May 22, 2024

Funders Must Step Up to Engage Pro-Equality Voters This Year

MVP's 501(c)(3) sister entity, Movement Voter Fund, was featured in an op-ed in Inside Philanthropy co-authored by Arcus Foundation and Equality Federation. The op-ed discusses the urgent need for U.S. pro-democracy and equality movements to join forces in this pivotal election year.
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MVP’s 501(c)(3) sister entity, Movement Voter Fund, was featured in an op-ed in Inside Philanthropy co-authored by Arcus Foundation and Equality Federation. The op-ed discusses the urgent need for U.S. pro-democracy and equality movements to join forces in this pivotal election year.

Read the op-ed: OnlinePDF

 


Excerpt

Equality voters turned out. In 2022, Michigan’s overall voter turnout was 58%, but turnout among the voters targeted by #HateWontWin was 61%. And in the first 100 days of the 2023 legislative session, Michigan passed comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people on a bipartisan basis.

Movement Voter Fund (MVF), a funder of #HateWontWin, is another powerful example of what is possible. Through its LGBTQ+ Voter Fund, MVF supports civic engagement groups like New Hampshire Movement Fund and Forward Montana Foundation, who are educating their communities, organizing to defeat anti-trans state legislation, and registering and mobilizing pro-equality voters. Now, MVF is focused on building fruitful, cross-movement relationships between groups and funders advancing bodily autonomy, LGBTQ+ rights and democracy.

MVF’s capacity building and LGBTQ+ fund director Eugenio Smith said pro-democracy funders must ramp up their investment in the LGBTQ+ movement.

“We are in a time of ‘yes/and.’ We have to come together now as a philanthropic community. We can build strong organizations and get more folks to the polls. We can achieve crucial pro-democracy wins in the short term and build a stronger pro-equality movement in the long term. We must be united against anti-democracy forces, and we can’t back down now.”

 


The full op-ed:

Funders Must Step Up to Engage Pro-Equality Voters This Year

Fran Hutchins and Dani Martínez, Guest Contributors | May 22, 2024

Attacks on basic human rights and civil rights protections are rising as a wave of authoritarianism threatens democracy in the U.S. and around the globe. Gender oppression is central to this movement’s ideology, organizing strategy and policy ambitions. As the democracy and equality movements mobilize for an unprecedented election year, we have a remarkable opportunity to join forces for the greater good.

We can measure the health of our democracy by the freedom and equality afforded to marginalized groups. The roll-back of voting rights for Black communities, attacks on abortion rights, and anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric are clear signals of the rise of authoritarianism. As history repeatedly shows, fomenting hatred toward specific groups is an authoritarian strategy to undermine democratic norms. In the current moment, attacks on transgender people are central to the anti-democracy strategy. 

With their deep pockets, the far right have been successful in their nationwide assault on LGBTQ+ communities and trans people in particular. Last year, nearly 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in state legislatures and 65 anti-trans bills passed. Twenty-three states have now banned life-saving medical care for trans youth. 

A severe funding gap is hampering the LGBTQ+ movement. In 2017-2019, the top six Christian far-right groups had a combined $2.38 billion at their disposal, according to Political Research Associates, 70 times the annual funding of all LGBTQ+ organizations, according to Funders for LGBTQ Issues. For trans advocacy organizations, funding narrows dramatically to only $34 million nationwide during that same time period.

Alarmingly, the far right’s plans go beyond banning healthcare for trans people. At the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference, a speaker called for the “eradication of transgenderism from public life.” The Christian nationalist blueprint for the next presidential administration, Project 2025, calls for gutting protections for the LGBTQ+ community and uses extreme, dehumanizing language about transgender people. 

The far right attacks the freedom of transgender Americans because they believe that scapegoating transgender people is a winning issue with their base. Yet time and time again, voters have rejected anti-trans attacks, including last year in Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa, from school board races to statewide contests.

This is because we have a blueprint for protecting democracy and the freedoms of LGBTQ+ people. Progressive civic engagement strategies can’t afford to leave out LGBTQ+ and pro-equality voters — we must invest in efforts to engage them. The ongoing attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have only increased the motivation of LGBTQ+ voters. In a February 2024 poll, LGBTQ+ registered voters indicated they are definitely (83%) or probably (11%) voting this November. In a year when turnout is a major concern for preserving democracy, LGBTQ+ people and equality supporters are strategically important constituencies. A 2022 exit poll by HRC showed that LGBTQ+ voters were 7% and pro-equality voters were 39% of the electorate.

The good news: 48 state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations in Equality Federation’s network work in coalition to build integrated, nonpartisan voter engagement programs that mobilize these voters while building capacity for long-term change — and it’s paying off. For example, in the spring of 2022, Michigan-based advocacy organizations, LGBTQ+ organizations and national partners came together to create the #HateWontWin voter engagement campaign. This effort was the first and largest LGBTQ+ statewide coalition focused on voter engagement work in the country and was funded by the Michigan Donor Alliance and Movement Voter Project. Targeting 225,000 equality voters in strategic geographies, the campaign used an equality message in mail, digital advertising and paid canvas efforts to mobilize voters. 

Equality voters turned out. In 2022, Michigan’s overall voter turnout was 58%, but turnout among the voters targeted by #HateWontWin was 61%. And in the first 100 days of the 2023 legislative session, Michigan passed comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people on a bipartisan basis.

Movement Voter Fund (MVF), a funder of #HateWontWin, is another powerful example of what is possible. Through its LGBTQ+ Voter Fund, MVF supports civic engagement groups like New Hampshire Movement Fund and Forward Montana Foundation, who are educating their communities, organizing to defeat anti-trans state legislation, and registering and mobilizing pro-equality voters. Now, MVF is focused on building fruitful, cross-movement relationships between groups and funders advancing bodily autonomy, LGBTQ+ rights and democracy. 

MVF’s capacity building and LGBTQ+ fund director Eugenio Smith said pro-democracy funders must ramp up their investment in the LGBTQ+ movement. “We are in a time of ‘yes/and.’ We have to come together now as a philanthropic community. We can build strong organizations and get more folks to the polls. We can achieve crucial pro-democracy wins in the short term and build a stronger pro-equality movement in the long term. We must be united against anti-democracy forces, and we can’t back down now.”

With the Funders Committee for Civic Participation, Funders for LGBTQ Issues has also launched a new donor organizing network, Funders United for Democracy and Trans Justice (DTJ), to unite around trans communities, rebuke authoritarianism and defend democracy. 

“Ignoring trans communities at this moment exacerbates societal issues of this time, undermining people’s civil rights and democracy at large,” said LaShanda Jackson, executive director of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation. 

DTJ brings together foundations, philanthropy-serving institutions and individual donors to connect, strategize, learn and mobilize resources for democracy, civic engagement and trans justice. They provide funders with one-on-one support and field mapping to support the development of pro-trans and pro-democracy funding strategies. We invite leaders in the funder community to join us in these efforts.

The democracy and equality movements share a common history, purpose and future. Our fates are intertwined because equality, inclusivity and civil rights are intrinsic to a healthy democracy. Together, we can bring about a world where we are all free to thrive, a world we can engender by working together.

Dani Martínez (she/her) is the U.S. Social Justice Program Director at Arcus Foundation, and is a resource mobilizer with 16 years of experience organizing people and funding to support movements for LGBTQ, racial, and gender justice.

Fran Hutchins (she/they) is the Executive Director at Equality Federation, the national strategic partner to state-based organizations working to win equality in the communities we call home.

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