After a gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens more in a horrific act of hate at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, many people are asking what they can do in response to this terrorism. For wealthy donors and foundations, there are two imperatives: Fund the ongoing struggle for the safety, health and full social inclusion of LGBTQ people, and bankroll a movement for sensible gun laws that can counter the outsized influence of the National Rifle Association and its funding base of gun manufacturers.
The attack in Orlando was an act of malice directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Throughout U.S. history, when a group of formerly marginalized people have begun to achieve fuller social inclusion, there has typically been a violent backlash against their progress: Lynching of African Americans increased dramatically in the South after emancipation. Attacks on abortion providers have increased apace with legal access to reproductive health. With the recent progress of the LGBTQ rights movement, we can expect violent acts against LGBTQ communities to continue and possibly escalate. This was not the only reported act of terrorism targeting LGBTQ people in the U.S. this month.
Now is not the time for donors to abandon this community. Only 0.28 percent of the $54 billion in grants given out annually by U.S. foundations goes to explicitly benefit LGBTQ communities, according to one recent study by Funders for LGBTQ Issues. Without the leadership of the Gill, Arcus, Ford, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. and Open Society Foundations, those figures would be even worse.
Troublingly, after a victory at the Supreme Court in 2015, some donors have hung out a "mission accomplished" banner and have moved on to other causes. Nothing could be more dangerous.
Foundations and wealthy donors played a vital role in helping the LGBTQ rights movement get to where it is today, and they must double down on their support. Funding for marriage equality and anti-discrimination legislation is crucial, but the basic safety of some LGBTQ people across the country is still at risk. As cisgender gay and lesbian Americans have been increasingly embraced by the mainstream, the health and safety of trans people has unfortunately been made a political football. As white and wealthy LGBTQ people are given space to thrive, queer people of color and poor LGBTQ people feel the brunt of violence and inequity.
The intolerance that motivated this latest attack must be addressed, and we also cannot ignore the means that made it possible: Gunman Omar Mateen carried out the deadliest shooting in U.S. history using an assault rifle. That such weapons are still legally available in the U.S. is due to the enduring power of the National Rifle Association, which is significantly supported by gun manufacturers.
A few visionary foundations and wealthy donors have begun funding a mass movement to combat the NRA's power. In 2014, Michael Bloomberg provided $50 million to bankroll Everytown for Gun Safety and other organizations that promote sensible gun control. Bloomberg has also backed candidates who support sensible gun laws and opposed candidates who do not. The Joyce Foundation, based in Chicago and on whose board of directors President Obama once served, has been another significant investor in this movement.
Yet funding for sensible gun laws is not nearly sufficient to counter the power of the NRA, whose annual budget is almost $300 million. By comparison, total foundation funding for gun control is approximately $8 million per year on average.
Imagine the potential of a well-funded, coordinated effort that leverages the existing momentum, leadership and political power of the LGBTQ movement with a push for sensible gun control. If donors step up now, they can capitalize on LGBTQ communities' organizational might to accelerate change to our dangerous gun policies.
Empowering LGBTQ communities - keeping them safe and giving them a platform to demand respect and humanity - will be difficult even in the wake of marquee victories, but it can happen. Beating the NRA will not be easy, but it can be done if we invest in building people power among all those who have been impacted by gun violence. Which foundations and wealthy donors will step up to the plate to give these movements the resources they need to compete and win?
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), the nation's only independent watchdog of foundations. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.