March 18, 2021 at 11:05 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Efforts to pass federal LGBTQ protections boosted with $6.5 million donation
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) speaks at a news conference for the Equality Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Efforts to pass a measure expanding the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people under federal law have gotten a big boost with a nearly $6.5 million donation from a coalition of non-profits for an education campaign, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

The San Francisco-based Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund coordinated the grants, which seek to duplicate the success of the movement that achieved same-sex marriage nationwide to enact federal non-discrimination protections this year.

The contributions are intended “to educate the public and policymakers about the need for a federal response to anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” according to a statement.

“It’s long past time for the federal government to respond to the profound harms caused by pervasive discrimination against LGBT people,” Cathy Cha, CEO of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund said in a statement.

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund for more than two decades has been at the forefront of supporting LGBTQ rights, including non-discrimination protections. It was the first foundation to embrace same-sex marriage as a priority and contributed more than $39 million to the marriage equality movement, according to a statement.

Other groups that have contributed to the $6.5 million in donations are the Gill Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Horizons Foundation, the Overbrook Foundation, the Pride Foundation and other philanthropic institutions. The contribution builds on the $1 million the Gill Foundation gave in support at the start of this year.

Scott Miller, co-chair of the Gill Foundation, said in a statement “the funders and advocates who helped win the right to marry for LGBTQ people have joined forces again and expanded our coalition in pursuit of equality for all Americans.”

“This alliance speaks to the unprecedented opportunity – and the long overdue need – to make sure everyone in this country is equal under the law,” Miller added.

The donations are announced as LGBTQ rights supporters are seeking to pass the Equality Act in Congress. The measure has cleared the House, but faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, where 10 Republicans would be needed to overcome a filibuster.

The contributions, however, aren’t directed at passing the Equality Act per se because the contributors are 501(c)3 tax-exempt foundations and are unable to endorse any particular piece of legislation. The campaign is more generally geared toward supporting a solution for non-discrimination protections at the federal level.

Groups specifically seeking to pass the Equality Act, however, praised the $6.5 million as a welcome addition to the effort.

Kasey Suffredini, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement the LGBTQ community is “closer than it has ever been to completing its nearly 50-year pursuit of nationwide nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ people.”

“Since the first federal non-discrimination measure was introduced in Congress in 1974, the generous contributions of foundations and major donors have powered our ability to show our fellow Americans who we are and challenges we face, opening hearts and changing minds in the process,” Suffredini said. “With a very short window to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity, we are grateful again to these philanthropists for rising to the moment to carry our community over the finish line.”

In terms of where the money is going exactly, one-third of the Fund’s grants have been made to national organizations, including $800,000 to Freedom for All Americans Education Fund. 

Additionally, money will go toward “empowering constituents to have conversations with lawmakers in more than 12 states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas,” according to a statement. State groups are seen as key in the effort to convince moderate senators to support an LGBTQ non-discrimination measure.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser of the American Unity Fund, echoed the praise for the donations. In addition to supporting the Equality Act, his organization is pushing for the Fairness for All Act, the Republican compromise measure for LGBTQ rights and religious freedom.

“This is the best moment we’ve ever had to win full freedom for LGBTQ Americans, and we can win as long as we come together with allies all across the political spectrum and respectfully address everyone’s reasonable concerns,” Deaton said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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