems, emerge from interfaces, experiences of otherness, fresh and unusual perspectives.

Any community, any funder who wants solutions to outrun problems should want to become a magnet for change makers, and should ask: How can I create a place which makes people who think differently feel at home?

This is not the icing on the cake, not the thing to do after solving all other problems but rather a precondition for solving any problem more effectively.

Foundations, alas, are not the first to discover the importance of LGBTI issues.

The rainbow philanthropy studies clearly show that while funding has increased recently, the number of funders are stagnating, and mainstreaming seems a distant future.

We cannot sit back and expect times to change or this issue to sort itself out.

Foundations may not be the first but they should not be the last. To me, this is not a question of whether or not but of how and when. And I for one would love to help make a small contribution to philanthropy meeting this challenge.

It is therefore an honor to celebrate the work of German philanthropist Ise Bosch who will be awarded the ‘Deutscher Stifterpreis’ (German donors prize) at our annual meeting in May in recognition of her pioneering work on LGBTI issues. I hope many others will be inspired to follow her lead.

Felix Oldenburg is Secretary General of the Association of German Foundations and a board member of Alliance Publishing Trust, the publisher of Alliance magazine. This is a modified version of a 2017 speech on ‘rainbow philanthropy’.


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