Philanthropic investment in the transgender community is not commensurate to the threat transgender women of color face

Funding for the transgender community has increased, but so has efforts to roll back protections.

Written by: Nichia McFarlane

Date: June 26, 2019

Rainbow flags blanket the country in the memory and spirit of resistance that sparked the 1969 Stonewall Riots and a national movement for LGBTQ equality.

But in the midst of global celebrations of sexuality and gender diversity, transgender women of color still disproportionately face blatant discrimination, poor health, and economic outcomes and violence that are rarely reported in the mainstream media.

Philanthropic funding for the transgender community has increased exponentially in recent years but it’s not nearly enough to combat the multi-layered marginalization of transgender women of color and Trump-era attempts to roll back the few protections that exist.

Trans women of color exist on the frontlines of the country’s deepest social issues.

This year Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, LGBTQ activist and sex worker remembered as a key player in the events leading up to the Stonewall riots, will be commemorated in New York City in a historic move for the LGBTQ community and gender nonconforming people.

But women who are like Marsha today – Black, low-income and living openly outside the norms of gender and sexuality expression – are still among the most marginalized people in the country.

Transphobia intersects with all other forms of oppression. Transgender people of color experience worse social and economic outcomes than white transgender women and the general population.

Disparities abound for Black transgender women. While 14% of all transgender women live with HIV, 44% of Black transgender women live with HIV.

Discrimination and harassment in the workplace contributes to 38% of Black transgender women experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty compared to 9% of non-transgender Black women.

Navigating multiple systems of oppression takes a toll: A staggering 45% of Black transgender women have reported attempting suicide.

Among the most alarming disparities: Eighty percent of anti-trans homicides are Black transgender women, and, of the 7 transgender women killed in 2019, all were Black transgender women.

The impact on the community is devastating. The average life expectancy of Black transgender women is only 35 years.

Philanthropy’s investment in the transgender community is promising but more needs to be done.

Philanthropic investment in the transgender community has increased from less than $4 million in 2012 to $22 million in 2017, a major step in an equitable direction.

However, only 12% of all LGBTQ funding went to transgender issues, and only 3 cents was donated to the transgender community for every $100 U.S. foundations spent in 2017.

That is simply not enough to curb the Trump administration’s LGBTQ erasure and attacks on transgender rights.

Recent actions to roll back Obama-era protections include:

  • A rule allowing homeless shelters receiving Housing and Urban Development funds to discriminate on the basis of gender expression.
  • A rule published by the Department of Health and Human Services that does not recognize gender identity as a means to sex discrimination.
  • Efforts to narrow legal definitions of gender and sex to weaken federal protection laws against gender discrimination and hate crimes.
  • Eroding protections for transgender students.
  • A transgender ban on military service.

How funders can lead with the transgender community

Funders must be mindful of falling into the rainbow washing of corporations that call for the bare minimum solidarity to appear inclusive but do not extend opportunities or meaningful long-term support to the transgender community.  

Here are 3 steps funders can take to immediately address systemic discrimination towards the transgender community:

1. Invest in community-led organizing, nonprofit advocacy and civic engagement on behalf of Black transgender women.

Most grassroots advocacy groups for the transgender community are small organizations with limited resources.

But being led by and for the transgender community gives them the cultural competency to allocate resources at the community level, where it is needed most, and successfully advocate for gender recognition nationally.

Discover their out of reach priorities and fund them. Support capacity building, long-term operational support and loosen barriers to funding.

2. Encourage transgender and gender nonconforming leadership in schools and health institutions.

The Trump administration’s legislative assault on transgender bodies is being played out in hospitals and in schools.

As protections are rescinded and the definition of gender is under attack, it’s critical that transgender women of color occupy leadership roles in these spaces to hold school and health officials accountable to all students and patients.

3. Support the Equality Act. The U.S House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in May. It would provide sweeping legislative protection on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

This amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would outlaw discrimination of the LGBTQ communities in public and private sectors at the federal level and protect the LGBTQ community under the hate crime statute.

As the Trump administration gears up to fight back in the Senate, find out how you can support efforts to get the bill passed.

Transgender women of color have always existed on the frontlines of LGBTQ liberation. But visibility is not liberation, economic stability, social inclusion or health equity.

As Pride Month comes to a close, let’s not forget to extend the full capacity of our support to the most marginalized in our communities.

Nichia McFarlane is NCRP’s events intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.