Uptick in Funding for Gender Expansive Communities


In recent years, there has been a disturbing surge in hostility towards gender expansive and transgender individuals. What started out in the U.S. as a heated debate over the use of public restrooms has morphed into a sweeping assault on basic liberties and human rights. Transgender children in ten U.S. states now face legal barriers to participating in sports. Trans immigrants in ICE detention centers have been held for long periods, subjected to discrimination and abuse, and denied access to medical care. At the national level, a 2020 rollback of previous Affordable Care Act protections (subsequently reversed by the Biden administration) essentially legalized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in healthcare and health insurance. Even internationally, countries such as Hungary, Romania, and Denmark have made legal moves to restrict discussion of gender-related topics in education. But while these legal measures have sought the social exclusion of gender expansive individuals, there has been an opposite pull in the area of philanthropy, which has made efforts to bring them into the fold and address issues of concern to these populations.

In recent years, funding directed at trans communities has been on the upswing. According to the Funders for LGBT Issues’ 2018 Tracking Report: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Grantmaking by U.S. Foundations (the most recent), foundation and corporate funding directed at U.S. trans communities increased by over a quarter from the prior year, reaching a peak of $28.6 million. This mirrors trends from the 2017 report, which saw a 33% increase from the previous year, and the 2016 report, which recorded a 28% jump.

However, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving widespread support for gender expansive people. Of the total U.S. foundation funding awarded in 2018, just .04 cents per $100 awarded was directed at transgender communities. Not only that, but a mere third of this funding was directed at trans-specific organizations, and just 17% took the form of multi-year support. According to the 2018 report, “Stable, long-term funding commensurate with community needs in this time of heightened crisis, and ongoing violence against transgender women in particular, remains elusive.”

Despite this, recent trends seem to indicate that funding directed at these causes will continue to increase.

First, many funders that have traditionally focused on supporting cisgender women have widened their definition of gender or broadened the scope of their target populations to include gender expansive individuals.

One example of this is the Women’s Studio Workshop, which recently expanded the reach of its grants, internships, and residencies previously directed only at women artists. Their current mission is “to operate and maintain an artists’ workspace that encourages the voice and vision of individual women and trans, intersex, nonbinary, and genderfluid artists.” The funder explains this shift on their website, stating, “We believe that we can honor our core values and address gender equity more fully by explicitly expanding our concept of gender beyond patriarchal frames of reference.”

Another foundation to adopt an inclusive mission is the New York Women’s Foundation, which describes itself as a “platform for women (cis and trans) and non-binary people, and a force for change” with a mission to “create an equitable and just future for all women and girls.” The Foundation’s funding programs support initiatives targeting low-income women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals in the areas of economic justice, anti-violence and safety, and health, sexual rights, and reproductive justice.

Other women’s funders targeting gender expansive individuals include the Washington Women’s Foundation, which supports organizations serving “communities affected by inequity due to race or gender identity” and the Global Fund for Women, which funds gender justice organizations led by historically marginalized communities, including, but not limited to, “cisgender and transgender women and girls,” “gender diverse and nonconforming people,” and “members of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

While these women’s funders are certainly at the forefront in terms of their approach to defining gender and their target populations, this trend is likely to continue into the future.

The second trend to emerge in this area is the establishment of grantmakers with a sole focus on gender expansive populations. In addition to addressing issues of concern to these populations, some of these funders are also working to improve the funding landscape for trans-led organizations.

One such funder is the International Trans Fund (ITF), a participatory grantmaker comprised of trans donors and activists. ITF’s mission is to “mobilize sustainable resources for strong, trans-led movements and collective action, and to address and eliminate funding gaps impacting trans groups across the globe.” ITF’s grant programs seem to be directed at building and nurturing the capacity of trans-led organizations over time. Organizations that have never received a grant from the ITF can apply for a one-year Seed Grant of $10,000 to $25,000; previous grantees can apply to receive $25,000 to $50,000 per year. Both of these grant types include allowances for program and operating support.

The recently established Fund for Trans Generations (FTG), a donor collaborative administered by Borealis Philanthropy, “invests in trans-led organizing to support a future where transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary people live with freedom, safety, and self-determination.” In its informational materials, FTG recognizes that trans-led groups are “grossly underfunded” and makes specific reference to expanding the funds available to these organizations. FTG currently focuses its grantmaking on COVID-19 relief and rapid response support to trans communities at risk of harm the United States.

Another U.S. funder is the Trans Justice Funding Project (TJFP). Supporting grassroots, trans justice groups that “organize around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions,” TJFP awarded grants totaling $1.6 million to 261 grassroots groups in 2020.

In addition to women’s foundations and trans-specific funders, some large grantmakers are increasingly backing efforts to defend the rights of gender expansive individuals. These funders are putting big money on the table to galvanize support in this area.

From 2015 to 2020, the Arcus and NoVo foundations ran the Global Trans Initiative with the aims of enhancing the lives of transgender people and serving as a model for other grantmakers to address the issue of trans rights. Over this five year period, the Initiative exceeded its goal of awarding $20 million in funding, some of which went to the aforementioned trans-specific funders. Areas targeted for support included economic empowerment for trans individuals, raising public understanding of and fostering social change for transgender people, and increasing philanthropic support among other funders for gender identity issues.

Another big funder backing gender expansive populations is the Groundswell Fund, which supports its grantees with multi-year general operating support. By 2025, the Fund plans to award $100 million in support of “grassroots organizing led by women of color and transgender and gender non-conforming people of color.” All of the Fund’s current grantmaking programs include transgender people in their target populations, with the Black Trans Fund being “explicitly for Black transgender, gender non-conforming (TGNC), and gender-expansive communities rooted in the resilience and legacy of Black Trans leaders.”

Similar grants have also been made by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice, which distributed over $4 million in grants last year, and the Collective Future Fund, which awarded $11 million in its first year of grantmaking. Astraea’s Intersex Human Rights Fund awards grants for campaigns by intersex activists while its International Fund includes support for initiatives “addressing oppression based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.” The Collective Future Fund’s grantmaking has supported organizations “working at the forefront of movements to end gender-based violence in all its forms, [that are] led by BIPOC women, queer, transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary and im/migrant survivors of color.” 

Only time will tell if funding targeting gender expansive communities will continue to increase into the future. However, with all of the challenges they face in terms of achieving basic human rights and broader social inclusion, there is no doubt that the funding is sorely needed. The path towards progress will likely be an uphill climb, but as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Action steps you can take today