This Trans-Led Fund is Blazing New Trails for Gender Justice

Rye Young, Executive Director, Third Wave Fund

While awareness about gender and racial bias has been growing in nonprofits and foundations, particularly over the past 30 years, the leadership of those organizations has primarily remained white, straight and male. One foundation has been steadily fighting to change that, though, and now, its fight is more important than ever.

Third Wave Fund has been around for over 25 years, and is celebrating its 20-year anniversary as a foundation. The fund was founded by Rebecca Walker, daughter of renowned writer Alice Walker, and Dawn Lundy Martin, Catherine Gund, and Amy Richards, who recognized the extreme underfunding of grassroots feminist activism, and set out to remedy this funding gap.

I was eager to talk to Rye Young, Executive Director of Third Wave Fund, particularly in light of the increasingly hostile climate for transgender people, with President Trump calling for a ban on transgender people in the military. I wanted to know about how funds are being deployed to fight back against the new forms of prejudice and exclusion in the U.S.

Mr. Young has been leading Third Wave Fund since January of 2014, and has been active in the organization since he started as an intern 2008. During that time, he has seen some unthinkable rollbacks for gender and reproductive justice. But Trump’s attempted ban on transgender people in the military hit hard.

“He [Trump] made it clear that he will sacrifice trans lives for political gain,” said Mr. Young, in a recent Youtube video asking for donations to the Flush Transphobia Fund, a fund run by Third Wave that is directing resources to fighting trans discrimination and anti-trans legislation.

Along with responding to the clear and present dangers of the Trump agenda, Third Wave Fund continues its long-term commitment to being the place in philanthropy where women and LGBTQ people are at the center of the conversation.

“A lot of what we do is bridge-building in philanthropy, bringing a racial and economic justice voice, and a gender justice voice, into social justice philanthropy at large,” said Mr. Young, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women.

And yes, that voice is needed. People of color only make up 18% of non-profit staff and 22% of foundation staff, and only hold 13% of top leadership positions. And although women comprise 75% of the nonprofit workforce, they make up only 21% of leadership positions. Bottom line is, even in the most progressive and liberal foundations and nonprofits, leadership does not always reflect the diverse communities being served. 

But at Third Wave, the numbers are quite different. The staff and board of Third Wave Fund is 90% women and 70% people of color.

So, to support nonprofits that reflect the communities they serve, Third Wave has recently launched the Own Our Power Fund and will be announcing their first round of grantees this fall. This fund will make one and two-year capacity-building grants of up to $25,000 for projects that seek to increase self-representation in the nonprofit arena, and bolster the community-driven leadership of the organization. 

Third Wave Fund gives out grants in three basic ways. “We need to respond to crises, but we also need to support the long-term growth of our own infrastructure,” said Young, of the overall strategy of their grantmaking.

“The first is through our rapid response fund, Mobilize Power. That fund gives away grants every month, to address urgent needs that are evolving on the ground,” said Young. He cited one of their grantees, Black Youth Project 100 and its Say Her Name Campaign, which has thrust into public view the little-discuses problem of violence against women and girls of color.

Another powerful example of a Mobilize Power grantee is The Icarus Project, which conducted webinars to support queer and trans femmes of color and suicide support. Young cited this work as an example of how Third Wave Fund supports healing work and helps its own community choose wellness as they are taking on these emotionally challenging, physically draining campaigns. “Four hundred people attended these webinars,” said Young. “That was a sign that healing space is important and helps activists show up and continue to work on these long-term challenges.”

Next is the Own our Own Power Fund, discussed above, which is building the capacity of community-led non-profit organizations.

Finally, there is the Grow Power Fund. The Grow Power Fund gets at the long-term infrastructure-building for non-profits led by young women and LGBTQ youth of color, providing 6-year grants to organizations that are new and emerging. “Far from being a social matter, we believe that women’s and LGBTQ issues are fundamental to how power is organized in his country. We need long-term solutions if we expect to see new progress and lasting change.” said Young, of the underlying reasons that this grantmaking is part of their strategy.

The Immigrant Youth Coalition out of Los Angeles, California, which advocates for immigrant and undocumented trans youth and their families, is an example of a recent Grow Power Fund grantee. Another is Trans Queer Pueblo, in Phoenix, Arizona, which is addressing the needs of trans women of color impacted by detention for immigration issues.

And who are some of the funders of Third Wave Fund? There are about 10 foundation funders.  A review of the Foundation Center’s 990 records turns up several multi-year funders, which include Craig’s List Foundation, Overbrook Foundation, Arcus, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Groundswell, Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation, the Joshua Mailman Foundation and the Overbrook Foundation. For a sense of the size of some of these grants, Arcus gave Third Wave $134,580 in 2015 for its Mobilizing Power Fund. Craig’s List made consecutive $10,000 donations in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Other funders include Morningstar Foundation, which made an $8,000 grant in 2015 for general operating support. In 2011, The Sister Fund, founded by Helen LaKelly Hunt, made a $10,000 grant for general operating support.

Along with receiving foundation support, Third Wave Fund has a long list of individual donors, many of whom give at the major donor level of $1000 or more.

Rye Young gives a candid interview about his transgender status on Tumblr.

Want to know more about Third Wave and its leadership? Check out Third Wave Executive Director Rye Young on being transgender, from MTV’s Look Different Series:

 “To me, being trans means being alive and in touch with who I am. It means contributing to a world in which we can expect to be safe and free no matter what we look like or what our various certificates of birth or plastic cards in our wallets say.

Trans and gender non-conforming people’s private and public lives are often smashed together. What we do to feel comfortable leaving the house can put us at risk with our family, a police officer, our school, our employer, the airport security guard, the cashier checking your I.D. to buy beer and force us out of places we want to go like the gym locker room or the bathroom, and wreak havoc in places we might want to avoid like the juvenile justice system.

Because gender complicates our public lives, trans people with economic and race privilege (such as myself) have it much easier by not depending on social services or by rarely encountering law enforcement. For example, I don’t depend on Medicaid which means I can seek out trans-affirming doctors. For a trans person on Medicaid, there are fewer choices and a higher likelihood of being kicked out of a facility or experiencing bad care. So, while I do experience bias, I also experience the ways that privileged white men are treated better in the United States.”


Third Wave Fund’s Sex Worker Giving Circle Announces First Grantees

Feminism’s Evolution: Helen LaKelly Hunt and Rebecca Walker

Supporting the Resistance: Over 50 Grants for Trans Advocacy

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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