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Red Envelope disburses grants for LGBTQ API projects

by Alex Madison

Eli Chi, left, of Hunnies & Hot Sauce, accepted a Red Envelope grant for his project and was joined by his colleagues Dree Lee and Srenilyn Lavarias during a reception February 11 at the GLBT History Museum. Photo: Alex Madison
Eli Chi, left, of Hunnies & Hot Sauce, accepted a Red Envelope grant for his project and was joined by his colleagues Dree Lee and Srenilyn Lavarias during a reception February 11 at the GLBT History Museum. Photo: Alex Madison  

A quote from black lesbian activist Angela Davis was used to open Red Envelope Giving Circle's grant ceremony Sunday, February 11, at the GLBT History Museum in the Castro.

"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept," Trinity Ordona, a founding member of Red Envelope Giving Circle and master of ceremonies for the night, said, quoting Davis.

For six years, Red Envelope Giving Circle has created positive social change in the greater Bay Area through philanthropic support for queer Asian and Pacific Islander people and their communities. Nine grantees were awarded a total of $15,000 to help fund their projects.

Ordona said that the event was a continuation of the resistance to President Donald Trump's administration and that the "fight will continue every day of his presidency."

Although Davis' strong words opened the reception, a joyous night ensued, living up to the ceremony's theme "Celebrating Ourselves." The museum, which currently has an exhibit on Davis, was packed, and the grantees were possibly the most elated.

Spanning across generations and the LGBTQ spectrum, each grantee presented a video showcasing their project and the specific purpose it fills.

"These people are incredibly passionate about the work they do," said Crystal Jang, a Red Envelope founding member. "They are small, community-based organizations who don't have fiscal sponsors. We are giving them seed money to be able to become established resources for our community."

Sammie Ablazawills, a 23-year-old, nonbinary person, accepted a grant on behalf of API Equality of Northern California. The funds will be used to fund a Trans Rights and Empowerment Day, dedicated to providing professional development resources, community support, and education for local transgender and nonconforming API people.

Ablazawills commented on the importance of receiving funding from local API people instead of outside sources.

"The Red Envelope is funding for us, by us," they said. "Often people outside the community don't understand our needs or problems. Being funded by people of our own community means we can give back in a more authentic way that meets the needs of our people."

Another grantee was a group of young API LGBTQ members called Hunnies & Hot Sauce. The small collective focuses on creating a safe, fun space for API queer, trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people in the Bay Area.

Eli Chi represented Hunnies & Hot Sauce and explained what it provides for the community.

"There are not enough spaces for us," said Chi, 30, a Chinese trans man. "A lot of the spaces we had have been gentrified. We want to be able to provide an intentional space where our people can unapologetically be themselves."

Another member of the group, Dree Lee, a queer, Korean-American woman, said the night represented, "a small drop that will create a giant ripple."

A recurring theme throughout the evening was the importance of preserving stories of LGBTQ ancestors. Alice Hom, Ph.D., was given a grant to continue her Historically Queer Digital Project, which includes a podcast and digital recordkeeping of stories of activism of LGBTQ people of color across various social justice movements. Hom inspired the establishment of Red Envelope as a member of the larger philanthropic network, Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, which includes 50 giving circles nationwide.

"There are not a lot of funding opportunities for projects like mine," said Hom in her acceptance speech. "Red Envelope is a beacon of light in our community, especially during these challenging times."

After Hom exited the podium and half the grants were awarded, Amber Field, a local musician and sound healer, performed an Australian aborigine song on the didgeridoo and drums, meant to call upon ancestors to help progress current generations. She then had the crowd on its feet singing along to a song about freedom.

Red Envelope member Alma Beck made a request for funds to help next year's grantees. Beck spoke about Chinese New Year, beginning February 16, and the importance of charitable giving. Within five minutes, $7,500 was raised, along with a $5,000 matching grant from Horizons Foundation.

Cathy Lo, a community member and creative director at Facebook, donated $1,000. She spoke about why she supports Red Envelope.

"This is a very meaningful night," she said. "[Red Envelope] is so generous and is setting an example for the next generation."

Lo said she was inspired by the work of the founding members of Red Envelope years ago and said their work is the reason she was at the event.

Seven founders who raised their own seed money started Red Envelope Giving Circle. Today, the organization is one of only three giving circles out of 50 in Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy that supports API LGBTQ community members. Since its inception, the group has raised about $80,000 for 45 projects in the greater Bay Area.

The night concluded with the final grants being awarded to groups, including: QTViet Cafe, an Oakland-based social enterprise that provides holistic healing through Vietnamese food, tradition, and storytelling; Asian Prisoner Support Committee, which is using the grant to produce "Rooted," a documentary series following the lives of three formerly incarcerated, queer and trans API women; Chinese Progression Association and the Gender Sexuality & Diversities Program's Gender Justice Youth Exchange, a four-day, three-night retreat that will bring together youth from GSD and Khmer Girls in Action; Trikone and Asian & Pacific Islander Queer Women & Transgender Community's Mind Body workshop titled, "Lighten the Burden, Radiate Love;" Queer & Asian at San Jose State University's three-day retreat offering professional development and in-depth LGBTQ learning for people 16 years and older; and Pacifica Center's Reclaiming the Sacred Workshop series celebrating healing through lei making.

Horizons and Gill foundations, and Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, support Red Envelope Giving Circle. For more information, visit


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