Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece is part of a series being provided by Philanthropy Women to help identify and address growing threats to global human rights, particularly for vulnerable groups.
Several weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of my mother’s TV broadcasting the local morning news. “Breaking News! President Trump has reinstated a ban on Transgender troops this morning.” The White House later issued policy guidelines titled, A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out, which would impact 15,000 trans service members.
Trump’s transgender ban is bigger than the right to serve in the U.S. military. It is part of a longer trajectory by right-wing forces aiming to further oppress and denigrate trans people.
The reported number of trans people murdered rises every year. Police departments target, stigmatize and criminalize trans people, especially trans women of color. While protections against discrimination for some communities has increased over the years, housing, transportation and employment laws do not do the same for trans people.
These policies do not just keep trans people out of certain places or institutions, they are acts that sustain a consistently hostile culture toward transgender people.
As funders and allies, we cannot afford to stand in the shadows of these fights. We must elevate our level of boldness to end the growing wave of violence against transgender people. And, to protect our nation’s humanity and dignity, we must center leadership and grassroots organizing in communities directly impacted by transphobia and gender-based violence.
Of the $52 billion awarded each year by U.S. foundations, transgender people see less than 1%. This means that transgender leaders need more resources to build trans power and drive necessary change for greater freedom and justice. This requires that funders and donors prioritize trans issues as they stand on their missions to empower and protect the human rights of all people.
How do we inspire unflinching support for the human rights of transgender people and acknowledge the pain caused by institutions, including the U.S. military? How do we go beyond political statements and mobilize people to action? How do we support trans leaders?
Answers to these questions will not be found in board room meetings among our cisgender colleagues. In fact, a pathway forward, and the strategies to build a world without transphobia, have already been offered by bold trans leaders of color and organizations nationwide.
One of those leaders, Bamby Salcedo, a trans woman of color, founding president and CEO of the Trans Latin@ Coalition, and an advisor to the Liberation Fund, questioned the commitment of supporters who claim they stand with trans communities. In a Facebook response to Trump’s initial ban announcement, Salcedo pointed out that so-called supporters remain silent with regard to backing transgender people on issues, including inclusive legislation, economic justice, barriers in transgender education and academics, and increasing hate crimes and murders of transgender people.
Salcedo is correct – as a funder community we fail to support trans leadership, organizations, and issues at the scale that this work deserves.
Here is what philanthropy can do right now to support transgender justice:
- Fund grassroots organizing of transgender of color communities led by Transgender folks of color. At Groundswell, we have increased the number of trans-led groups on our docket, with plans to continue increasing. We must support the voices of those most affected.
- Invest in trans-friendly and inclusive HR policies, workforce development opportunities, and benefits. Be aggressive in recruitment of transgender people in leadership positions and on organization boards. Discrimination of transgender people contributes to high unemployment rates for this community. Review your hiring process and criteria to allow for different models of leadership to shine.
- Don’t let fear of failure stop you from funding a new group! In philanthropy, we are too tied to “return on investment.” Because funding to trans-led organizing has been so scarce, we have yet to imagine the great success.
With fair and equitable funding and leadership, LGBTQ people of color-led organizations can increase capacity and effectively put anti-transgender policies to rest.
This support translates into concrete policy changes. In Los Angeles, the Trans Latin@ Coalition, which serves as a national leadership development model of transgender people, recently opened the Center for Violence Prevention & Transgender Wellness. Center staff worked with State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to introduce the nation’s first transgender rights training, to combat discrimination and promote greater workforce inclusion for transgender Californians. The training is part of the Transgender Work Opportunity Act (Senate Bill 396). It would require some businesses to train employees on transgender identity, expression and sexual orientation as part of already-required sexual harassment training.
Progressive funders have a duty to support the trans leadership and organizations already giving us a road map. At Groundswell, our mission is to follow the lead of those most affected by these issues, especially concerning resources. Consequently, we must be willing to make mistakes, to take critical feedback, and to grow into stronger partners for trans liberation. Because we believe in the power of grassroots leadership to transform cultural and political landscapes, we take this approach seriously.
Xiomara Corpeño is the Director of Capacity Building for the Groundswell Fund.