Founded in 1977, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is one of the first women’s funds in the world and the only fund solely dedicated to LBTQI rights globally. Through grantmaking, capacity building, philanthropic advocacy, and media and communications, we support brilliant and brave grassroots activists and artists who challenge oppression and seed social change. We are a leading funder of LBTQI movements for gender, racial, and economic justice across the globe.
Our founders—a cross-class, multi-racial group of women activists—dreamed of a women’s movement that centered the leadership of lesbians and women of color. For over four decades, Astraea has uniquely supported women’s rights and LBTQI movements working at the crossroads of gender justice, racial justice, bodily autonomy, sexual rights, and self-determination.
We ground our grantmaking in feminism—a political identity that challenges oppressive norms and power relations. We embrace an intersectional feminism as part of a wider struggle for social justice, recognizing that sexism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and restrictive gender norms harm everyone. Feminism is a powerful framework that enables us to discuss how bodies, sexuality, and gender interact with oppression based on race, class, and other axes of identity and experience. Rooting our feminism in social justice, we particularly support Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and Global South movements and leadership.
As a feminist fund, we believe the strongest approaches to achieving justice center the needs and visions of people who face multiple oppressions. We believe it is our responsibility to redistribute money as a mechanism toward redistributing power, so movement agendas are controlled by activists, organizations, and communities.
Today, Astraea sits at the nexus of more than 40 years of feminist grantmaking and movement building. Feminist Funding Principles is an invitation to engage in a thoughtful rigorous practice that acknowledges the power of purposeful grantmaking. These principles can be applied across different organizational strategies, geographic priorities, and theories of change. We offer them to share what we have learned over the last four decades about what it takes to support activists on the frontlines to make enduring social change.
Making progress toward advancing gender equality and justice requires centering the priorities of those who face discrimination, violence, and oppression based on their gender identity, gender expression, sexuality and/or sex characteristics. To effectively address gender-based violence, for example, philanthropy must take up the distinct harms faced by LBTQI women and non-binary people who are targeted with violence that seeks to enforce discriminatory gender norms.
We must expand traditional notions of gender, so programs targeting women reach all women, including trans and cis women, and those who identify as non-binary. Funding with this lens not only ensures that no one is left behind but also brings about more meaningful change: when social change efforts are led by and prioritize the experiences of those most impacted, everyone benefits.
Donors often address women’s rights and LGBTQI issues in silos, but both activists as well as opponents to the rights of women and LGBTQI people know that these issues are deeply connected. For example, “gender ideology” or “anti-gender” movements in many parts of the world seek to halt progress on women’s and LGBTQI rights by targeting marriage, gender identity, abortion, and birth control, claiming to protect family values while promoting retrograde notions about gender roles. Many LBTQI and women’s rights organizations organize across movements to combat these threats, creating powerful opportunities to build solidarity. By supporting groups that are concerned with both women’s and LBTQI rights, funders can help build stronger bases of support to combat these anti-gender forces. In fact, LBTQI activists are often on the frontlines and in leadership of feminist movements, but don’t receive support for this work. For example, while many trans and intersex groups around the world engage in feminist organizing, only 9% of trans groups and 18% of intersex groups received women’s rights funding in 2014-2016.
In order to effectively build power, movements cannot operate in isolation. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to lift up the specific oppression that Black women face, is the concept that people have multiple, layered identities, including but not limited to race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. Oppression, then, is exponentially compounded for those living at those intersections.
It is imperative to fund at the very junctions that abnegate power, freedom, and rights—and limit the voracity of movements—if we are to bring about meaningful, lasting change. For example, the fight for racial justice is deeply connected to a number of other issues, from sexual and reproductive rights to migrant justice to sex worker rights, because People of Color are disproportionately affected by health, immigration, labor, and criminal justice policies. Similarly, LGBTQI people are often the first to experience the effects of economic injustice, and the poorest communities are most negatively impacted by the fallouts of climate change. To resource movements intersectionally is to address the greatest systemic issues of injustice. It also enables communities to build power together. Funders who are willing to break down traditional identity or issue-based funding silos in order to fund across movements and communities create opportunity for the most impactful change.
Astraea believes that those who are closest to the problems that need addressing are best positioned to set their own priorities and determine where resources go. We provide flexible core funding because it enables grantee partners to self-determine their agendas, respond to changes in contexts, seize unanticipated opportunities, cover their operating costs, and invest funds where they are most needed. In 2018, 70% of our grants provided general operating support to organizations; in comparison, only 20% of funding from the largest 1,000 U.S. foundations was general support. Further, more than 80% of our grants are renewals. We partner with organizations over the long-term, often five to 10 years, because social change does not happen in a 12-month grant period. Donors invested in making meaningful change must commit for the long haul.
Social change is complex; it has many dimensions, and progress is needed in all of them. Strong, autonomous feminist movements are the drivers of policy change for women’s rights, given their abilities to articulate needs, shift public opinion, and demand institutional change that reflects those needs. Legal and policy changes are necessary, yet alone they are insufficient to affect people’s lives; social norms must evolve alongside them in order for laws and policies to be implemented and to make a meaningful difference.
Funding cultural change work, from arts activism to strategic communications, is essential to change hearts and minds, implement and protect policy gains, and transform oppressive practices. A recent evaluation of Astraea’s policy-focused grants found that a critical outcome was supporting grantee partners to shift dominant narratives about gender and sexuality, expanding public understanding of LGBTQI issues in their national contexts. As community leadership plays a critical role in making change real, base-building and grassroots organizing are also necessary components of an effective policy change funding strategy.
With the rise of authoritarian governments and anti-rights movements around the world, we face threats to human rights on every front. Feminist and LBTQI groups need spaces that bridge issues and borders to build relationships, share information, and develop strategies for leadership, research, advocacy, and collective action. Providing funding for convenings, especially when they are led by or co-designed with activists, is an effective strategy to spark collaborations and deepen partnerships. Donors can support these kinds of peer exchanges and learning opportunities by drawing connections across country and regional programs, and engaging with grantee partners about what they most need.
Concurrently, donors can strengthen cross-issue analysis within their portfolios. For example, when considering strategies to address climate change, there are rich opportunities to learn from climate justice movements rooted in feminist framings that integrate gender, racial, economic, and migrant justice and promote community-owned infrastructure and assets.
Organizations, especially those led by under-resourced and most impacted communities, require more than money to be sustainable. Astraea believes that it’s our responsibility as funders to work to ensure that grantee partners have what they need to heal, survive, thrive, and build power. Accompanying—or walking alongside—groups includes providing moral and emotional support, political solidarity through moments of crisis and struggle, hands-on advice, assistance with legal and fiscal needs, and resources to support learning, growth, and sustainability.
How this happens matters a lot. Learning and capacity building needs must be defined by activists and the movements they are part of, and the most effective and sustainable capacity building is led by peers and movement actors themselves.
As a feminist funder, we give particular attention to leadership models. Movements with intergenerational and collective leadership are far more sustainable. We encourage funders to support this practice, as well as to resource grantees’ efforts to train the next generation of activist leaders through political practice and education. It is also critical to support organizations who are nurturing leadership from most-impacted communities, across gender, racial, economic, ability, and other barriers.
Feminist activists on the frontlines face safety and security threats, both online and off, due to their activism that confronts power structures. Marginalization and oppression make some groups more vulnerable than others to burnout and violence, so this is particularly important when reaching LBTQI groups. Healing justice and holistic security are two strategies that can bolster the well-being, sustainability, and resilience of organizers and their communities. Identifying how we can respond to and intervene in generational trauma and violence, healing justice promotes resiliency and survival practices that center the collective safety and well-being of communities as integral to our liberation. Holistic security is an approach that integrates physical and digital security with self/collective care and well-being. Both of these frameworks are deeply rooted in Black, People of Color, and Indigenous ancestral practices, and also speak to a feminist disability justice politics that values the safety and security of all bodies.
Funders can provide access to tools, resources, skills-building, and strategy spaces that directly enable groups to build their holistic security capacities and access healing justice practices. Funders should assume that this support is needed, especially for grantees facing multiple oppressions and/or working in hostile contexts, and make it available.
Astraea recognizes the Internet as a critical terrain where rights are being contested. Feminist and social justice activism cannot thrive without an open Internet and secure access to digital tools. Technology gives grassroots organizers a revolutionary edge: activists are equipped to build communities, craft effective messages, amplify their voices, and reach their audiences. However, the same methodologies and tools that open up new social change possibilities also expose activists to surveillance, abuse, and harm. The Internet/digital terrain has the ability to reify oppression in ways that are not always immediately visible or obvious. Marginalized constituencies are particularly vulnerable because Internet governance policies do not prioritize their needs. It is critical to equip LBTQI and feminist activists with the skills, tools, networks, and technologies they need to harness the power of digital organizing while protecting their safety and wellbeing. There are huge opportunities for our movements to be innovative and exponentially advance their causes, if we can transcend some of the limitations and barriers they face.
To shift power to grassroots feminist movements, donors can partner with the ecosystem of global and regional activist-led funds to make resources accessible to local women’s and LBTQI groups. Many government, multilateral, and other large donors do not have the mechanisms to reach movements directly, making it all the more critical to partner with those who do. For instance, while 28% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) is tagged for gender equality, only 7% reaches civil society organizations, and of this, less than 20% (1.4% of total ODA) is for groups specifically focused on gender equality. On the private philanthropy side, only 4% of foundation funding for human rights reaches LGBTQI organizations and 23% goes to organizations working with women and girls.
Women’s funds and other activist-led funds like the International Trans Fund and Intersex Human Rights Fund play a vital role in making resources directly accessible to local organizations and movements. These funds have expertise in making small, flexible grants; accompanying groups with meaningful capacity building support; and supporting movement building through convenings and other strategies. Collectively, women’s funds have a wide reach: from 2011-2015, members of Prospera - International Network of Women’s Funds mobilized $313.5 million and supported 5,127 women’s human rights organizations in 173 countries.
The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is committed to centering the leadership, voices, and agendas of grassroots activists, organizations, and movements. We believe that the principles outlined here are critical to making progress on gender equality and justice, and to being an effective funder. As our grantee partners challenge power in their own contexts, we seek to do the same. We invite all donors to join us!
1 Global Philanthropy Project. (2018). Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI Rights, p. 27. Retrieved from https://globalphilanthropyproject.org/2018/11/04/religious-conservatism-on-the-global-stage-threats-and-challenges-for-lgbti-rights/
2 American Jewish World Service, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice & Global Action for Trans* Equality. (2017). The State of Trans Organizing (2nd Edition), page 27. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/astraea.production/app/asset/uploads/2017/10/Trans-REPORT-for-the-web-Updated.pdf
3 American Jewish World Service, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice & Global Action for Trans* Equality. (2017). State of Intersex Organizing (2nd Edition), page 7. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/astraea.production/app/asset/uploads/2017/10/Intersex-REPORT-For-the-Web-updated.pdf
4 Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8. Retrieved from http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8
5 Schlegel, Ryan. (2019). The gig economy continues to hold back the nonprofit sector. National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Retrieved from: https://www.ncrp.org/2019/01/the-gig-economy-continues-to-hold-back-the-nonprofit-sector.html
6 Weldon, S. Laurel & Mala Htun. (2013). Feminist mobilisation and progressive policy change: why governments take action to combat violence against women. Gender & Development, volume 21, no. 2, page 231-247. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13552074.2013.802158
7 Fried, Susana & Leila Hessini. (2017). Social Change and Opportunity Fund (SCOF) Evaluation, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, page 5.
8 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2018). Aid for Civil Society Organisations: Statistics based on DAC Members’ reporting to the Creditor Reporting System database (CRS), 2015-2016. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-topics/Aid-for-Civil-Society-Organisations-2015-2016.pdf
9 Human Rights Funders Network and Foundation Center. (2019). Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking. Retrieved from http://humanrightsfunding.org/populations/lgbtqi/
10 Human Rights Funders Network and Foundation Center. (2019). Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking. Retrieved from http://humanrightsfunding.org/populations/women/
11 Moosa, Zohra & Sunny Daly. (2015). Investing Well in the Right Places: Why Fund Women’s Funds. Mama Cash. Retrieved from https://www.mamacash.org/media/publications/mama_cash-why_womens_funds_feb_2015_final.pdf
12 Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. (2019). Impact 2011-2015. For more information please visit visit www.prospera-inwf.org.
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