Saturday, November 9, 2013

New HRC Grants to Help Fund LGBTQ Equality Efforts Worldwide

Several groups from the American Religious Right have encouraged homophobia across the globe, to the disgust of LGBTQ rights supporters. For example, the World Congress of Families shares anti-LGBTQ programming at its global summits, networking with counterparts in other countries. The role of Religious Right leaders in fomenting homophobia in Africa is well known, with Uganda serving as but one example. Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report on the Religious Right's anti-LGBTQ work in Belize. Recently, American Religious Right voices have not only applauded and defended Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" bill, but reached out to Russian lawmakers and promulgated myths about gays. Homophobes will not limit their messages to the U.S., and neither should activists for equality.

An American LGBTQ rights organization is playing a larger role in promoting global LGBTQ equality. However, some of the grants for their global initiatives may be a source of controversy soon. What will this mean for LGBTQ equality efforts?

Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ civil rights organization based in Washington D.C., has announced two new projects related to global LGBTQ rights. First, as the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia approach, Human Rights Campaign launched its new "Love Conquers Hate" campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to stand in solidarity with Russia's LGBTQ community, which has suffered under the Russian government's anti-gay policies and homophobic attacks. The Love Conquers Hate campaign includes high-profile participants such as Anthony Bourdain, Fergie, America Ferrera, Ricky Martin, Jonah Hill, and other celebrities. In light of a recent Russian law banning gay "propaganda" aimed at minors, as well as high-profile homophobic attacks in Russia, the "Love Conquers Hate" campaign is timely.

Another HRC project is broader in scope. According to a November 4th statement on the HRC website, the Paul E. Singer Foundation and the Daniel S. Loeb Family Foundation have awarded HRC grants to promote LGBTQ rights worldwide.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities around the world face stigmatization, harassment, violence and blatant human rights violations. To combat these horrific acts and to advance the cause of LGBT justice internationally, The Paul E. Singer Foundation is teaming up with the Daniel S. Loeb Family Foundation to award the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), the education and research arm of United States’ largest LGBT civil rights organization, major grants over three years.

In keeping with HRC’s mission to end discrimination against LGBT people, the grants will help fund efforts to educate Americans on the human rights of LGBT people around the world; provide fellowships at HRC for foreign LGBT advocates; expose the work of prominent anti-gay American organizations that have pushed anti-gay laws and legislation overseas; and leverage its relationships with American policymakers, faith communities, corporations and other change agents to help protect the human rights of LGBT people abroad."

The namesakes of both foundations are hedge fund managers who have longstanding, if controversial reputations. For instance, Daniel Loeb is on the board of trustees for the conservative Manhattan Institute. Paul Singer has funded Republican campaigns and conservative causes, served as chairman of the board for the Manhattan Institute, and operated controversial hedge funds ("vulture funds"). However, both men have solid histories of supporting LGBTQ rights. Loeb signed a 2013 amicus brief supporting freedom to marry on a state basis, as well as a 2011 open letter from New York business leaders advocating marriage equality. Singer, a Giving Pledge philanthropist, has donated millions of dollars to marriage equality efforts. Singer was also a speaker at the 2012 Out on the Street Leadership Summit, a event that promotes LGBTQ equality in the financial community.

Loeb and Singer's contributions to HRC leave me with mixed feelings. Their commitment to LGBTQ rights was never in question, as their donations and public statements demonstrate. The grants their foundations have donated to HRC can do enormous good in the global struggle for LGBTQ equality. However, I'm concerned about their ties to controversial investments and conservative forces. What impact could this have on HRC and its efforts? Could this potentially divide HRC's progressive allies? I don't know.

Justice for sexual minorities will require a global movement, with networking and activism in many corners of the globe. Support for that struggle must also come from different quarters if the LGBTQ rights movement is to have the resources and critical mass it needs. What happens, however, when some of those supporters are controversial? What happens when the different factions supporting a movement don't see eye to eye on their other agendas? Is controversy an unavoidable part of any movement's growth? We need to wrestle with these questions. And since the Religious Right is wasting no time spreading homophobia across the globe, we need to wrestle with these questions soon.

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