As we mark International Transgender Day of Visibility, contributor Désirée Nore Duchesne shares some practical tools for funders who want to support the liberation of gender-diverse people and make our society more equitable, starting with strategic planning and making access to funds a priority.
To include the diversity of gender experiences, this article uses the terms “gender diversity” and “gender-diverse people” – an umbrella term to talk about trans, transvestite, transfeminine, transmasculine, gender non-conforming, non-binary, two-spirit, and other pre-colonial gender identities across the globe.
These last 10 years have seen many legal improvements for gender-diverse people around the world. Gender-diverse people have become more and more visible. But we have experienced visibility as a double-edged sword: only some gender-diverse people are visible, often those who are most privileged. They cannot be expected to adequately represent our gender-diverse communities at large who are still mostly marginalized and poor. Visibility has also created a false perception of gender diversity as a “trend” and has had a negative impact on the safety of many gender-diverse Black, Indigenous and racialized people and marginalized transmisogyny-affected people. (Transmisogyny is hatred of or prejudice against trans women.)
On an organizational and systemic level, these improvements have not brought major change in Canada or in any other country. Governments have yet to develop services sensitive to gender-diverse people, creating systemic pressure on the underfunded, underpaid non-profit sector. As we mark International Transgender Day of Visibility, let’s shift our focus to the majority of gender-diverse folks, those who are surely finding joy in affirming themselves but struggle to find safety and stability. Let’s discuss what funders can do to support the liberation of gender-diverse people and make our society more equitable.
Governments have yet to develop services sensitive to gender-diverse people, creating systemic pressure on the underfunded, underpaid non-profit sector.
Following the community-centric-fundraising (CCF) principles developed and led by fundraisers of colour, this article highlights some practical tools funders and community leaders can use to better support gender-diverse people. It looks first at two easy internal shifts: strategic planning and making access to funds a priority. It then addresses how funders can effect societal change, with accountability processes that can be incorporated into their close networks and with research processes that will entrench gender-diversity knowledge and wisdom.
A) Centre gender diversity in your strategic planning
Funders need to intentionally integrate gender-diverse people into their strategic planning and processes. Many gender-diverse people are members of marginalized communities within marginalized communities. Our needs and issues are often disregarded in other movements for political, economic, and social empowerment. We are often at the intersection of different oppressions that cannot fit in one easily generalized experience, which makes it even more difficult to create a one-size-fits-all program. Most LGBTQ2SI organizations try their best to support us, but so few community organizations have the capacity to engage with the concrete realities of this diversity. Keeping it simple sometimes is the way to go.
From issue-specific to community changes
Let’s imagine an average-sized city that has many shelters. As a funder with some resources in this city that cares about this issue, you also know that gender-diverse people have difficulty accessing shelter, in particular in your town. How can you address that? Find leaders in the communities and support their efforts to create workshops and places that centre them, and be with them when the difficulties are faced. If that is unclear to you, ask some community leaders how to learn about the challenges they face: build trust, and find ways to connect so they can tell you their needs.
When you are planning gender-diverse inclusion, you will realize that many specific groups and issues in gender-diverse communities need to be prioritized. Opportunities to support and be led by two-spirit, gender-diverse Indigenous people or trans women of colour should be prioritized.
B) Make access to funding a priority
Fund gender-diverse initiatives from where they are, not where you want them to be. Many gender-diverse initiatives still are not engaged with the state, institutions, private donors, or foundations: we are professionals of making wonders with nothing. You need to help us structure our initiatives, give us the tips to build a sustainable work environment, and keep us in the loop.
Fund gender-diverse initiatives from where they are, not where you want them to be.
Most gender-diverse people do not have access to the non-profit vernacular and mindset, nor to the important networks that cis people maintain around themselves (“cis” is short for “cisgender” – someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth). Creating accessible grants for collective, organizational, and entrepreneurial purposes is one path that many funders have taken in the last few years in Canada, the latest being the Transcend Impact Challenge, led by the Sonor Foundation. Providing easy access to funds should also mean creating long-term, as we have seen in Argentina. Micro-grants should also not just mean small funds: gender-diverse initiatives have not been funded for centuries – it is time to invest in them seriously and with confidence.
C) Effect change by incorporating accountability processes
As a funder, you need to ask for accountability from the organizations you give funds to but also in your organizational environment. In the last few years, we have seen more and more funding for LGBTQ2SI non-profits and organizations. On a surface level, that’s great. But most of these organizations, even LGB(T)Q2SI organizations, do not have gender-diverse leadership or sustainable programming. When they do, their budget is seen through a scarcity mindset, which creates more division and short-term opportunities for community-building and empowerment. In the end, a scarcity mindset benefits the most privileged of our communities, meaning “the best suited” wins it all.
Gender-diversity issues have their roots in systemic barriers and oppressions, which results in many concrete issues that touch all spheres of society.
How can we change that? One way is to ask for accountability and engage in difficult conversations to centre two-spirit, gender-diverse, trans, and non-binary communities. Gender-diversity issues have their roots in systemic barriers and oppressions, which results in many concrete issues that touch all spheres of society. If we still need organizations by and for us, it’s mostly because we are not heard and seen in larger public organizations. While grassroots, “by and for” organizations are often the best to answer and create support for our communities, we shouldn’t forget that larger organizations and institutions need to practise politics of care and can actually support us with the proper leadership. A well-thought-out organizational plan should take into consideration its impacts on the organization’s environment.
From organizational to community changes
While working with community leaders to create a support system to fight homelessness and precarity, you start growing in the mid-term a circle of safe shelters. You find well-intentioned non-profits and develop community practices together. Some women-centred organizations will be revealed as community leaders to centre trans and gender-diverse people in their programs and workforces. Creating bridges and prioritizing them in your work (and with your money) will have a benefit on the shelter ecosystem. Finding strategies to foresee the evolution of the recalcitrant organizations in your ecosystem should also be addressed in your accountability strategy and be based on transformative justice.
As members of small marginalized communities, gender-diverse people should not be the only ones who advocate for gender-diversity inclusion: institutions and organizations need to provide pathways for the most marginalized of our communities to access their support and be empowered through them.
D) Effect change by fostering research and knowledge
Think of knowledge as a tool and power to foster with our communities. When we are applying for funding or advocating to funders, we still often have to prove the needs of a community. While practices of impact-oriented funding are important, we cannot require empirical studies or data from communities that have few research opportunities. We are still waiting to see what gender-diverse researchers, with concrete funding and organizations, might create and do for the world and our communities. Most research groups on gender diversity are cis-led, with gender-diverse people only lower in the hierarchy. As for other marginalized groups, there is a long history of medicalization (“trans medicalization” is the embedding of trans realities within the medical model, where “cisness” is seen as the healthy and norm) and stigmatization against gender-diverse people in academic institutions.
We are still waiting to see what gender-diverse researchers, with concrete funding and organizations, might create and do for the world and our communities.
Don’t wait to find the “perfect recipe” or the right empirical data to empower us. As a small community facing much discrimination, gender-diverse people should be the ones listened to about how systemic problems influence our daily lives. By learning from marginalized gender-diverse people, especially transfeminine people, who are the most left outside of funded research groups, you will notice that grassroot leaders are already making this practical knowledge for and within our own communities. Learning with us, you will see that our direct knowledge sometimes can’t be translated in peer-reviewed articles and that our history isn’t seen as linear or progressive, since our realities change so quickly with new political contexts and geopolitical issues. Events that could be seen as superficial for other communities, such as the loss of a minor trans-centred program, have a large impact in our communities. Don’t wait for some flattened cis-washed facts to confirm our precarity. To reinforce this community knowledge, you could plan the development of alternative research centres with gender-diverse activists and community-centred research centres, with the support of universities.
Making space for gender-diverse people
For this Trans Day of Visibility, funders need to support our initiatives with a focus on access: access to housing, access to shelters, access to education, access to traditional knowledge and spiritualities, access to healing and healthcare, access to justice, and access to material and financial security. In this article, we have presented various elements to make this happen on an organizational and systemic level: good planning, accessible and well-suited programming, growing communities of care and accountability, and gender-diverse community-based knowledge and research.
Making space for gender-diverse people means understanding and learning about contemporary issues. These issues are rooted in “gendercide,” a long history of erasure of and violence against trans people. (The term “gendercide” was coined in the 1990s by transgender activist Xanthra Phillippa MacKay in the first edition of the Canadian zine gendertrash.) Our (trans) history is not pretty and is deeply connected with white supremacy, colonial genocide, patriarchal domination, and devaluation of nature. Following the community-centric fundraising movement and principles, the inclusion of gender diversity is part of a larger whole for social justice: working with and for gender-diverse leaders is an opening to a more inclusive world.
This article was written with the support of Sofia di Gironimo and Zakary-Georges Gagné.