Fighting Without Funders: How LGBT Money Skips the South

It’s a little-known fact that of the 8 million openly LGBTQ Americans, an estimated third, or nearly 2.7 million, live below the Mason-Dixon line.

It’s also true that among the 14 states that constitute the South, none have passed employment protections for LGBT employees and none recognize same-sex marriages. And while LGBTQ southerners are most likely to be raising children, they are disproportionately likely to be doing so while living in poverty.

So you might think that the South would be a big focus of LGBT funders right now. And there you'd be wrong. 

In fact, the region still struggles to garner the attention of these funders, according to an ongoing investigation by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, a New York-based organization. Back in February, the group published its research in an initial report Out in the South: Building Resources for LGBTQ Advancement in the U.S. South, and promised more findings.

The report said that even as foundation giving for LGBTQ issues soared to record heights in 2011 and 2012, hitting $123 million and $121.4 million respectively, funding for LGBTQ and allied organizations, based in or that serve the south, totaled a mere $4.4 million in 2011 and $4.8 million in 2012.  

The South may be toughest battleground for equality, but it drew the fewest resources from funders.

By comparison, New York City alone received an estimated $10 million in 2012 for local services and advocacy, more than double the amount shared across the 14 states in the South, and San Francisco received an estimated $4 million.

In keeping with this disparate giving, the report shows that between 2011 and 2012 funding for LGBTQ southern issues came from a myriad of places. According to the study, 29 percent ($3 million) of funding for LGBTQ issues in the South came from LGBTQ public foundations, 16 percent ($1.6 million) came from other public foundations, and 15 percent came from non-LGBT private foundations ($1.6 million) and LGBT private foundations. Only 12 percent came from community foundations and 7 percent from corporations.

Accounting for 60 of funding to toward LGBT issues in the south, the top 10 funders for LGBTQ equality in the south were: Elton John AIDS Foundation ($1.3 million), Arcus Foundation ($950,000), Susan G. Komen Foundation ($823,268), Dallas-based Black Tie Dinner ($735,918), Anonymous Donations ($675,000), Houston Endowment ($530,000),  Tides Foundation/State Equality Fund ($433,000), Miami Foundation ($417,4000), Ford Foundation ($400,000), and Community Foundation of Broward ($358,211). 

So how can foundations better direct funding to help LGBTQ organizations in the South? Well, besides simply widening the pipeline to fund issues in the region, the report recommends foundations take a few steps like partnering with local funders to develop funding strategies for the region, capitalizing on the opportunity to address key issues that disproportionately affect the South such as HIV/AIDS and mental health, and supporting severely underfunded LGBTQ policy efforts in the South.

That's quite a call to arms, and we'll be interested to see what the next round of research reveals.