LGBTI Funding in Context

When we talk about LGBTI funding, what springs to mind?

Director, Neil Pharaoh

In the context of Australia today we hear much about fundraising for marriage equality, and right now the “yes” campaign is the most immediate and visible.  Looking back further into our Australian history we see the rise of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, and a plethora of HIV/AIDS organisations for advocacy, support, treatment and beyond. However, how do we compare to international LGBTI funding? What is our specific context, and how does it differ from the overseas environment?

Let’s start with an understanding as to how little funding goes to LGBTI equality matters generally. And how the small amount that is raised is disproportionately distributed and benefits only a few developed countries.

In 2013 the first major research was undertaken in the US on LGBTI funding. It showed that for every $100 awarded by foundations, only 24 cents went to LGBTI issues. If these numbers sound bad, they get even worse when you note that over 54% of this LGBTI funding came from only three foundations or groups:

  • Arcus Foundation
  • Open Societies
  • the precursor to the Gill Foundation.

When those three groups are removed we have a “context” of 11 cents per $100 being spent on LGBTI causes.

Looking internationally, that 11 cents per dollar raised is even worse when viewed through a number of trends (listed below)- these trends are compounded in the developing world but are replicated in Australia and Western countries.

International trends in LGBTI funding:

HIV Focused History

Many small and medium groups have only received funding for HIV service and programming, or other project-based funding – meaning their basic office and management needs can’t be met, let alone having funds for advocacy or broader LGBTI agendas.

The Middle Effect

This has two meanings in the global funding context.  Firstly, as the domestic “middle effect” it means developed countries like Australia are phasing down HIV/AIDS and other work as infection rates decline and science progresses, so thatthe numbers don’t look “bad”, yet haven’t solved the problem either, so we are squeezed in the middle position from either side. 

In addition, there is the International “middle effect” where middle-income countries are no longer eligible for donor dollars at scale (think South America, China), but civil society has been unable to advocate strongly enough yet to achieve sustainability of government support.

Limited Individual Giving

The most generous areas for charitable giving as a percentage of income in Australia are:

  • Malerny QLD
  • Weston, Ainslie and Kambah in the ACT
  • Brunswick East in VIC

Unfortunately, these numbers are still not high, and are based off average incomes. So the residents of Malerny QLD give over 0.27% of their income to charities, they also have one of the lowest average weekly incomes in Australia of just $650 per week.  

This is compounded further internationally, where the culture of giving is less pronounced. For the average LGBTI community member, asking them what percentage of income they currently donate would be blasphemy, let alone further questioning as to what percentage goes to LGBTI causes, in comparison to the more palatable “arts” philanthropy.

Shrinking Civil Society Space

The typical government cycle in Australia, both State & Federal, is that when Conservatives are returned to political power, they insert what is commonly known as “gag clauses” in all government contracts – in effect banning the recipients from advocating or campaigning. 

Internationally, this is replicated with the growth of “foreign agents” clauses and other restrictions. Between 2012 and 2015 over 90 new laws have been introduced which restrict the rights of civil society members internationally, and this is disproportionally affecting LGBTI groups, who often straddle the illegal/legal divide around sexuality and criminality.

What can we do about this?

All together this paints a pretty grim picture. So the big question is, what can we do about it?

In our own way, The Channel is already starting to create a shift by looking at broader LGBTI funding, non-tied grants, simplification of application processes, and educating and empowering members to go beyond their comfort zone when allocating philanthropy.  

Beyond recruiting your friends and allies to join us at The Channel, you can help by asking your workplace where they currently direct their giving. Does it include LGBTI specific charities?

You can also make the switch personally. While animal welfare is cute, consider whether supporting gender recognition legislation in Georgia, or helping to start the decriminalisation process in Antigua & Barbuda and St Kitts & Nevis may be a more impactful and life-changing use of your philanthropy?  

About Neil Pharaoh,

Neil Pharaoh is one of the Founding Directors of The Channel, Australia first LGBTI giving circle. He was also the national co-chair of Rainbow Labor from 2008-2014, which was the body instrumental in over 200 LGBTI legislative and regulatory reforms in Australia.  Neil ran for State Parliament in Australia in 2014, and after a narrow election loss spent 2015 working in the US on work including international LGBTI advocacy, campaigns and political activities. He tweets at @neilpharaoh and can be followed on Facebook  and Instagram.