FCAA conference offered sober but inspiring path forward for philanthropy to advance health justice

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: January 13, 2017

The Funders Concerned About AIDS conference last month was both inspiring and sobering.

I was encouraged to learn that HIV-related grantmaking grew 10 percent from 2014 to 2015, outpacing overall foundation giving. Long-term investments in syringe access programs have helped reduce the incidence of HIV infections caused by dirty needles from one in three, to one in 10 new infections. Yet the ongoing needs for such support far outstrip the resources available from the Syringe Access Fund.

I was excited to hear the Obama Administration’s first out transgender person to serve as the White House’s LGBT liaison, who convened trans women of color to hear their concerns. On the other hand, I also learned that trans and LGBT immigrants held in detention by Obama’s Immigration Control and Enforcement bureau (ICE) – after fleeing violence and discrimination in their home countries – are reportedly experiencing harsh and unsafe conditions.

For better or worse, HIV and AIDS were under the radar of the major party candidates during the election, escaping the media glare. Yet the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was very much the subject of political debate and will most likely be repealed by the incoming Congress, has enabled at least 90,000 people living with HIV to get health coverage. The ACA forbids insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, a crucial provision not only for people with HIV/AIDS but also for transgender individuals, for whom transitioning has been considered a “pre-existing condition.”

And women are at serious risk if the ACA is repealed and/or Medicaid is targeted for cuts. A speaker reported that currently one in five women receives health coverage through Medicaid. For women of color the proportion is even higher.

It was inspiring to learn that government health programs, hard won by advocacy, combined with innovative foundation-funded nonprofit programs, have helped curb HIV infections and increase access to health care. That this could all unravel in the next few years is dispiriting.

Yet the FCAA conference left me hopeful for several reasons, and I urge others in philanthropy to similarly draw inspiration:

1. Many speakers emphasized the intersectionality of their work and relationships. Even government agencies are coordinating more among themselves. Unity and collaboration will be essential to challenging and weathering any attacks on the health care safety net.

2. HIV/AIDS advocates and funders are clear-eyed, creative and bold. This is a tight knit community that had to fight just to have the very existence of this ravaging disease be acknowledged, that has long demanded government and private sector action but didn’t wait for it to come. As one speaker said, “There is no box” anymore; the new policy environment will require bravely thinking and acting outside the box.

3. Today women of color, trans leaders and marginalized LGBTQ individuals, such as formerly incarcerated, are some of the strongest voices for change. And FCAA is one of the few funder conferences to be so inclusive of these historically disenfranchised constituencies. All of philanthropy will need to partner with and support grassroots leaders to build inclusive, powerful movements that can fight for justice in the coming years.

FCAA has already formed an advocacy network in response to the new political landscape, and its first webinar is on January 30th. What are other affinity groups doing to help their members keep up with policy developments and take action? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter.

Lisa Ranghelli is senior director of assessment and special projects for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Follow her on Twitter and see her and other live tweets of the FCAA conference on Storify.