Luna Yasui, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: LGBT Rights

CONTACT: l.yasui@fordfoundation.org, 212-573-5000

IP TAKE: It remains unclear how much, if at all, Yasui will alter Ford's current grantmaking regime. Given her strong background in labor, poverty, and employment law, it's possible that we will see more focus on these areas as they impact the LGBT community.

Inside Philanthropy asked her about possible new directions for her portfolio, and she said, "In fact, the focus of the initiative itself is a new development, and while the Ford Foundation has supported these issues for decades, LGBT rights are now a key component of the broader social justice agenda."

She continues: "The initiative’s goal of legal equality for LGBT people is pursued through three primary strategies. These pillars reflect an understanding that the 'formal' legal equality requires robust advocacy, innovative partnerships, and significant cultural change. First, build a strategic, coordinated, and effective core LGBT advocacy sector. Second, forge transformative alliances amongst LGBT rights and broader social justice advocates. Third, promote and diversify informed and compassionate public discourse on LGBT rights."

The initiative seems to represent a significantly higher commitment of dollars to LGBT issues by Ford. Yusai says, "The advancing LGBT rights initiative supports a range of efforts aimed at ensuring every person is treated with dignity and live full lives regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We are committed to a lived equality and working with allied movements to make that a reality. Part of this effort will focus on expanding philanthropic support, as currently less than one percent of all funder dollars go specifically to LGBT issues."

PROFILE: Luna Yasui joined the Ford Foundation in September 2012, transferring from the Open Society Foundations (George Soros's philanthropy gig). Her responsibilities in both positions are similar, managing grant portfolios that deal with LGBT rights. At Ford, her grantmaking in the Advancing LGBT Rights initiative places "particular emphasis on people of color, women, youth and low-income communities."

Surina Khan, once the director of the initiative (now interim director of other initiatives at the foundation), has published a wide variety of influential work, both policy and scholarship, on LGBT issues. It seems as if she may have brought Yasui on board for her strength and breadth of knowledge regarding the explicitly legal dimensions of the LGBT effort at Ford.

Yasui's education began at Brown University, where she received a bachelor's in political science. She went on to get a juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff attorney, she worked at the National Employment Law Project's (NELP) Immigrant Day Labor Project. She then worked for Bay Area Legal Aid in Redwood City, California. There, she represented recipients of public assistance struggling with legal bureaucracy to attain gainful employment.

As Yasui's tenure at Ford is relatively recent, it makes sense to devote some attention to her past interests as a writer and researcher. At NELP, she helped prepare a report called "Low Pay, High Risk: State Models for Advancing Immigrant Workers' Rights" in 2003. During her time at Bay Area Legal, she cowrote another article, called "The Legal Barriers to Employment Project — A New Model," in 2009. Both are good reads, and they also provide a lot of insight into the types of ideologies Yasui is likely to import as a grantmaker.

In 2011, Yasui wrote a post on the Open Society Foundations' blog about how New York's "legislature embraced marriage equality this session, [but] it shelved GENDA, an act which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, health care, public accommodations, and education." Support for GENDA through Ford seems like an example of a project that would fit Yasui's particular area of knowledge, expertise, and interest.

To get the attention of this program officer, your proposal should deal heavily with social justice and racial justice issues as they relate to LGBT equality. Yusai tells Inside Philanthropy, "In my portfolio, we prioritize efforts that integrate a racial justice and broader social justice analysis to these issues. By doing so, we hope to elevate the leadership of and advocacy on behalf of often overlooked and more vulnerable LGBT communities— youth, people of color, immigrants, and women."

Additionally, she's seeking grantees with ambition: "The grantees we support are, for the most part, devoted to large systemic change. We acknowledge that the modern-day movement has made huge strides, but we are conscious of those who thus far have been left behind including those who still face economic vulnerabilities and institutional barriers."

However, the path for grantseekers should begin with a letter of inquiry. "At this time, proposals are by invitation only. For grantseekers interested in reaching out to share a project or idea, I encourage submitting a letter through Ford’s website. I review and respond to each inquiry." You may also reach Yasui via Linkedin.