Trusting the Experts: Funding Nontraditional Approaches in the Trans Community

During my internship at Pride Foundation this summer, I traveled to Denver to attend the “Money for Our Movements” Conference, which brings together community organizers, funders, and development professionals to explore strategies for sustaining funding for community-based organizations.

Walking into the conference, I had one primary question on my mind: “What do trans and gender non-conforming groups from around the country need in order to overcome the challenges associated with funding their work?”

According to a recent report from the Movement Advancement Project, trans people experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, HIV & AIDS, and physical and sexual violence than do others within the LGBTQ community.

The need is clear: trans and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately impacted by discrimination and heightened barriers to lived equality.

Similar to rural LGBTQ organizations, those working on behalf of and within the trans community are often the only agencies serving an enormous array of needs—and are, more often than not, also understaffed and underfunded.

Oakland, California-based TGI Justice Project (TGIJP)—an organization staffed and led by the population it serves—supports trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. At the conference, I had a chance to sit down with their Executive Director, Janetta Johnson.

Janetta explains that TGIJP supports people through the name change process, provides job training and leadership skills, helps clients obtain health care and mental health services, and writes letters to inmates. And when TGIJP clients are released from incarceration, they receive care packages with items like phone chargers, razors, and grocery store gift cards.

“We support people by showing them how it feels to be cared for. That doesn’t just raise self-esteem—it also relieves some of the anxiety and fear that people have when they’re released, and it provides an alternative to turning to the streets,” she shares.

When discussing common barriers to obtaining funding, Janetta tells me that trans communities and organizations don’t always follow the traditional path of what funders and grantmakers want.

“Ultimately, we’re coming up with our own rules and sharing our needs with others. We haven’t traditionally had that voice,” Janetta remarks.

Organizations led by and serving trans people often look quite different from traditional groups because they take approaches to supporting their community that are novel and essential, like giving money directly to their clients. These non-traditional strategies range from finding housing with friends when clients are released, staffing the organization with people who have non-traditional work histories, to sending commissary money to clients in jail. These strategies are necessary to address the unique experiences of trans people while growing the movement for equality for the trans community. Plus this approach underscores the importance of having people who are most affected at the center of defining the solutions faced by their own communities.

Simply put, they are the experts.

For this reason, Pride Foundation has specifically prioritized building capacity and leadership in trans communities, especially for trans people of color throughout the region. And as result of a generous grant from a national funding partner, Pride Foundation is able to do just that through its new transgender public education campaign through the Washington SAFE Alliance, which advocates for transgender and gender non-conforming Washingtonians’ rights and protections at the state and local level.

By the end of the conference, I had my answer: for lived equality to be a reality for all LGBTQ people, funders must invest in organizations that are led by and serve transgender people, and that take non-traditional approaches to supporting transgender communities.

Cara Romanik is a 2016 Pride Foundation intern.

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