Who's Looking Out for LGBT People in Rural America?

A lot has been said in recent years about how philanthropy tends to shortchange rural areas. There's a bunch of reasons for this, starting with the fact that most foundations and wealthy donors are based in metro areas. We write now and then about how this funding gap plays out across different issues, but here's an angle we haven't discussed: What kind of philanthropic support reaches LGBT people living in rural areas?

Historically, the most visible LGBT populations have been in big cities, and we've often written about funders that support LGBT work in urban areas. In particular, we've spotlighted funding for LGBT seniors, who tend to face a unique set of challenges. So it's encouraging to see that a number of funders, including some top community foundations, have sought to address this area. 


As it turns out, though, the picture for LGBT seniors living outside of big cities is considerably grimmer. Social isolation and suicide are major causes of concern for this group, and recent statistics have really brought these issues to light in a 10-county region of New York. According to the Pride Center of the Capital Region, at least 53 percent of LGBT elders feel isolated and 39 percent of them have considered ending their own lives.

Martha Harvey, the executive director of the Hudson Pride Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Columbia County, New York, commented:

We will all get old and face obstacles that come with aging. Many of these people came out during a dangerous time and are estranged from their families. Their partners may have passed away, or may be ill, and they are the sole caretaker. By ratio, LGBT couples have less children than straight couples, so they might not have children to help them.

To address this growing demographic, Hudson Pride has come together with the national Gamma Mu Foundation. Gamma Mu recently awarded a $10,000 grant to develop a county-wide program for LGBT residents in Columbia over the age of 60.

The Hudson Pride Foundation plans to use some of the grant money to connect LGBT seniors with LGBT youth through mentorship programs and social events. Both demographics have a lot to learn from each other and can even inspire each other when connected in the right type of environment. Another part of the grant will fund data collection to determine how many seniors over 60 live in the region and could make use of these services.

The Gamma Mu Foundation, which has been around since 1988, is an unusual funder on the LGBT philanthropic landscape, focusing grantmaking on rural areas throughout the country. This can be tough territory for LGBT people, given that rural areas tend to be more socially conservative and support groups and services are a lot more scarce than in cities with long-established LGBT organizations. The city of Hudson in Columbia County is unusual in that it's long been home to a strong LGBT community, including many people who've moved up from New York City. That kind of critical mass is rare to find elsewhere in the country. Among other things, finding healthcare professionals to trust as an LGBT senior can be difficult, especially in small towns where everybody knows everybody’s business.  

This Hudson Pride Foundation grant was one of Gamma Mu’s community services grants, a grantmaking category that makes up about 57 percent of total grantmaking. Other community service grantees for FY17 include Easton Mountain in Greenwich, New York, The GLBT Center of Central Florida in Orlando, and Campus Pride in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS services make up 36 percent of total Gamma Mu grantmaking, and research and public education make up about 7 percent. Total grantmaking for 2017 totaled $130,000, which is the same amount set aside for 2016 grants as well.