The year I was born, 1963, being gay was officially deemed a mental illness by the medical establishment. Same-sex relationships were illegal in every state, save Illinois. The federal government maintained a policy that prohibited the hiring of "known perverts,” then referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans.
Social change transpires at a blistering pace, in both promising and discouraging trajectories. After growing up in isolation in South Dakota and cutting my teeth decades ago as an LGBTQ human rights activist, I’m gob-smacked and elated by today’s Supreme Court decision.
While we wait with great hope for a positive outcome on nationwide marriage equality from the U.S. Supreme Court, we in philanthropy must recognize that when it comes to LGBTQ rights, one favorable court decision or one great television season are not going to address the lingering problems of discrimination, health disparities, poverty, and homelessness that LGBTQ people face.
Americans donated an estimated $335 billion to charitable causes, and foundations an estimated $50 billion in 2013 according to Giving USA. These numbers validate President John F. Kennedy’s notion that philanthropy is “a jewel of an American tradition.”
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There are currently an estimated 1.5 million LGBTQ seniors in the U.S., and by 2030 that number is expected to more than double to 4 million. As the first generation of “out,” self-identified LGBTQ people reaches retirement age, it’s remarkable to think of what they’ve been through. Any LGBTQ person 65 or older was born at a time consensual same-sex activity was illegal in all 50 states. Prior to 1973, their same-sex attraction was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. They have lived through the Stonewall Riots, the AIDS epidemic, and waves of anti-gay violence and discrimination. They have also seen a transformation in the treatment of LGBTQ individuals and significant advances towards legal equality. The recent Supreme Court Decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act means that for the first time, same-sex partners can apply for federal benefits in states that offer marriage equality.
As I write this, my partner and I about to leave for Borough Hall to get our marriage license. The Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 went largely as expected, yet I still found myself shocked and overwhelmed with joy that, for the first time in my life, I am able to marry the man I love with the full recognition of the law. No more “skim milk” marriages — now we have the real thing.
I recently received a call from a researcher on a new project. As I understood it, a prominent U.S. foundation had asked them to study how domestic donors deal with gender issues. They were to identify funders with a specific commitment to the gender lens in their funding priorities, and then document how these funders tracked the implementation of the gender analysis through grantmaking and programs.