[Excerpt from feature article by Rob Phelps, May 13, 2024]

All across New England, LGBTQ+ organizations do amazing, life-affirming, often lifesaving work to support our community. But who’s supporting them? For pro-LGBTQ+ programs and initiatives to survive and thrive, they need support too. 

Stepping up to offer that support are dedicated funds throughout our six New England states—some based within major philanthropic foundations, others scrappy grassroots orgs themselves, all sharing similar missions to uplift all LGBTQ+ people in our region. [....]

Equality Fund, Hartford Foundation

Joel Roskin, long-term donor to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, had a vision. He imagined a permanent fund to empower individuals of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expression in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, his vision became a reality when Roskin set up an endowment and the Equality Fund was born.

“Joel wanted the fund to be used for direct assistance or services for individuals, particularly youth. He did a lot of grant-making with younger folks during his lifetime,” says Deborah Rothstein, vice president for development at the Hartford Foundation, home of the Equality Fund.

Though still in its development stage, the fund has already made its first distributions: one to Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, another to Advancing Connecticut Together, an umbrella organization that includes Connecticut Pride and AIDS Connecticut, and another to Q Plus (Queer Youth Program of CT).

Overall, the goal is to target key areas such as basic human needs, education, elder services, health and employment, and programs that address challenges in equities and barriers. 

And the fund is not just about money, Rothstein explains. “Of course, we care about money and grants going out. But this is also a way for us to convene people in the community around issues that are important to them.”

One such convening happened in April, with a gathering to celebrate, introduce and discuss a new report on the LGBTQIA+ wellbeing of Greater Hartford residents. The Foundation funded the report, created by its long-term partner DataHaven. The convening was an opportunity for the community to gather and talk about how the data resonates, and to begin crafting solutions for critical issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Part of the ethos of the Hartford Foundation is that we’re a learning organization,” says Kate Szczerbacki, director of learning, evaluation and capacity building. How the Equity Fund will be administered, she stresses, will come from solid knowledge around the LGBTQ+ community’s “strengths, assets, needs and gaps in services. Data, especially around sexual orientation and gender identity, is not particularly strong. It’s something that is often left off of data collection efforts. It’s been in and out of the Census,” for example, she adds. 

“We do have informal ways of understanding our LGBTQ+ community, especially through our relationships with our grantee partners or public entities. Also, our own lived experiences as queer folks who work at the foundation. But I think this is something that we wanted to have a very good grounding in before we attempted to be strong grant makers within the LGBT community.”

So they got to work and found the data, created the report. 

“I think the report really serves a dual purpose,” Szczerbacki says. “We have the immediate benefit of strengthening the data ecosystem around the understanding of what quality of life is for LGBTQ+ folks. And then we have a longer-standing benefit of pulling all that information together in a compilation, where folks really wanting to work in and with the queer community, can say, ‘Let’s reflect on this and let it drive our action.’ And I think, for the foundation, that’s going to ground our grant-making and how we can strengthen partnerships in the community.”

“I’m a data person,” says Szczerbacki. “One of the maxims of my professional and personal career is that data are people. And we often don’t see queer folks showing up in data sets and their voice is not being heard. And that kind of invisibility and erasure is harmful, and harmful to us all as a society.” [....]