Follow the money

Securing funding to conduct psychological research is no easy task, particularly if the areas of study are at all politically or socially controversial. Alfred Kinsey was lucky enough to secure funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to conduct large-scale surveys on male and female sexual behavior – funding that was terminated when things got too controversial. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the famed husband-and-wife research team, never received any formal funding for their work. And countless sex researchers, particularly those who study LGBTQ issues, end up conducting what UCSF psychiatrist Nanette Gartrell refers to as “shoestring science,” cobbling together a little money here, a little money there to pursue their work.  

That said, the funding landscape for LGBTQ researchers, program directors, and policymakers has improved substantially over time. Last month, a New York-based nonprofit organization called Funders for LGBTQ Issues released its 2010 calendar year report titled “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Grantmaking by U.S. Foundations,” which provides information on the grants awarded by U.S.-based foundations to LGBTQ-related causes. Here’s some of the good news:

  • In 2010, 97.2 million dollars were awarded, a 3.9 percent increase from 2009.
  • U.S. foundations awarded 3,457 grants worldwide to LGBTQ organizations and projects.
  • Compared to 2009, grants dollars increased in 2010 by 12 percent to the lesbian community, and grants dollars increased by 24 percent to projects addressing the needs of gay men.
  • Funding addressing the needs of LGBTQ people of color was 14 percent of total dollars awarded.
  • Funding addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth reached 13.78 of total dollars awarded.  

These numbers are refreshing, given how many LGBTQ centers, organizations, and research programs have historically operated on a shoestring. In addition, while many of these grant-giving foundations are LGBTQ-specific (such as the Pride Foundation and the Stonewall Community Foundation), others are very much mainstream. These are very familiar names to the general public – Ford Foundation, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation – even Rockefeller is on the list. Things really do seem to be getting better.

Of course, there has to be more to the story, right? When we delve more deeply into the report, we find some more disturbing trends:

  • Although the number of transgender-focused grants increased from 2009 to 2010, the total dollars awarded to transgender causes decreased by 5 percent.
  • The LGBTQ aging population, a growing population sector, received just under two and a half percent of total funding.
  • Projects addressing the needs of LGBTQ people with disabilities received less than 1 percent of total dollars.
  • For the second year in a row, zero dollars were awarded to bisexual-focused issues.

Obviously, people with disabilities and the aging population don’t necessarily represent the majority of the LGBTQ community, and it could be argued that the amount of money granted to these groups parallels the statistical demographics. It could also be argued that the drop-off in funding for the transgender community is due partly to the lagging economy – especially given the fact that the number of transgender-focused grants has increased. However, the fact that, in both 2009 and 2010, bisexual-focused issues received no money whatsoever is deeply disturbing. Yet again, bisexuals are subsumed under the general lesbian and gay community and rendered invisible as a distinct identity with unique and specific concerns.

And there are specific concerns and issues, and unique forms of oppression that bisexuals experience. For example, several studies indicate that people who are not exclusively same-sex attracted make up about 50 percent of the LGB population – suggesting that bisexuality isn’t just a statistical minority fringe group. Moreover, given that more women than men tend to identify as bisexual, biphobia may well be inextricably linked with sexism – a theory supported by the fact that psychological research focusing on sexual minority women lags far behind that of men. And a 2007 report from the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force indicates that bisexual women and men tend to have poorer mental and physical health than their lesbian and gay counterparts, suffering from higher rates of smoking, alcoholism, depression, and suicide attempts. These are issues that can’t be ignored – but they’re being ignored, at least by the groups with funding power.

If you want to get a pulse on the state of LGBTQ issues, follow the money. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, when things get politically or socially controversial, the money evaporates. Bisexuality is controversial. Gender-bending is controversial. At the risk of going out on a limb, it seems as if anything that makes the LGBTQ community seem less than mainstream and palatable to mass heterosexual culture is controversial. It’s time for that to change.

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Filed under biphobia, bisexuality, children, gay suicides, gender nonconformity, human rights, LGBTQ, LGBTQ youth, psychological research, sexism, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized

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