Ever Noticed How White LGBT Leaders Are? These Funders Have, Too

Most people recognize the Stonewall Riot of 1969 as the turning point in the modern-day fight for LGBT equality. However, few people know that two trans women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, helped ignite the Stonewall Riot. And even fewer people know that these trans women were women of color. So how has history forgotten these two important figures? And more importantly, why aren’t there more leaders of color at the helm of the LGBT rights movement today? Those are just two points the movement’s largest funders have been working to change with their support of the 21st Century Pipeline Program, a year-long training program designed to support and retain managers of color who have committed themselves to a career in the LGBT rights movement.

Since 2006, The Pipeline Project, with the support of the Arcus Foundation, Ford Foundation Gill Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr Foundation, and the van Ameringen Foundation, has sought to attract and retain more diverse leadership talent to the movement. Together the foundations have granted more than $1.2 million to 21st Century Pipeline Program in support of managers who have committed themselves to careers in the movement, and to provide them with the assistance they need to further develop their leadership abilities. The strategy? Diversifying the leadership within the movement can only help the movement advocate for the diversity of the LGBT community.

“The plain truth is that our movement’s leadership has not reflected the real diversity of our community, and that has limited both our reach and effectiveness as a force for justice and equality,” said Matt Foreman, director of gay and immigrant rights programs at the Haas. Jr. Fund.

According to a 2008 study by the Movement Advancement Project, only four percent of managers at organizations that serve LGBT people identify as black, Latino, or Asian American.   

So how does the program work? It’s actually quite simple. Managed by the Pipeline Project and the Rockwood Leadership Institute, each year, the 21st Century Fellows Program enrolls approximately 22 fellows to participate in leadership retreats, skills training and peer learning opportunities. The program fellows are also matched with experienced consultants to help them design individual leadership development plans and awarded a stipend to cover other training expenses. 

“We are incredibly excited about this program,” said Clarence Patton, the Pipeline Project’s executive director. “This program both acknowledges the excellence and accomplishments of the Fellows, as well as the commitment of their organizations and the program’s funders to honoring that excellence and furthering those accomplishments.”

The Pipeline Project will announce the 2014 fellows later this summer.