Two years ago , I wrote a blog about how we needed to fund LGBTQI activists and movements differently. At the time, I was shaken by my experience with activists I met in Sri Lanka. I saw activists simultaneously handle the day-to-day fear inherent in their lives, with the hope that the future could be different.
My idea for doing this was simple: people chip money each month, we provide unrestricted grants to youth activists and build a community.
Well, fast forward to 2021 and we’ve made this happen.
We’ve built the foundations
At the end of our second year, we’ve given out $28,335 to activists around the world.
We have 25+ donors and supporters who contribute financially to our shared fund, with a network of 17 activists based across South America, Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and the South Pacific. This Twitter thread has some awesome graphics to celebrate our work. We’ve also sorted out our approach to funding, how we see change happening, and how we make decisions. We don’t share individual stories, but check out these testimonials on our website.
Next year, we’ll have more donors, more money, and more activists in our circle.
And while the money is important – it makes people safer, gives people more opportunities to take action, and promote equality in their communities – we do more than this. We’re building a community of action, rooted in trust and solidarity rather than charity with accountability.
I’m so incredibly proud of what we’ve created.
Community philanthropy is popular
More frequently, what we’ve established is known as a giving circle. This type of citizen and community philanthropy is both increasingly popular and a traditional way of organising. Read more here.
In the USA, giving circles are more established and supported by organisations like Philanthropy Together, the Johnson Center, and the newly-started We Give Summit (focusing specifically on circles). As we think about making our circle more inclusive and scaling our work, seeing the journey of others was essential.
But giving circles are also a traditional way of funding community action. Pooling money to support collective action has long been a model adopted by faith groups, minority communities, workplaces, and in developing countries. People passed a hat around, knocked on doors, and paid their dues.
We’re organising for power
The concept of community organising is making a resurgence since the pandemic. It didn’t go anywhere, but rooting activism in our communities became essential through covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
One member of our circle is adopting a classic organising approach.
Initially, they used the funding to provide emergency humanitarian support through harsh lockdowns (mostly with no financial support from the government). Activists need food, warmth, and medication too.
As they emerged from the initial stage of the pandemic, they used the funding to bring the community back together – playing games, teaching yoga, hanging out together.
Since then, they’ve used the funding to establish a microcredit union for the queer community – similar to that initiated by BRAC in Bangladesh. Now, they’re looking ahead to the next general election and thinking about how to organise for political and legislative change.
This type of activism is overlooked, mostly because mobilising people got a whole lot easier. We’ve also got used to outsourcing our activism to professional campaigners and organisations (who also do great jobs!). Community organising is slower, but it’s deeper and builds the capacity of those involved. This is vital for the LGBTQ+ movement.
Solidarity breeds commitment
People’s trust in me has been humbling. Our model trusts activists, but donors also trust me not to run off with their money.
Throughout the year, donors come together and agree which activists to fund. There are always difficult choices to make. But at the end of these days, donors often reflect how it makes them want to do more. To give more money, time, and energy to what we’re building.
By showing up, individuals gain a deeper connection to our shared cause. Standing in solidarity makes us more invested. It’s an expression of our values in action. It brings hope during a time of global gloom.
We’re not a traditional funder. We know those applying. We’ve spoken to them, met them regularly, and know their stories. When you put a premium on the relationships, it brings people closer together and through the work, it increases our sense of agency and capacity.
We are more powerful.
And next year, we’ll distribute that power further by developing a way for activists to be involved in the decision making too.
But there is a cost to those relationships. When I was in Sri Lanka, on the final day of our training programme, we sat in a circle and reflected on their experience. Many spoke of their fear of returning home.
This year, I felt that fear again.
For those who face a knock on the door by the secret police.
For those that faced harassment and abuse through covid-19 lockdowns.
For those left with no choice but to flee their home countries.
Others are leaving their countries in the hope of a freer life. They’re moving to the EU, the UK, and the USA. Somewhere that they can be themselves.
It would be easier to not know these stories. To live without the worry. To donate by direct debit and not have to deal with the reality. By building meaningful relationships with people, their fears – their lives – become ours.
But when I read an application, check our activist Signal group, or read the impact stories, I’m overwhelmed by their courage. I draw strength from their actions and determination.
And they win, too! We will win. #LoveAlwaysWins.
(But it does need funding).
PS. If you’d like to get involved – as a donor or supports – do get in touch. We’d love to have you involved.