Guest Opinion: Pride in the midst of crisis: How giving circles empower LGBTQ+ communities

  • by Kyson Bunthuwong
  • Wednesday September 20, 2023
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Kyson Bunthuwong. Photo: Courtesy Kyson Bunthuwong
Kyson Bunthuwong. Photo: Courtesy Kyson Bunthuwong

Over the years it's been heartening to see public support for LGBTQ+ rights increase considerably. Despite this support, our community is facing an escalating political backlash recently. And while public support and funding has increased, overall philanthropic giving to the community is about a tenth of 1% of all charitable giving.

But the LGBTQ+ community is nothing if not resilient. We are finding innovative ways to support each other, particularly through the rise of giving circles — collectives that pool donations to support issues like-minded people care about. Now more than ever, the LGBTQ+ community and our allies need to harness our collective power to help address the funding gap, break down misconceptions, and create lasting change for the long haul.

Political attacks are happening at all levels of government. More than 400 bills targeting trans people have been introduced at the state level in 2023 already, and the Human Rights Coalition recently issued its first-ever national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. The Supreme Court's conservative majority also recently set a dangerous precedent by ruling in favor of a graphic designer who did not want to create wedding websites for gay couples. These growing legislative attacks show the need not just for robust organizing in the LGBTQ+ community, but for increased giving.

While LGBTQ+ organizations still receive just 0.13% of all charitable giving, new research shows the rate of growth in philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations has been growing. LGBTQ+ organizations saw nearly double the growth in charitable giving of that seen by non-LGBTQ+ organizations from 2015 to 2019.

Queer folks have always been at the margins, but we have found, and continue to find, creative ways to survive and thrive. One way our community and our allies are doing that is through giving circles. This simple but effective mechanism is transforming the landscape of philanthropy as a whole, enabling people to pool resources and collectively decide where to allocate their donations. These circles have the potential to provide a lifeline to grassroots organizations that often struggle to access funding from traditional sources.

Giving circles present an opportunity to change the rhetoric around trustworthy, impactful organizations and ultimately resource and advocate for the work in new ways. By bringing individuals together to discuss, decide, and distribute funds, these circles foster a deeper understanding of issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. They create spaces for dialogue and learning, helping members make informed decisions about how to best allocate their pooled resources.

Such collective actions have profound implications. Take, for instance, the LGBTQ+-Jewish giving circle, KAVOD, which provides funding to initiatives like Sojourn — a grassroots nonprofit that empowers communities to advance and celebrate gender and sexual diversity across the South. KAVOD and groups like them have raised thousands of dollars to fund education programs, support systems and more for LGBTQ+ communities across the country.

Giving circles are not just about financial resources either; they are a collective affirmation of LGBTQ+ identities and rights. They bring visibility to the urgent issues faced by the community and provide an inclusive space for individuals to learn, engage, and take action. What queer and trans people need are not a hand out, but sustained support and resources that enable their self-determination and liberation.

We need to alter the perception that only large-scale donations matter. Every act of generosity, big or small, contributes to the tapestry of change.

Giving circles represent a beacon of hope, exemplifying how collective action can foster resilience, encourage philanthropy, and promote a deeper understanding of the diverse issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. But most importantly, giving circles represent love, in all its forms. At the core of many major movements, and in philanthropy, is the desire to help others, often out of love. In philanthropy that often manifests through financial giving to causes that help others. Love is universal, it unites us, and it passionately fuels us. By coming together as a community, we will continue to elevate each other, to fight for justice, and above all, to boldly celebrate love in all its glorious, defiant forms.

Here's a list of giving circles that support LGBTQ+ issues, or learn how to start your own with the help of Philanthropy Together, the initiative leading the giving circle movement.

Kyson Bunthuwong (ze/zir/he), is a queer person who currently serves as co-chair of Lacuna, a local queer AAPI giving circle that funds grassroots social justice organizations. Ze is a passionate advocate for human-centered design and also a facilitator for strategy, innovation, and outside-the-box problem-solving. Zir consulting practice is focused on helping organizations unlock their creative potential and drive meaningful change through design thinking. Most recently, Kyson led fundraising and strategic partnership work at Philanthropy Together with the North Star of mobilizing more resources to the collective giving movement.

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