Money is power. There’s no denying it. Organizations and individuals shovel money to those with power in efforts to persuade or control what happens in public policy. To ignore this would be foolish. To take advantage of the controversial system would be beneficial. So where is all of our LGBTQ money going?
LGBTQ Coloradans are more likely to experience a broad number of issues related to poverty, including homelessness and food insecurity. But, on the other end of the spectrum, a strong culture of political donations and associated political activism from the gay community has transformed Colorado’s political culture for generations to come.
The culture of political activism among people in the LGBTQ community was born out of necessity. It wasn’t long ago that our community was regularly targeted by state-sanctioned violence and oppression.
Scarlet Bowen, the Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center at the University of Colorado, noted that even though we’ve continually gained support on a social level, and passed a number of bills that push us closer to full equality, we still have a long road ahead of us — and it isn’t going to be pretty. She also stressed the importance of taking care of the queer community as a whole, and that we don’t forget about the most vulnerable of our family.
“Make sure that LGBTQ advocacy groups support reforms to housing, raising minimum wage, immigration reform, affordable childcare, health care, food stamps, access to education, job training programs, and equal employment/access to anti-discrimination laws,” she said.
In all of these areas our community is clamoring for change, but that often costs money. That’s where “queer money” comes in.
Often times, finding out who is funding the grassroots activities of local organizations can be difficult, especially if the organization is newer, smaller, or consists of community organizers taking action of their own volition and contributing their own financial support to continue.
There is a strong culture of political activism in Colorado by the LGBTQ community, and we don’t have to look further than the civil rights protections that were enacted in Colorado at the urging and pressuring of LGBTQ activists and their allies. Though less of an issue today, Colorado has permitted unmarried couples to adopt each other’s children since 2007, and passed civil unions in 2013. Colorado also protects LGBTQ people against discrimination in public accommodations or employment, which are both at least nine years old.
One Colorado is an organization that relies heavily on donations from the LGBTQ and allied community to fund its efforts across the state. Its education fund, which supports efforts ranging from creating the third largest gay-straight alliance network in the country to training educators on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ students and supporting training and networking for youth leaders in Denver, had a 2014 budget of nearly $1.3 million.
Nearly $500,000 of that came from more than 2,395 individual donors. Information for that year on the number of corporate and institutional donors and foundation donors was not available. That means nearly one-third of the budget for the education arm of Colorado’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization came from donors. That is an increase from years past, including 2011, when 661 individuals donated about $116,000 — or 15.5 percent of the fund’s annual budget.
There are a number of LGBTQ political organizations, but one of the most important to the development of LGBTQ political power in Colorado has been the Gill Foundation. Founded by software developer Tim Gill, the Gill Foundation has donated $299 million to LGBTQ nonprofits across the country since its inception, according to the foundation’s website.
In 2015, that amounted to $2.7 million for Colorado programs and initiatives. That funding went to support everything from the State Agencies Project and Federal Agencies Project to community partners in Colorado like One Colorado Education Fund and the Colorado Education Initiative to prepare more students for careers in STEM fields.
There is a respectable amount of money coming into our state to support LGBTQ equality in tangible ways, and there seems to be a steady flow of activists and community organizers working to turn those very important checks into very important initiatives on the ground.
The work being done in the LGBTQ community continues to diversify and change to meet more comprehensive needs in the lives of every day people, especially as we move away from marriage as the sole goal for all of the organizations working with us for our own advancement.
In a political climate in which so many different communities are being attacked by the Administration and by Congressional leadership, it is important to remember the resources and dedicated work that got us all to a place where it became normal to expect that we would be afforded the same rights and privileges as other people in the first place. If we can remember that, and remember that there is an entire network organized – and funded – to support as much good advocacy work as possible, we’ve got that much more of a chance to build on that legacy and build a stronger community.