LGBTQ+ Philanthropy

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Human Rights
LGBTQ+ Philanthropy serves, advocates, and celebrates the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning individuals. LGBTQ+ Philanthropy has brought about large social change in the United States, including marriage equality, AIDS education, and public acceptance and support for the LGBTQ+ community itself through counseling and other services.

by Katie Hunt and Rachel Mullinnix


Breaking down the components of “LGBTQ+ Philanthropy”, LGBTQ+ refers to the community of individuals who identify as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning.” The plus is commonly included to encompass those who identify with the community but may not adhere to one of the labels of LGBTQ. In Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission, Payton and Moody define philanthropy as, “voluntary action for the public good.” Therefore, LGBTQ+ Philanthropy can be understood as any voluntary action that serves or provides public good to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community. This definition includes voluntary giving as well as voluntary service. LGBTQ+ Philanthropy encompasses the organizations and people working to serve, advocate and celebrate the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning individuals.


Historic Roots

The LGBTQ+ movement first began during the late 1800s. As social attitudes toward homosexuality became more hostile, social reformers began to work to defend homosexuality. Many of these social reformers worked in secret societies, such as the Order of Chaeronea. Many of these organizations operated in secret due to the controversial nature of their advocacy at the time.

In the 1940s, a number of homosexual rights groups came into being across the western world. The social movements of the 1960s such as the Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation and anti-Vietnam movements lead the way for a more vocal LGBTQ+ movement. The LGBTQ+ community began advocating for their rights and were met with adversity. In 1969, a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York resulting in a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community, later to be named the Stonewall Riots. This event brought national attention to the LGBTQ+ movement. Shortly after, several philanthropic groups formed to serve the LGBTQ+ community, like the Gay Liberation Front.

The 1980s and the emergence of AIDS helped to propel LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of equality movements. The election of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials, gave hope to the LGBTQ+ community in a time when they faced more and more hate and discrimination. Milk believed that the government should represent all people, especially the LGBTQ+ community. He encouraged members of the LGBTQ+ community to come out to their friends and family and to get involved in the political process. Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, first civil unions and later the fight for marriage equality led the need for new types of LGBTQ+ organizations. After reaching marriage equality in the US, the American LGBTQ+ movement has been able to move into other issues of importance to the community such as, rights to raise children, equality in the workplace and counseling and support services.



Historically, LGBTQ+ organizations, volunteers and activists have been instrumental in the progress of key issues in the LGBTQ+ movement towards equal rights. LGBTQ+ Philanthropy has led to gains in equality such as marriage equality, AIDS education, public acceptance and support for the LGBTQ+ community itself through counseling and other services.

Despite the gains made in LGBTQ+ rights, works towards equality still remains. According to the San Francisco Bay Area LGBTQ Community Needs Assessment conducted by the Horizon Foundation in 2018, “LGBTQ community members are more likely to feel unsafe in at least two facets of life…more likely to have ad at least two unmet basic needs…[and] are more likely to not have been able to access at least two types of services they need.” In 2019, LGBTQ+ people were at risk of losing protection related to healthcare, education and housing. More than half of LGBTQ+ people reported feelings of workplace discrimination in the same year. These statistics prove the importance of philanthropic organizations like Horizon Foundation and similar LGBTQ+ funders and advocacy groups.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Several different types of LGBTQ+ organizations have been developed over time to meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. These organizations range from advocacy organizations, service providers, infrastructure organizations, grassroots organizations and arts and cultural organizations.

Advocacy organizations offer legal aid and lobby for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Service providers help with counseling services as well as providing resources for people and families dealing with HIV/AIDS. Frequently, homeless LGBTQ+ persons have great difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. Members of the LGBTQ+ community experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Organizations, such as the True Colors Fund, work to provide services to these individuals. Through community organizing the True Colors Fund ensures that communities around the country have the tools they need to prevent and address LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Infrastructure organizations conduct research or provide services to other organizations. For example, The Williams Institute, part of the UCLA School of Law provides research that can be used by organizations to help them better serve the LGBTQ+ community. Grassroots organizations educate the community on LGBTQ+ issues and work to bring the broader community together with the LBGT community. Arts and cultural organizations work to celebrate the culture of the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the 2014 LGBT Funders Tracing Report, 33% of the funding for these organizations comes from public and private LGBTQ+ foundations. The other 67% comes from a combination of community foundations, corporations, and non-LGBTQ+ public and private foundations. Regarding trends in LGBTQ+ giving, same-sex couples are believed to support both LGBTQ+ organizations but are likely to engage in other forms of philanthropy as well. According to a study completed by Elizabeth Jane Dale on giving among same-sex couples, 79% couples gave to LGBTQ+ affiliated organizations, but those gifts only composed 15% of the total gifts given.


Key Related Ideas

  • LGBTQ+ Rights
  • Marriage Equality
  • Stonewall Riots


Important People Related to the Topic

Bill Thom: Founder of Legal Labmda, the first legal organization in the United States focused on right of LGBTQ+ individuals. Legal Labmda has accomplished feats such as prosecuted hate crimes, overturned state sodomy laws and defended same-sex couples’ right to marry. The organization has since grown to be the largest legal organization representing LGBTQ+ rights.

Evan Wolfson: Founder and president of Freedom to Marry. He led the battle for LGBTQ+ rights to marry to a successful victory in 2015.

Marsha P. Johnson: Co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) developed as a result of the Stonewall Riots. Johnson, born Malcolm Michaels Jr., was an African American trans women. She was a leader during the Stonewall Riots and formed STAR with Sylvia Rivera to serve LGBTQ+ youth living on the streets.


Related Organizations

Funders for LGBTQ Issues – Works with more than 75 funders and LGBTQ+ organizations to increase institutional giving to LGBTQ+ communities.

Horizons Foundation Founded in 1980 by and for LGBTQ people. Horizons Foundation is the first community foundation dedicated to the LGBTQ community. From 1980 – 2018, the Foundation awarded more than $40 million in grants and was recognized as one of the top 10 funders of the LGBTQ+ movement in 2017.

Lambda Legal – Largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

Freedom to Marry – Campaign that fought for and won marriage equality in the United States and ignited a global movement. Founded by Evan Wolfson in 2015.

Human Rights Watch – An international organization working to defend LGBTQ+ rights around the world.


Reflection Question

How does LGBTQ+ Philanthropy influence political change?



  • "2014 Tracking Report.” Funders for LGBTQ+ Issues. Oct. 2016.
  • "About Us." Lambda Legal. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • CAN LGBT PEOPLE BE LEGALLY FIRED? U.S. Supreme Court Considers Three Cases That Could Take America Backward. Movement Advancement Project, July 2019,
  • Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality 1885-1914, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • "Community Organizing." True Colors Fund. Web. Nov. 2016.
  • Dale, Elizabeth Jane, Giving Among Same-Sex Couples: The Role of Identity, Motivations, and Charitable Decision-Making in Philanthropic Engagement, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University, 2016.
  • “GLAAD’s Programs.” GLAAD. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • "Growing LGBT Philanthropy in Partnership with Community Foundations.” KBT & Associates. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • "Harvey Milk Official Biography." Milk Foundation. Nov. 2016.
  • Horizons Foundation (2018). San Francisco Bay Area LGBTQ Community Needs Assessment. San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from
  • "LGBT Rights." Human Rights Watch. Oct. 2016.
  • "Mission." Williams Institute. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • "Mission, Vision, Values.” Horizons Foundation Fueling the LGBT Movement Web. Oct. 2016.
  • Nswp. “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries Found STAR House.” Global Network of Sex Work Projects, Global Network of Sex Works Projects, 12 July 2017,
  • Payton, Robert L., and Michael P. Moody. Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008.
  • Wolfson, Evan. "Winning the Freedom to Marry Nationwide: The Inside Story of a Transformative Campaign.” Freedom to Marry. Web. Oct. 2016.
  • Worthen, Meredith. “The Stonewall Inn: The People, Place and Lasting Significance of 'Where Pride Began'.”, A&E Networks Television, 21 June 2019,


This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course in 2019 at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.