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UPDATED: Nation’s largest LGBT funder changing its focus?

Advocates worry ‘ATM is closed’ at Arcus Foundation

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Jon Stryker, gay news, gay politics dc

The Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker, is the top LGBT-specific funder of grants, giving away $58.4 million to LGBT causes from 2007-2010.

UPDATE: We learned Friday after publishing this story that Arcus founder Jon Stryker had committed $200,000 to the campaign against North Carolina’s Amendment One late last week.

While most LGBT people have probably never heard of the Arcus Foundation, it has touched many of their lives.

The nation’s largest grant-maker to LGBT causes, Arcus delivers money to a range of non-profit groups advocating for LGBT rights and health.

But recent changes at Arcus have some advocates quietly worrying about the future of those programs.

Arcus CEO Yvette Burton departed April 3 amid rumors she was fired by the board. Burton, a former market development research director at IBM, took the helm of Arcus in January 2011 not long after the departure of longtime activist Urvashi Vaid, who spent five years running the foundation.

“Yvette’s departure was a termination,” said a source with knowledge of the situation at Arcus who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source added that Burton’s efforts to “clean house” at Arcus ruffled feathers throughout the organization.

Burton did not respond to several requests for comment.

An Arcus official told the Blade that the foundation’s work continues but the organization would not comment specifically on Burton’s departure.

“The Foundation’s commitment to its mission is longstanding,” Bryan Simmons, vice president of communications at Arcus, told the Blade. “Our strategies will continue to support that mission regardless of any change in leadership.”

Other changes at Arcus were evident before Burton’s departure. The organization’s board of directors had purportedly initiated a new strategic planning process to reassess programming and giving priorities, according to the source. Many organizations were reportedly told that they would not be guaranteed funding beyond 2012, and some ties were severed altogether.

“‘You’ll have to qualify under our new guidelines,’” the source paraphrased the message from Arcus to some of its LGBT grant recipients. “Subtext: ‘You’ll probably not be getting funding moving forward.’”

In addition, several sources also contend the organization’s founder, billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker, may have ceased personally giving to political campaigns and 501(c)4 organizations, however after this article was originally published, the organizers of the campaign to stop Amendment One in North Carolina revealed that Stryker had wired the campaign $200,000 Friday. Stryker could not be reached for comment.

“Is this a prep to exit the LGBT space altogether? Possibly,” the source said. “Was [Burton] a disaster? Possibly.”

Another knowledgeable source noted the turnover at Arcus’ main office in Kalamazoo, Mich., and said that Stryker has had a change of heart regarding his philanthropic priorities.

Some activists unaffiliated with grantee organizations have attempted to sound the alarm.

“Any change at any funder in the LGBT movement is pretty big for any orgs they fund,” said Kalpana Krishnamurphy, director of the Race and Gender Justice Program at the Western States Center, an immigration-focused organization. “Changes in leadership bring new priorities and new focuses for the work.”

Though Arcus has no direct programming of its own, more than $58.4 million in Arcus grants went to small programs and organizations doing LGBT-related work between 2007-2010, making it the largest grant maker to LGBT causes.

“Hearing from organizations in different areas — men who have sex with men [support organizations], HIV-specific projects, younger gay men of color — hearing that organizations have not been getting funded or getting the cold shoulder, is not the worst kept secret in the world,” another prominent LGBT activist told the Blade on condition of anonymity. “The ATM is closed.”

Sources familiar with Arcus said that Burton took seriously her mission to transform the way the Foundation operated and made many staffing changes quickly. One source said that Burton sought to increase grantee accountability and professionalize the organization. The staffing changes, however, may have led to a revolt by some in the organization. Vaid, who ran Arcus for five years, did not respond to emailed interview requests.

Despite the upheaval, other leaders that rely on Arcus dismissed concerns about a shift in focus and expressed confidence in the foundation’s commitment to LGBT causes.

“With Arcus and, actually, all the LGBT funders, they’ve been consistent with their funding over a number of years, and to us and I’m sure to other organizations, that’s extremely important,” said Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at UCLA, which receives funding from Arcus for its research in the field of LGBT workplace issues. “When you’re hiring people, and you want them to have a job now and in the future, it’s great to have both funding for multiple years, and funding that is at least somewhat more flexible for general operating.”

The Arcus Foundation’s reach is broad. The organization has contributed to everything from the Gill Foundation, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Transgender Law Center to AIDS and HIV research, small LGBT-welcoming churches, LGBT religious advocacy groups and non-LGBT organizations that develop programming targeting LGBT people of color or other underrepresented groups within the LGBT community.

“We are not an LGBT organization — we are an organization being funded by Arcus because of the work we’re doing to bridge racial justice and LGBT justice,” Krishnamurphy said. “Arcus’s funding in this area [is really] crucial.”

“We wouldn’t have been able to have our GLBT program at all,” said Akaya Windwood, president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, about Arcus’s contributions. “It made it possible for us to have a robust LGBT program that focuses a lot on communities of color, underrepresented communities within the movement, and rural.”

According to the most recent available IRS forms from 2010, the organization’s total assets were just short of $180 million, most of that being in investments, rather than cash on hand.

The largest single contributor was the organization’s founder, Stryker who gave $30,790,736. The contribution was made in 583,600 shares of Stryker Medical stock. Along with savings and securities interest and dividends, as well as assets on sales of several million dollars worth of assets, the Stryker money made the biggest chunk of the organization’s nearly $50 million in revenue for 2010.

Meanwhile, after expenses and new investments, Arcus contributed $27 million to various LGBT-focused and conservation programs throughout the world in 2010, which — when compared to the Gill Foundation’s nearly $12 million in disbursements that same year — makes Arcus the biggest funder of LGBT programs in the world.

“General operating support from any foundation is really critical for LGBT organizations,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. “There are still too few funders throughout the United States that are supporting LGBT equality and that can make it very difficult for organizations of any size to really work in scale to create change for our community. Arcus has been really important to us and I hope that they continue to be important to our work for years to come.”

Hundreds of LGBT-focused programs at non-profits throughout the nation might not exist if not for Arcus.

“We’re extremely thankful,” said Troy Plummer, executive director of Reconciling Ministries — a group that pushes for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church — explaining that the multi-year grants from Arcus for general operations helped the organization expand programs within the denomination.

“We have been able to consider projects that we would have never considered before the funding from the Arcus Foundation,” Plummer said. “And they were intentionally strategic in wanting to build capacity of our organization, and that was very helpful, and it continues to be helpful in doing so.“

Arcus’s focus on intersectional work — especially in regard to race, religion and age groups — is considered vital for organizations outside what many consider the marriage-focused mainstream of the LGBT movement.

“We’ve observed some drift in traditional funders in amount or percentage allocation toward ‘marriage equality efforts,” said Cindi Love, executive director of SoulForce, whose Equality Ride targeting anti-gay policies at private colleges has been partially funded by an Arcus grant for several years. “Arcus has absolutely from the first day been one of the strongest supporters of the ride because of its emphasis on the development of the next generation of leaders within our movement.”

Amid the nervousness, optimism still springs from the LGBT leaders that continue to rely on Arcus.

“I feel like Arcus has really taken care with their grantees so that they’re able to build and take action when they need to, so shifts in that funding are clearly important to all the grant receivers,” Plummer told the Blade. “I appreciate Arcus rethinking their strategic visioning, and what they want to do to make an impact on a large scale,” saying that he was impressed with the result of the last iteration of the foundation’s strategic plan.

“I don’t know yet whether or not we’re part of that plan,” he added.

“I know that they’re undergoing some strategic planning, and that Arcus has gone through quite a bit of transition, so, we’re all out here cheering them on, and hoping that they get to a really solid place,” said Windwood. “If Arcus thrives then that means that other organizations thrive.”

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National

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Rainbow History Project launches Trans History Initiative

$15,000 D.C. government grant funded project

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project announced it has launched a new project called the Trans History Initiative “to better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into RHP’s existing programming.”

In a statement announcing the new initiative, the LGBTQ history group says it has been awarded a $15,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to fund the project.

“The Trans History Initiative will help RHP deepen its connections with the Trans community through expanded efforts to preserve the history and cultural contributions of Washington-area trans communities,” the statement says. “The Initiative was developed with RHP’s trans members, trans community pioneers and trans board members,” it says.

The statement says the grant will enable Rainbow History Project to hire one or more coordinators to “build on four exiting RHP programs: collecting oral histories; preserving archival documents; tracking timelines and historic places; and hosting public education panels.”

According to the statement, the new trans initiative is in keeping with Rainbow History Project’s long-standing mission.

“Since its founding in 2000, RHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and promote an active knowledge of the history, arts and culture of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ communities,” the statement says. “RHP strives to ensure that its collection, volunteer corps and programming reflect and represent the full diversity of those communities.”

The statement also points out that due to longstanding bias and discrimination faced by transgender people it has been difficult to obtain information about their lives and accomplishments.

“Unfortunately, many trans people often left behind little record of their lives — and personal histories that do exist are often scrubbed of an individual’s trans identity by society or even their own families,” said Jeffrey Donahoe, RHP’s director of oral history.

“This revisionism, both unintentional and intentional, makes it difficult for the broader community to understand and empathize with the struggles and successes of the Trans community,” Donahoe said in the statement.

“The Trans History Initiative will counter this revisionism by giving another platform for trans people to tell their stories to the broader public,” he said. “We need to ensure that trans narratives are not lost to the ravages of time but preserved as part of the historical record.”

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State Department

U.S. diplomat says negotiations to release Brittney Griner have stalled

WNBA star remains in Russian penal colony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status. “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the U.S. Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines — a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by ‘serious response’ from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels … What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.”

“By ‘serious answer’ do you mean consent?” RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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