What are the emerging funding challenges for international LGBTI activists and their donors?

Stephen WoodStephen_Wood200

We are living through a difficult period in the funding and resourcing of LGBTI groups in the Global South. At a time when public appetite for action has arguably never been higher, budgets are increasingly under threat or actively being cut.  I recently returned from a meeting in Berlin organised by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, which sought to strategise around potential ways to square this circle.

The funding environment within international development is shifting fundamentally and may look very different in ten to fifteen years. Spanish aid funding is being cut drastically, with the impact already filtering through to many Latin American LGBT groups who depend upon it to resource their defence against mobilised evangelical political attack.  Donors are increasingly pulling out of South Africa as it is no longer perceived as a poor country, yet unlike some other thematic aid areas, disappearing LGBTIQ funding is not been replaced by local sources.  This is at a time when gender and sexual violence is at a record high in the country and LGBT protections within the Constitution are under sustained political attack.

What was really promising about Berlin was that there were a lot of the right people in the building: European and US Government officials, senior figures from donor and philanthropic organisations, European and North American LGBT campaign organisations and southern LGBTIQ activists who took the opportunity to make everybody grapple with some of the practical and political dilemmas they face when negotiating with the funding mechanisms available to them.

How funding mechanisms can be improved

Even with available funding, priorities need re-examination. The Global Gaze 2010 report from Funders For LGBTQ Issues shows that whilst there has been a modest increase in international funding for LGBTIQ groups, it isn’t reaching trans groups, who receive a paltry 4.6% of the available funds compared to nearly 84% for LGBTI programming, which (whilst not always) often still remains mainly gay male programming with lip-service inclusion of other groups.

The complexity of grant proposal systems are especially difficult to negotiate by the nascent trans movements that are still growing in maturity and there was a real push from trans activists in the meeting for low-threshold funding from donors, to take a calculated gamble to help seed young organisations. I was particularly struck to see that the vast majority of the miniscule trans support originated from North America, with a noticeable lack of commitment from European donors. I suspect some analysis of why this is the case would be fascinating.

Similarly, there was anecdotal evidence from some speakers that funding proposals submitted that focus exclusively on lesbian themes tend to not get funded, also underscored by the Global Gaze report, which reported a scant 2% of funding going to support lesbian programming. Yet when they packaged the same proposals as LGBT, they were more likely to be successful.

Similarly to HIV/AIDS programming, any funding for those groups conducting strategic litigation is generally de-coupled from any complimentary empowerment work that organisations seek to undertake to back up their campaigns. These same legal cases are expensive and take several years to see through, yet donor funding continues to be short-termist. Even when successful, groups find it a struggle to convince donors to continue funding beyond the headline ‘victory’ to monitor the realities of implementation attempts. Paradoxically, in many cases it is at this point that sustained funding is most necessary.

Fresh thinking and challenging orthodoxies

Throughout the meeting, I sensed a commitment from all sides to make the most of this space to tackle these sticking points and to step outside of orthodoxies in thinking.  From several, there was an appetite to invest real energy in nurturing new sources of global leadership from regions such as Latin America which could transform debates around equality with discriminatory states in ways that avoided accusations of renewed Western imperialism. It came across in debates about southern states being creative in the establishment of community-determined endowments for activism that could survive independently of aid support – adaptation instead of continued financial dependency.

Whilst less glamorous, the meeting also wrestled with the difficulties in measuring and mapping the amount of aid funding made available for LGBTIQ issues by Governments and donors and how this data might help multiple donors operating in the same country-context communicate more effectively, make more informed funding decisions and support partner LGBT organisations to develop their longer-term campaign strategies. It is a double-edged sword however, as whilst that transparency could mobilise the public in support of aid budgets under threat, the data would provide a very discernable target for opponents of equality to coalesce around.

Bringing research to the table

On behalf of IDS and our partner organisations, I presented some of the principal findings generated within the Sexuality theme of the Institute’s DFID-funded Accountable Grant, examining the disconnect between sexual minorities and poverty alleviation policies. The findings are outlined in case studies from India, the Philippines and South Africa. The ability of this project to allow organisations to identify a priority issue relevant to their contexts and use the research process and collaboration with IDS to help increase their own evidence base appeared to strike a chord with the audience. Many southern activists identified capacity-building in research methods as essential moving forward. There was support for developing a more robust research agenda for donors based on the needs of LGBTIQ stakeholder groups, as well as an appetite to explore the poverty angle further as a way of conducting different conversations and expanding entry points for interventions.

One example of this was using poverty alleviation as a method of conducting dialogue with faith-based NGOs. In fact, there have already been some interesting developments in this area, with the ARCUS Foundation reporting that their fascinating Global Religions programme has begun supporting pro-LGBT Christian and Muslim faith leaders in Africa and Middle East, amongst other regions. It is an area I’d be keen for the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme to explore further.

Whilst the meeting provided space for a diverse set of actors to step outside of their institutional roles and recognise their common aspirations for social justice for LGBTI communities, it also gave us space to highlight where our priorities differed. As one of the NGO participants summarised “We want to spend more. They want to spend better”.  Ensuring the practical outputs that resulting from this meeting address both of these essential drivers will be crucial to building credibility and good faith on both sides that delivers for LGBTIQ communities on what remains heavily-contested political terrain.

Stephen Wood is a Research Officer on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

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