Adrian Coman, Arcus Foundation

TITLE: International Human Rights Program Director

FUNDING AREAS: LGBT rights and antidiscrimination

CONTACT: acoman@arcusfoundation.org, 212-488-3000

IP TAKE: Coman is the main player at the Arcus Foundation for international LGBT funding. He is particularly focused on funding work in societies in which LGBT people are facing threats to their freedom or their lives.

PROFILE: Adrian Coman was named head of the international human rights program at the Arcus Foundation in February 2013. His background suggests that he is supremely qualified for the position, having spent his entire professional career in the field of human rights. A native of Romania, Coman earned a master's degree in human rights from Columbia University and has published several academic articles on LGBT rights and gender equality.

His official Arcus Foundation bio states:

 Adrian brings 18 years experience in advocacy, NGOs, philanthropy, education, and politics. A native of Romania, Adrian began his career as a teacher of Chemistry and Physics in Romania and Spain. He was the first executive director of ACCEPT, the national LGBT organization in Romania, where he led campaigns contributing to the repeal of an anti-gay criminal law and the adoption of anti-discrimination provisions. Upon his immigration to the United States in 2002, Adrian worked in grantmaking with the Baltic-American Partnership Fund at the Open Society Foundations and as Program Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In 2009, he went to the European Parliament in Brussels to advise a legislator working on human rights and anti-corruption. Adrian holds a degree in chemistry and physics from Romania, a BA in human rights from City University of New York, and an MA in human rights from Columbia University, where he also co-taught a class on strategic planning for human rights advocates and participated in the 2000 Human Rights Advocates Program. He is fluent in English, Spanish, and Romanian and has a working knowledge of French.

In his most recent position prior to becoming program director at Arcus, Coman served as an adviser to Monica Macovei, a fellow Romanian and member of the European Parliament. For Macovei, Coman focused largely on legislative business relating to human rights, but he also worked extensively on justice reform and anticorruption issues. Coman's body of work suggests that fighting corruption and strengthening civil society are areas of keen interest to him, and grantseekers might consider appealing to his allegiance to these issues, perhaps tying them to LGBT policy and gender equality.

There have been some interesting strategic shifts in Arcus's domestic LGBT funding recently, but if the United States is your focus, you probably shouldn't waste your time pitching Coman. (Arcus has a separate program that handles LGBT rights in the United States.) Coman's mandate is to effect change in those parts of the world that are most hostile to LGBT rights and gender equality. Indeed, the Arcus Foundation press release announcing Coman's appointment specifically noted that he will be working "closely with organizations in or close to countries where human rights and protections are most urgent."

However, although Coman's work will undoubtedly be focused on "critical locations around the world," it should be noted that there is nothing explicit in his position preventing him from considering human rights issues in the United States. In fact, in a blog comment in September 2012, Coman rather interestingly wrote that "the U.S. needs to respect the human rights of LGBT people in the U.S. in order to have increased legitimacy and credibility to raise these issues in its foreign affairs." This statement would suggest he has no illusions that the U.s. domestic fight for LGBT rights has already been won.

Naturally, though, given the scope of life-or-death challenges facing LGBT people around the world, Coman and Arcus want to prioritize the foundation's international funding. Beyond the fight for LGBT rights in places where gays are under active attack, Coman is interested in long-term efforts to combat cultural homophobia in different parts of the world and reaching out to different faiths.

The specific mission of Coman's international human rights program is to work on "national, regional, and international levels" to "build a global movement integrating sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) into shared conceptions of human rights." The Global South is prominently featured as the heart of the program's focus, and that is clearly where most of Coman's attention will be directed. Grantseekers with proposals that do not align with the program's specific priorities might consider contacting Arcus's partners in a growing network involved in work on LGBT rights (International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA), IGLA - European Region, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission).

Of the 34 grants awarded by Coman's program in 2013, 27 of them were explictly earmarked for LGBTI programs. In their totality they ranged from $10,000 to $600,000 to organiations based in the North America, South America, Europe, and Africa, working both locally in their communities and in communities halfway across the world.

Interestingly, in 2012, which pre-dates Coman, the two largest grants Arcus doled out were $1 million to the U.S. State Department and $400,000 to the Council for Global Equality, both of which were premised on making LGBT rights a more prominent feature in U.S. foreign policy. Considering Coman's stated belief that the United States needs to show more leadership on LGBT issues, grantseekers working on projects related to a more LGBT-friendly U.S. foreign policy can be optimistic that Coman will continue to support these types of proposals as well when the right ones come along.