My sense of our community is that our relationship to money is problematic. It might have something to do with oppression -- it's not been easy for us to make it in a capitalist society that awards wealth on the basis of fitting in and adhering to a philosophy of wealth accumulation above our own, hard-won, personal identity.
It might have something to do with the contradiction that overcoming oppression always requires creating a unitary identity among a group, which has many other divisions and biases that need to be smoothed over in order to create the political representation necessary.
Whatever it has to do with, I don't think it's a controversial proposition that we do not have a culture of giving in the LGBT community. Or, perhaps more accurately stated, our culture of giving is a bit cramped, distorted away from the many and skewed towards the few with high incomes and wealth. And in order to have high income and wealth in our society, one largely needs to "fit in" with the wider culture. The transperson, the person of color, the low-income queer -- these are unlikely to become captains of industry in today's United States. It is the winners of the game -- the gender-conforming high-IQ white person of good breeding and education who works like the devil to make it -- who determine what our organizations are doing because they can afford to fund them and call the shots.
By this I do not mean to denigrate the hard work and dedication of those persons who have "made it." I only mean to call attention to the uneven level of the table and suggest a reason why we do not have a culture of giving in the wider LGBT community. I believe that the wider LGBT community perceives our organizations as divorced from themselves, partly because those organizations are, partly, divorced from the wider community because of social forces and power relations that are hidden, subtle, and destructive of unity.
But it is unnecessarily defeatist and unrealistic to cede the game, and suppose that the way-it-is can never be reshaped into the way-it-should-be. If that were the case, then there is no point in supporting any LGBT organization, because we would then have to concede that there can be no progress in LGBT rights, a proposition that is clearly wrong.
Projector Joe Mirabella commented that he wished he was a billionaire, so he could give a lot. I thank Joe for his virtuous dreams, but I wish to demur. It is not necessary to be a billionaire to sustain the many LGBT community organizations for which we have good wishes, but no cash. Frankly, I'm happy with my professor-on-a-professor's-salary lot in life. It is not necessary for us to be billionaires. What is necessary is that we give a dollar here and a dollar there, and that everybody does it consistently.
When I was growing up in the Jewish community in 1960's suburban New Jersey, with first-generation parents with few resources, there was a culture of giving pennies. I remember the square tin box, with a slot on the top, and the pictures of smiling Israelis and the map of Israel. Every day we put a penny in, and within a few months, there was a heavy box of coins that went to the Jewish National Fund, a charitable organization specializing in development of Israeli land and infrastructure, especially planting trees. It's still around, and thriving. It was built on pennies from millions of Jews around the world, many of whom felt that having a Jewish homeland was the only way to forestall another Nazi holocaust, a horror not far separated in time from my birth date. Whatever you may feel about Israel, and I won't explain my complicated feelings here as it would take a book, the fact is that Judaism has long had a culture of giving to the community, far more rich and devoted throughout the anti-semitic centuries than I can explain here, and those pennies in the "pushkah," as we called it in Yiddish, built the modern State of Israel.
Projector Yasmin Nair also got me thinking when she commented that there are a lot of worthy local orgs that need more even more than National Stonewall Democrats. She's totally right. Why did I write a post about the National Stonewall Democrats? Because of the fact that there was a crisis there. It was called to my immediate attention by the story, and by the fact that I know and like Michael Mitchell, and I responded. I also, miraculously, pulled out my credit card, normally reserved for the delicious trips to the bookstore and buying irresistible new clothes that tug on that card as surely as if it had strings. But why should crisis be the driver of giving? That rewards the squeakiest wheel, not necessarily the wheel most deserving.
I'd like to see a culture of giving permeate the LGBT community. But it's easier said than done. The truth is that most of us don't have $20 to give each organization whose work we value. I sat down to create a list of the organizations I'd like to support, and quickly came up with 20. That's $400! Darn, if I had $400 extra dollars to throw around, I need to get new tires, and I could really use a picture on that empty wall, and I should be putting more money away for retirement, and I have a few bills that are late, and I probably should pay down some of that credit card debt.
Then there's also the problem that giving in the modern era isn't easy. It's easy to pull out my credit card in the store, and give it to the clerk. They don't make me sit down and fill out an application. But when I went to give to NSD, I had to fill out my name, address, email address, telephone number, age, occupation, employer, and then that looong credit card number, which I got wrong twice, and the CSV or whatever that little number is on the back, and gosh knows what else. It took me like ten minutes! And then I went to another organization on my list, and now I didn't have the desire to give another $35, so I wanted to give a dollar, just to say thanks, keep up the good work, like I used to put pennies in the pushkah. But they don't take a dollar. The minimum contribution was $10 online. I could have written out a check for a dollar, and address an envelope, and put a stamp on it and brought it to the post office, like my grandmother used to do. She wrote a lot of checks for a dollar. But doing that 20 times is incredibly time-consuming. I'm running as fast as I can to keep up, and there's no time for writing out checks.
Organization after organization had $10, $15 or $20 limits, and long online application forms.
But the reason I want to give to non-profit organizations doing good work is the same reason I give my son $20 on those rare occasions when I get to see him at college -- it makes me feel good. He's a good kid, and he's doing well in school, and I remember when I was in college with no money, and my parents would shoot me a few bucks. It's for a good cause. It's a vote of confidence. Plus I might need someone to feed me my applesauce when I get feeble. And do I really need to order that General Tso's chicken from the local delivery joint? Better to have a salad.
Figuring out which organizations to support can be incredibly daunting, like the prisoner released after 20 years in jail, who finds it difficult to choose from among the hundreds of kinds of shampoo in a store, and who decides that perhaps shampoo isn't a necessity and they can use the bar soap already sitting there in the shower. There are thousands of non-profits out there doing work that I agree with. But I don't resonate with all of them. For example, there are microlending organizations in developing nations that are doing great work supporting local businesses in impoverished areas, particularly for women. I think that's great work. But I don't resonate with them that much. In my daily life, based on where I am now and what I am up to, I think most about LGBT and educational issues. It's not better than someone else's life, but it is mine, and that's what gets me out of bed in the morning feeling chipper and ready for another crack at this crazy thing called life.
My donating strategy is to decide which organizations I most resonate with, meaning their work makes me feel warm inside. That's different for everybody. I also rank them, because some make me feel warmer than others.
But there's still that pesky application to fill out. I thought, there's got to be a better way. And I found it, though it's not without its own problems.
Using PayPal To Donate
PayPal is amazing. It's easy and free to a href="http://paypal.com">sign up for an account. The downside is that they do have a small charge to send money, and they take about 4% off the top for donations. But it has Mass Payment function. Then you set up an excel spreadsheet with the email addresses and amounts you want. Directions are here. Setting it up takes some time, yes, but then you're free and clear. (If you want me to send you my excel spreadsheet, just shoot me an email and I'll send it along. You can edit it, of course, to put your own orgs in.)
Now, I was able to set up my list, and click once, and send my few bucks into the pushkah electronically.
Unfortunately, you can't do this with the political funds, because there's information they have to collect by federal law, and they're not set up to do it via Paypal. But I only give to two, so for them I bite the bullet and go to their website.
There's usually one organization that I most resonate with. That one's the gold standard for me. It's been different orgs at different times. Out of my $50, I'll give them $15.
My primary give right now is GetEqual. And now I get to tell you why, which is kind of fun. I resonate the most with GetEqual because I believe that direct action is absolutely necessary to the political climate we're in, if we are going to get any progress. I saw how the other orgs cozied up to the Administration and to Congress during the fight over ENDA, and it made me ill. I had some screaming arguments with executive directors and major donors over their dumbass strategy, and, while it's water under the bridge, and I forgive them (and hopefully they forgive me), I saw the light and its name was Direct Action. GetEqual is also the only organization of its kind. I felt so strongly about it that I joined the Board, spending more hours than I should working on it, and I'm fundraising for them. Here's my donation page. Would you please give me two dollars for direct action by clicking here? (Our website apparently can't take only a dollar. I'm working on that.)
It's not just the dollar. It's the vote of confidence that you're giving, to say rock on, and that means a lot to the people who are putting their shoulder to the wheel and sometimes wondering if this is really a good idea.
You may have a different organization in mind as your primary going-to-get-me-what-I-want. That's the beauty of this. We all have different ideas about how to get where we're going. And we can all do what we want.
Next, I give $5. Hey, I wish it could be $20. But I just got an email that "Your current billing statement for your Verizon wireless account is now available to view in My Verizon." Isn't that wonderful? Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Verizon. Now my cellphone is a cause I can believe in. I love my Droid. I'm not giving up my Droid for that Verizon iPhone just yet. But the bill is more than $5.
Nevertheless, my Silver level is for the political orgs, because I believe political representation is also essential to bring us to the promised land. It's better than relying on the fickle courts. Electing pro-equality representatives also has a ripple effect, because when the masses see their elected officials espousing the cause of LGBT equality, many being to realize that LGBT rights are important and a worthy cause, and their opinions begin to change. You may disagree, and I respect that. But this is my few shekels we're talking about here.
So I give $5 to National Stonewall Democrats, and the Victory Fund.I go to their websites to make the contribution, because they need certain information under federal law, and they're not set up to do that via PayPal.
I also give $5 to local orgs like the New York City-based Trans Legal & Education Fund, which does great work on trans rights, and Ali Forney Center for Homeless Youth, which takes homeless LGBT youth off the streets and teaches them how to live a successful life.A lot of those are trans youth. I get the email addresses from their contact pages.
Lastly, there's the organizations that are doing work I want to see in my local area, that are doing work I like nationally and internationally, and those from which I have benefited educationally. So $1 goes to the following orgs that I was able to get contact info for.
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (They do excellent legal work on issues for trans low income people and people of color.)
Hudson Valley ARCS (Aids Related Community Services)
Audre Lorde Project (I used to live right down the street from them in Brooklyn - they do great work.)
Hudson Valley LOFT LGBT Center (I like their events.)
Manhattan LGBT Center (Sometimes I go to events here.)
Gay Pride Rockland (the name is regressive, but the organization's not, and it's a heck of a party at Pride.)
New York Civil Liberties Union (They do good work on trans issues.)
National Center for Transgender Equality
Out & Equal
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (The name is long enough as it is, and they do plenty work on trans rights.)
Sexual Minorities Uganda
Sometimes my budget's been $10, sometimes it's $5,000 (which it was, once, when I received a couple of big contracts). Not a problem -- simply multiply or divide. Right now I feel comfortable with a $250 annual budget.
Sometimes I can do my current budget twice in a year. When I can, I do. That way, I don't get into a situation where I've given more than I really should. Yes, all of these organizations I mentioned really should get $35 each, or $50 each, or $1000 each. But I can't do that and balance my budget.
One thing I found interesting is that, although I gave large donations to some organizations, thousands of dollars (and these were not large organizations), my large donations seemed to go as unappreciated as my small donations. So it really doesn't matter if I give a $1; they're just as happy. And if they don't want my two dollars? Too bad. Let them send it back.
There are some organizations I specifically don't donate to, although in some cases I have in the past. That's because I don't like how they've done things recently. I won't list them here, because it would just get me enmeshed in controversy with those organizations' supporter. I say, let them live and be well, and work hard for those organizations. Giving is not an obligation. It's an act of generosity, and generosity is something inside that can't be dictated.
There are some people who are struggling to pay the rent, who are in debt, and who really shouldn't give. I've been there, and I say take care of yourself first. But when you are in a position to give a dollar, give a dollar. If a dollar seems a ridiculous amount to give, it's not. It's a vote for the work of the organization, and the more people that give a dollar, the more that organization will thrive (if managed well -- if I think they're not managed well, no donation).
What's your giving strategy, or what would you like it to be?
What organizations haven't I mentioned that I and others should consider (and tell us why). Feel free to put a link in to the org so we can give if we resonate to what they're doing. No two dollars will be refused, trust me.
But more broadly, what do you think of our culture of giving in the LGBT community? Why do you think it is the way that it is. How can it be opened up to the masses? How do we create the type of advocacy culture that we want, instead of complaining about the one we have?