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The Power of Community-Driven Grantmaking By and For BIPOC Trans Communities During COVID-19

As soon as it was clear that COVID-19 was going to result in mass illness and death in the US, we knew that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) would be struck down quickly and severely. We also knew that transgender (trans) people within these communities would have the worst access to personal protective equipment (PPE) to stay healthy, and to quality healthcare if they did become ill.

The public health safety net for this population is inconsistent and unreliable. This is a community that the American Medical Association characterized as facing an epidemic of violence, particularly Black trans women. Almost immediately, we began to hear from local leaders across the US about the desperate need for food, translation services for non-English speakers, housing and rental assistance, access to good care, and help navigating bureaucratic systems that were not built for or modified to serve trans people.

Our team at the Transgender Strategy Center (TSC) knew that we could not sit by and watch people who already face severe inequities in health and well-being get sick and die. Our Deputy Director, Aryah Lester states, “After receiving numerous calls and messages regarding the quickly emergent needs of TGNC communities, leaders, and organizations, we knew we had to act to the best of our ability to support TGNC-led grassroots organizations during the turmoil of 2020. The occurrences we all suffered last year were a culmination of the build-up of several inequities and deliberate exclusion within our country’s systems.”

At TSC we also knew that we could not wait for white, cisgender-dominated government and philanthropic resources to come to the rescue. That was going to be a death sentence for trans BIPOC people. We began hearing about amazing grassroots trans-led organizations creating mutual aid programs, getting food to those in need, supplying PPE to those without, distributing transportation vouchers, and when possible even supplying cash to those who were most severely impacted. We were inspired and hopeful, but also aware that these organizations were severely underfunded and resourced in the best of times. We knew we wanted to help out as well.

TSC partnered with Destination Tomorrow (DT), a Black trans-led organization in the Bronx, to strengthen the effort by extending our reach through collaborative grantmaking – the HIV COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund for Black & Brown TGNC Communities (you can read more information about the fund on the TSC Website here). Sean Coleman, Executive Director for DT, had no reservations and immediately committed his organization to the project. “During these increasingly difficult times, it matters how funds are dispersed and who is seen as valuable. Oftentimes, the most vulnerable are left behind. By providing this support to these organizations we are providing resources and services to those Black and Brown community members most in need.”

Together, TSC and DT moved quickly to reach out to funders who had a track record of resourcing trans communities and who realized that resources were needed immediately to save lives and provide access to resources and care that many other communities in the US take for granted. With the support of the Levi Strauss Foundation, AIDS United, ViiV Healthcare, Gilead Sciences, and the Momentum Fund, we were able to begin grantmaking that was intentionally designed to be quick, based on community identified needs, and accessible for a wide range of applicants.

Today, we are happy to report that our fund has supported 21 transgender-led organizations, serving BIPOC communities throughout the US. The idea of creating this fund last year was intimidating and a formidable challenge. It was all hands on deck with fundraising and creating strong internal grantmaking systems. This experience has impacted our trajectory at TSC, and our belief in what is possible.

This fund is an example of what can be achieved when transgender leaders are able to develop and implement solutions by and for their community. It is only possible when philanthropic leaders trust trans leaders to manage funds in a way that maximizes impact and sustainability for trans communities. We know that this is not the type of grantmaking most foundations invest in, where funds are handed to leaders from impacted communities to disperse. Many funders prefer to do their own direct grantmaking rather than engaging an intermediary.

We encourage those funders to think more expansively and realize that engaging trans leaders and experts, in their own community-driven grantmaking, will create impact, innovation, and long-term outcomes that traditional grantmaking can only aspire to do. Partnering funds with lived experience and expertise is a best practice embraced widely by trans leaders.

The Transgender Strategy Center is a national trans-led organization providing support, training, and coaching to grassroots trans-led organizations throughout the US. TSC utilizes a racial, gender, and economic justice framework to elevate trans leaders and organizations on the path to sustainability and effectively addressing critical community issues. TSC also offers technical assistance services to philanthropic institutions and diversity, equity and inclusion training to corporate entities. The work of TSC is based on the conviction that trans liberation will only come through the leadership of trans communities. For more information please visit TSC’s website: or reach out to Founding Director Morey Riordan at



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