By Kris Hermanns, Executive Director
As we celebrate Pride Foundation’s 30th anniversary, I cannot help but reflect on the irony of our current landscape.
Right now, over 70% of the U.S. population lives in a state where it is legal for LGBTQ couples to marry, with the Supreme Court set to make a decision on marriage equality this summer. The shift happened rapidly—seemingly overnight—positively impacting the lives of thousands of people across the country.
Many of us never imagined we would live to see the day we could legally marry in our home communities. As more and more LGBTQ couples are able to publicly commit themselves to the one they love, my heart is filled with a joy and fulfillment that is hard to describe.
Yet even when we make significant advancements toward legal equality, it doesn’t always translate into improvements in people’s daily lived experiences. We see this in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that recently passed in Indiana, which essentially legalizes discrimination. We see it in the devastatingly high murder rates of transgender people, in particular transgender people of color, and we see it in the harassment and discrimination that many in our community face on a daily basis.
In order to understand where our movement for equality is going, it is always important to reflect on our past. That is why Pride Foundation’s 30th year is so meaningful to us—it is an opportunity not only to celebrate our shared history and the leaders who have brought us to this moment, but also to look toward our future and the work that lies ahead.
Pride Foundation is a regional community foundation—based in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington—that inspires giving to expand opportunities and advance full equality for LGBTQ people across the Northwest. Through our grants program, scholarship program, and timely initiatives, we are able to provide the essential support that individuals need to effect change in their local communities.
When we first opened our doors in Seattle, Washington in 1985, we were in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. The fear and stigma that surrounded our community was overwhelming. At the time, the overarching narrative was that society could ignore, even discard LGBTQ people—that our lives weren’t worth saving or worth living.
This difficult reality brought together Pride Foundation’s visionary founders, with the goal of creating a coordinated way for people to invest in a brighter future. It was about our community coming together to dream big and think outside the box—never saying that something can’t be done, or won’t happen. And so, Pride Foundation opened our doors, the first foundation in the Northwest with a focus of supporting LGBTQ people and families.
While a large component of our work in those early years was to address the immediacy of the AIDS crisis, it was also about so much more. It was about directing resources where they were needed and ensuring that everyone in our community knew that their livelihood and well-being mattered. For many of our early grantees, it also marked the first time that an organization received foundation support explicitly because of their work with LGBTQ people and families.
Over the years, Pride Foundation’s work adapted to best support the ever-evolving opportunities and challenges facing our community throughout the region. Looking across the Northwest, it is clear that the lived experiences of LGBTQ individuals and families vary dramatically.
We knew that in order to truly advance a regional movement for equality, it was necessary to have full-time, permanent staff on the ground in each of the states that are a part of our community. That is why five years ago, Pride Foundation made the bold decision to expand our staff throughout the region.
Not only did this help build relationships with local communities, it also ensured that we have a nuanced understanding of the challenges and obstacles facing LGBTQ people in each of the states in which we invest.
Here in Oregon, this allowed us to deepen our grant investments, create stronger coalitions, and expand our connections to rural communities. For example, in Pride Foundation’s recent grant cycle last fall, we increased our investment in the state by more than 50%—awarding over $60,000 in grants to organizations serving Oregon’s LGBTQ communities. Pride Foundation also made one of our largest grants of $10,000 to one of our long-time Oregon grantees, TransActive Gender Center.
We know that our work is contributing to important change in Oregon for organizations like TransActive. At our grantee celebration last year, TransActive’s Executive Director Jenn Burleton recalled that one of the first grants they ever received was from Pride Foundation. She noted that this award was more than just funding for them—it was confirmation that their work was incredibly important.
In the past few years, Pride Foundation has also increased our efforts to support the variety of issues we know are impacting LGBTQ Oregonians. In 2014, we worked with the Safe Roads Campaign to ensure that all people have access to driver cards. In collaboration with Basic Rights Oregon, we collected over 30 endorsements for the ballot measure from LGBTQ and allied organizations. While the measure ultimately did not pass, the coalition building work will have a long-lasting impact on future endeavors.
Through our grants and scholarship programs, Pride Foundation is strengthening our connections in rural communities. Our Regional Development Organizer in Oregon and our team of leaders across the state are on the ground, working to engage communities and develop a statewide network of support. This work led to Pride Foundation hosting an event in Springfield, Oregon last December. It was an opportunity for grantees, supporters, and community members to come together and celebrate the work of our grantees in that part of the state, and have more in-depth conversations with the community about the various issues they were facing.
In all that we do, Pride Foundation is committed to ensuring that the progress we make extends to everyone in our community. That is why we place an additional emphasis on reducing the barriers faced by LGBTQ youth, people of color, transgender people, elders, and those living in rural areas.
For example, from 2008 to 2013, Pride Foundation, with support from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, established a Racial Equity Initiative to address the funding inequities that LGBTQ organizations ran by and for people of color have historically faced and to simultaneously increase their ability to support their communities.
Seven organizations from Oregon, Washington, and Montana that serve people of color were part of the cohort: Asian Pacific Islander Pride (Portland, OR), Entre Hermanos (Seattle, WA), Montana Two Spirit Society (Missoula, MT), Portland Latino Gay Pride (Portland, OR), Trikone-NW (Seattle, WA), Voices Rising (Seattle, WA), and Umatilla Morrow Alternatives (Hermiston, OR).
Over the course of this five-year initiative, we were able to support these organizations in building their infrastructure and leadership, while creating deep and lasting connections and relationships between participants.
Since Pride Foundation was founded three decades ago, our community has made incredible progress. We have gotten to this point because LGBTQ people across our region and the country have insisted on being heard. We have stood up in new and different ways—bravely telling our stories and elevating our shared humanity.
And while we have much to celebrate in this moment, we know that our work is far from done. That is why Pride Foundation will continue responding to the greatest needs in our community, while also working to shape the future of our movement.
We cannot stop hoping, dreaming, working, and building the communities we deserve. Places where students don’t have to fear that they will be bullied by their peers or teachers because of how they dress, or present themselves. Where nobody can be fired from their job, or evicted from their home because of who they are. Where people who need medically-necessary, lifesaving care don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to see a doctor who will treat them with compassion and care. Where nobody has to wonder if they’ll get enough food to eat, or where they will sleep. Where no seniors are forced to go back in the closet for fear of being mistreated.
Safe schools, workplace equality, healthcare access, food and housing security, and elder care—these are the areas that Pride Foundation will continue to invest resources in the coming years. We have the expertise and local knowledge to bridge the gap between recent legal victories and real, lived equality, for everyone in our community. Yet it will take each and every one of us coming together to achieve this. If our 30 year history has shown us anything, it is that we are stronger, better, and more effective together.