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A New Wave of Anti-LGBTQ Bills – What Can Funders Do?

Author: Chantelle Fisher-Borne and Ben Francisco Maulbeck

In recent months, states across the country have passed or introduced extreme anti-LGBTQ bills. From North Carolina’s HB2 law to Mississippi’s “religious exemption” bill, LGBTQ communities, and transgender people in particular, are being targeted during this year’s legislative cycle in an effort to roll back gains in recent years for LGBTQ equality. North Carolina’s new HB2 law forbids municipalities from protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, and requires that transgender people use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. In Mississippi, a new law permits individuals and businesses to deny services to LGBTQ people if they have religious objections to doing so. A similar religious exemption bill was passed by the Georgia legislature, but was vetoed by the governor. Tennessee’s “religious exemption” bill allows therapists to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people. According to the Equality Federation, more than 200 such anti-LGBT bills have been introduced this year in state legislatures across the U.S.

Foundations and corporations can respond to this wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in a number of ways – and many are already doing so. Here are a few of the ways that funders are standing up for LGBTQ rights in the face of a new wave of backlash:

  1. Make a public statement. As anti-LGBTQ bills have surfaced around the country, so has rhetoric that scapegoats LGBTQ people, especially transgender people. It can be powerful for a respected foundation to simply make a public statement that your foundation believes in full dignity and equality for LGBTQ people. For example, W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s CEO, La June Montgomery, issued a statement saying that the foundation “stands with businesses, organizations and individuals seeking to protect the human rights of the LGBT communities in North Carolina, as well as other states where similar laws are being considered.” Two North Carolina-based funders, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, also issued a statement supporting opportunity for all and advocating for the importance of mutual understanding.

  2. Advocate for partners to take a stand too. Foundations can have influence even when based outside of states where anti-LGBTQ laws are being considered. For example, The California Endowment sent letters to Georgia-based corporations where the Endowment held investments, asking them to take a stand against the state’s anti-LGBTQ legislation. In addition to that kind of shareholder advocacy, foundations and funder networks also hold conferences and events around the country. Many funders and networks are considering moving meetings to states that have more LGBTQ-affirming laws. Even if moving your event doesn’t make sense, you can use it as an opportunity to foster dialogue and raise awareness of the real harm caused by anti-LGBTQ laws.

  3. Fund efforts to address anti-LGBTQ bills. Many organizations at the local, state, regional, and national levels are working to respond to anti-LGBTQ bills by advocating with policy and business leaders, raising awareness among the general public, and building grassroots movements for equality and justice. Many of the groups engaged in this work are currently stretched beyond their capacity and need funds to support their general operations as well as capacity-building grants and support for short-term programs and campaigns. Funders such as the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, and the Laughing Gull Foundation are funding these organizations to build the public imperative in support of LGBTQ equality in key states and regions. For funders that aren’t able to directly support state-level LGBTQ advocacy, a funder collaborative or pooled fund may be a more feasible vehicle for funding such efforts. For example, with the support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, and the Ms. Foundation, the Third Wave Fund’s Flush Transphobia Fund is serving as a rapid response fund for direct action and community mobilizing in response to bathroom bills and similar anti-trans legislation.
While many state legislative sessions are soon coming to a close for this year, another wave of anti-LGBTQ bills is likely in the coming year – and a likely polemical election season may stoke an even more intense backlash. In that context, leading funders and LGBTQ advocates are mindful that responding to the current anti-LGBTQ backlash requires both short-term and long-term strategic responses. In the short term, it’s crucial to provide nimble support for effective campaigns to stop anti-LGBTQ bills while also using this moment as an opportunity for raising awareness of LGBTQ issues in the wider community. Looking at the long term, funders have an opportunity to strengthen the capacity of LGBTQ organizations – particularly in the South and the Midwest – and to support deeper culture change for more inclusive communities. Long-term strategies must consider deeply entrenched issues such as issues of religion and faith, which are often the hallmark of opposition in communities where these bills are emerging.

Funders of all types and areas of focus have the potential to respond to anti-LGBTQ bias and express support for LGBTQ communities. For funders who are new to funding LGBTQ issues, a good starting point may be to review your foundation's policies and communications as they relate to the LGBTQ community to ensure that your foundation has supportive policies for LGBTQ people and their families. This current moment, while challenging, offers an opportunity for increased dialogue in philanthropy and in the wider community about how to deepen our commitment to supporting the full diversity of our communities, including LGBTQ communities.