We live in uncertain times. There are more questions than answers when it comes to securing the advancements we’ve made for LGBTQ equality and further advocating for protections for queer and trans people of color. One organization is ensuring that grassroots groups can continue the work. Founded in 1977, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. ELIXHER recently had the opportunity to interview executive director J. Bob Alotta about their newly launched “Uprising of Love Fund,” the history of the foundation and some of the organizations that they have partnered with.
ELIXHER: Tell us a bit about the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice — the work it supports and its queer women of color roots.
J.Bob Alotta: It’s quite a story: in 1977, a small group of fierce queer women of color gathered around a kitchen table and said, “If there’s going to be a women’s movement that prioritizes the needs of lesbians and women of color, we’re going to have to fund it ourselves.” And that’s what they did.
Today, we’re the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. We exist at the very intersections that are under attack globally and locally: we are multi-gender, multi-ethnic and multi-class, we are lesbian, trans, queer, black, brown and white. Here in the US, 93% of our grantee partners are led by LGBTQ people of color.
And we’ve been supporting this work for 40 years. We shift power to the frontlines of LGBTQI movement building and provide critical strategic resources to LGBTQI social justice organizations around the world. We have a history of sustainably supporting small community-based organizations to grow over time. We’re often among the first—if not the first—funder of innovative, emerging LGBTQI organizations and activists who are fueling powerful grassroots movements across the globe.
Our role is to move resources to where they can make the most change and build the most power. Since our founding, we’ve granted over $31 million across the globe––$3.8m in 2016 alone. We have raised every single penny from folks who, like us, care and are committed to investing in deliberately shifting power.
ELIXHER: As the executive director, what has been your vision for Astraea and how has this vision evolved with the current shifting political landscape?
Alotta: Astraea is one of the best kept secrets in the movement, but I don’t think it serves us––or the folks we serve––to be under the radar any longer. We do incredible work in truly innovative ways and folks should know about us!
We know our communities, especially those of us who are of indigenous and/or of African descent, have been under attack the whole time. This moment is made more urgent by the very real threats to roll back the legal advances we’ve made and our increasingly hostile culture––a culture that not only attacks its people, but the very tenets of a free society to which we were, frankly, all still aspiring toward.
Astraea’s purpose has always been to shift power. Now moreso than ever. Moving money is one of the ways we do that! Wealth redistribution is an act of love and solidarity. As a public foundation, Astraea has both the opportunity and the responsibility of being one of the few mechanisms charged with linking our mobilized public, in tandem with institutional support, directly to the frontlines of LGBTQI activism.
ELIXHER: What issues is Astraea mobilizing around for our community? Why are these a priority? And can you give us an example of an organization you’ve supported doing this type of work?
Alotta: Because we’re living in times of increasing white supremacy, and the mobilizing of right wing nationalist power and backlash, our movements need bolstering on the global and local levels. Here in the United States, our grantee partners are resisting police and state violence, something that we know disproportionately affects LGBTQI migrants and people of color.
Just this week, our Los Angeles grantee partner Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Immigrant Youth Coalition, in coalition with local Latinx organizers, pressured Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to terminate its contract with the Santa Ana City Jail, which is being used as a migrant detention center. This is important because as this administration continues to promote a hateful narrative about migrants raise fears with the increased deportations. Some of the most affected communities are queer and trans migrants, who are already experiencing homo/trans/lesbophobia on top of the increased racism and xenophobia, they’re often held in detention centers where they face high levels of abuse, violence and denial of life-saving health services and legal aid.
Not only do the activists Astraea supports need resources to build physical and political movements; they also need the tools to build digital and movement security, to respond to the increasing threats of racism, transmisogyny, Islamophobia, and xenophobia online and offline.
Audre Lorde once wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” One of our newest grantee partners is The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN). NQTTCN creates space, both online and offline, for queer, gender non-conforming and trans therapists of color to build, resource and support one another as clinicians and healers, while prioritizing the needs and vision for healing in these communities in an effort to address the isolation and oppression they experience. Queer folks of color have historically had less access to all kinds of services, including mental health support. This network is a response to the queer and trans people of color movement’s desire to center healing rooted in social justice and liberation, specially during the current political moment. NQTTCN is a newly established grassroots organization that has never received funding before, so we were really excited to be their first funder. The network includes 150 therapists.
ELIXHER: Tell us about Astraea’s new Uprising of Love Fund.
J.Bob Alotta: Our new Uprising of Love Fund was launched on Valentine’s Day this year as a response to the increased harm and hate we’re facing under this administration. These past few weeks we have marched; we have gathered, chanted, protested and loved each other, fiercely. We have borne witness to violent and oppressive executive orders intended to roll back our rights, silence, detain, police, criminalize, and demoralize us. Yet there is great hope in the collective uprising we are witnessing right now — folks across the country and around the globe are standing in solidarity and in courage, becoming and staying woke in this new political reality. It’s breathtaking!
The Uprising of Love Fund is a way for everyone to be involved and to help fuel, sustain and amplify the resistance of LGBTQI activists, who are fighting threats to our equality. Every dollar counts. If you want to support the resistance and fight for LGBTQI rights, but don’t know who or how or where to get involved, this is how. We shift the resources to the frontlines – to where it is most needed and least resourced. This work is urgent and strategic – activists must be supported to respond immediately and to seize opportunities, and they must also have access to long-term, dependable support, because ending persecution will not happen overnight. They need your support now more than ever.
ELIXHER: More recent mantras and messaging for activism have centered on resistance and disruption of oppressive systems. Why the focus on “love”? How can love serve us in this polarizing, uncertain and, quite frankly, scary time?
Alotta: We are a country that was built on the backs and bloodshed of Native people and enslaved Africans. While our history books continue to erase this reality by minimizing the brutal effects of democracy-built-on-slavery, we know better. Standing in this truth and owning it, means loving truth, however horrific, however contradictory. We must not only heal as a nation but design a future and governance that needn’t strip any of us of our humanity or equality in order to continually veil us from the truth. What will make it possible? It will not be any policy that requires the ugliness of race hatred, an extreme wealth gap, turning corporations into people, or legalizing some of our bodies while criminalizing others.
The only thing that will allow us to make this critical course correction as a nation is love. Love as resistance, love as actionable honesty. In order for us to succeed, we must be able to stand together in our differences, learn from each other, build trust, and synchronize strategies. Practicing these components of love, is the only way we will ensure the best outcome for this democratic experiment we call the United States. .
We have seen millions marching in the streets, in solidarity, in courage, in love – on the move towards justice. We must collectively take advantage of this moment: realize who we are and what our purpose is. Together, we must come together to galvanize our movements. That is what love as resistance looks like.
To learn more about the Astraea Foundation and how to donate to the “Uprising of Love Fund,” visit their website www.astraeafoundation.org.