As Pride month draws to a close, one could be forgiven for thinking there was a plethora of philanthropic support for pro-LGBTQI+ organisations. The truth is sadly far different.
Pro-LGBTQI+ organisations receive just 0.35 per cent of philanthropic funding; anti-LGBTQI+ organisations actively campaigning for the reversal of our rights are far better funded. One organisation alone spent $622m on stopping LGBTQI+ rights in 2019-20, $46m more than the entire funding donated globally to pro-LGBTQI+ causes that year. We are still fighting for basic human rights in many countries across the world, and only have to look at US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade to see how easily these hard-won rights could be taken away.
How can we expect to advance global rights for LGBTQI+ people when funding is anaemic? For many causes, organisations would turn to a group which have a natural affinity to their cause and the resources to advance it, which leads me to ask the question; where are the LGBTQI+ philanthropists?
Growing evidence suggests LGBTQI+ individuals face additional barriers to fulfilling their economic, and therefore philanthropic, potential. The challenges, micro-aggressions and prejudice we face in our daily lives, not to mention the trauma and fear of social exclusion linked to coming out, leads to poorer economic inclusion and mental health issues for our community.
How can we expect to advance global rights for LGBTQI+ people when funding is anaemic?
In the workplace, LGBTQI+ individuals earn an average of 16 per cent less than their heterosexual and cisgender peers (almost double the UK’s gender pay gap), are significantly less likely to be promoted into senior leadership positions and a quarter are not open about their identity at work for fear it would harm their professional advancement. More worryingly, LGBTQI+ people are more likely to experience mental health problems, with Health statistics showing half of LGBTQI+ individuals reported they have suffered from depression. This offers insight as to why there are so few prominent LGBTQI+ philanthropists; if LGBTQI+ individuals are less able to fulfil their personal and economic potential, fewer will reach the levels of wealth that creates significant surplus capital for transformative philanthropy.
Of the billionaires in the world — what many think of when you say the word philanthropist — only 0.4 per cent are out as LGBTQI+, whereas the recent IPSOS study suggests an average of 10 per cent of the population identified as LGBTQI+. With a disparity that large, either society is preventing LGBTQI+ people from becoming wealthy, or many of those that are wealthy still feel they cannot be ‘out’ in the public eye.
As a result, with a few exceptions such as Sir Elton John, there are a lack of prominent LGBTQI+ philanthropists in the UK and globally. This in turn deprives LGBTQI+ charities and projects of a natural audience with an affinity to their cause and the resources to support it, meaning that advancing LGBTQI+ rights across the world happens at a glacial pace.
So how can the philanthropic community fix this?
First and foremost we need all funders to step up and support our rights.
For companies this Pride, whilst making a statement with a rainbow logo and asking LGBTQI+ staff to share their experiences on a blog post is a step forward, there is more that needs to be done. Looking at policies around pay and progression with an inclusive lens will ensure that LGBTQI+ individuals are paid on par with their heterosexual and cisgender colleagues.
In parallel, all funders, whether corporates, foundations, or individuals, must look at how they can use their capital to invest in and provide more philanthropic capital to support LGBTQI+ rights. If you haven’t supported an LGBTQI+ rights charity before, make it your 2022 Pride pledge to do so. We can achieve equality, but only if we can finance it. Adjust your funding criteria or assessment processes to ask organisations how their work will support the LGBTQI+ community to encourage wider uptake of pro-rights programmes globally.
And for LGBTQI+ philanthropists? What can they do?
Make a splash about your giving, and not just to LGBTQI+ causes. Your philanthropy is not defined by your sexuality or sexual identity just like you, but by being vocal about your giving you can show others the value of inclusivity, that there is LGBTQI+ capital out there. The corporate world only fully embraced servicing LGBTQI+ individuals when it realised there was a large potential market, birthing the corporate pride movement. Perhaps if we can show the philanthropic world the same, every charity will promote LGBTQI+ rights as part of their advocacy, rather than a small number of chronically underfunded and under-supported organisations, sharing the burden. If, unfortunately, societal pressures prevent you from openly funding these organisations, use a donor-advised fund to help you give anonymously; if you can’t be vocal in the fight, you can still fund vital work.
The fight for equality is far from over.
We need funders to work together to involve the LGBTQI+ community in conversations around philanthropy and use philanthropic capital to invest in organisations that address the systemic inequalities that undermine LGBTQI+ individuals’ potential in society and their right to be there. Businesses and economies perform better when diversity is built into their model, when people including LGBTQI+ individuals are accepted and economically included. I’m willing to bet philanthropy is the same, but until we really try, we’ll never know.
Allan McKinnon is the Founder and CEO of the Good Works, a philanthropy advisory service and donor-advised fund.