In 2017, when the Trump administration moved into the White House, I remember my former employer ordering the entire staff pizzas as if in apology. I ate a slice during my lunch break while scrolling through my phone’s newsfeed, trying not to panic about what this new presidency might bring. As a member of the queer community, it was hard not to imagine the change in administration could lead to serious shifts in the nation’s perspective.
On his Inauguration day, Trump’s administration removed all mentions of LGBTQAI+ individuals from the White House, Department of State, and Department of Labor’s websites.
A month later in February, the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew 2016 guidance that instructed schools to protect transgender students under the federal Title IX law. These two actions of erasure were merely the start, ultimately snowballing into an avalanche of transphobic policies that would aim for such faux-noble goals as keeping transgender people from serving in the military and remove rules preventing gender identity-based discrimination at homeless shelters and other federally funded housing services.
But at least we all had free pizza that one day.
Since then, I’ve moved on from my past employment. At CEP, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse staff that actively cares about sexuality and gender-based minorities. When I was introduced to our surveys, I was impressed by the demographics questions; here I first saw an official survey tool that used the term “nonbinary.” It was easy to see how CEP’s mission of data-driven efficiency and purpose-driven philanthropy could support trans individuals, which for the first time hit home an important message:
Fortunately, there are organizations providing the basis for that support. In October of 2020, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a nonprofit with the mission of assisting predominantly Black trans women, worked in partnership with HeadCount, a nonprofit supporting voting rights and participation in democracy, to launch the Dare to Vote Campaign. This campaign committed to informing and supporting Black trans women in pursuing their right to vote in the 2020 presidential election.
Then, in last April’s “An Open Letter in Support of Transgender Student-Athletes,” 38 NCCA-trained facilitators from across the nation condemned ongoing anti-trans legislation geared toward keeping trans student athletes from participating in playing sports through their schools. “Such legislation dehumanizes transgender students […] while also contributing to an exclusionary athletic environment and a more hostile school climate for all students,” the letter states. At the time of its release, almost 50 anti-trans (specifically trans-misogynist) bills had been introduced throughout the country.
However, both of the above examples of excellent work in the sector come from organizations that focus on the welfare of trans people. What about foundations and nonprofits that tend to serve broader communities?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has championed for equality for transgender individuals alongside other groups they aid and represent. On their Transgender Rights page, the ACLU makes their stance clear: trans people deserve full healthcare, easier paths to updating identification documents, and to be treated humanely, whether an incarcerated individual in a prison or a student at a school. The Open Society Foundations (OSF), the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights, has also sought to support the rights of transgender people. Alongside other members of the LGBTQAI+ community, OSF actively seeks to spread awareness of injustices against trans individuals while supporting progressive changes in multiple nations across the globe.
These are not the only large-scale, broadly serving organizations who care about LGBTQAI+ issues, either. In a 2019 article, Funders for LGBTQ Issues lists the top ten funders serving the queer community from 1970-2017. This list includes the Arcus Foundation (at number one), the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Tides Foundation to name a few. Additionally, while not within the Top 10 list, Borealis Philanthropy has created a fund (The Fund for Trans Generations) which MacKenzie Scott donated $2 million to in 2020.
Unfortunately, the reality is that even these efforts aren’t keeping up with the needs of transgender youth and adults. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people in the US have been discriminated against when seeking a home, while more than one in ten have been evicted due to their gender identity.1 In the Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020, 40% of LGBTQ youth respondents reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide and 48% reported engaging in self-harm within the last 12 months. If we narrow those populations down to only trans and nonbinary respondents, the rate of seriously considering suicide rises to over 50% and engaging in self-harm rises to 60%.
The Biden Administration hasn’t “saved” us, either. While the world has been distracted and reeling from the crisis of Covid-19, more anti-trans bills have been introduced to block safe medical transitions, student athlete participation, and the basic needs of trans individuals, focusing on state level law when federal backing couldn’t be depended on. For instance, the ACLU has already taken part in 15 transgender-related cases since 2021 began. Issues of transgender rights are too often relegated to political opinion, negating the actual human beings targeted by the government and systems they should be protected by.
Here is where philanthropy has begun to step in and where it should do much more to stand beside the trans community. Funds to support education, litigation, and efforts to spread true, humanizing information should be a top priority. Particularly in states where laws are working against trans individuals, access to hormones, therapy, housing, and related rights are a baseline place to start. For funders who do not currently have trans issues in their portfolio, now is the time to start taking a vested interest and to strongly speak out that trans rights are human rights, as they always have been.
In the end, the philanthropic endeavors mentioned above should be considered a beginning rather than a job well done—the amount of work left to do is visible and accumulating over time.
Looking back at the last four years of the Trump administration’s on-going attacks against the transgender population, it was hard not to hope that things would be different under a new presidency. While it’s impossible to tell yet, I sincerely believe it also isn’t too early for organizations to make a decision about their next four years and how they plan on assisting the trans community during them.
I, for one, value that over the pizza.
Sae Allan Darling is the Administrative Assistant on the Programming and External Relations team at CEP.