Baltimore Safe Haven organizers at a rally in downtown Baltimore.
For queer and trans folks, coming out is an opportunity to fully express and live in their truth, evolve into who they really are, and develop bonds with chosen family. Every year, National Coming Out Day (NCOD) serves as a reminder that the LGBTQ community is in a continued fight for self-determination, joy, and freedom—even as it holds space for love and fellowship. It is also a reminder that visibility by itself can be dangerous, in particular for trans folks, and especially when visibility doesn’t arrive in sync with material, physical, and cultural shifts and protections.
At Borealis Philanthropy, we recognize the legacy of NCOD and the broader LGBTQ liberation movement ecosystem by:
- Organizing to support a future where transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary people live with freedom, safety, and self-determination, and
- Supporting the role that young trans and queer leaders play in contributing to the connectivity and inclusivity of pro-LGBTQ, racial justice movements
Historically, NCOD was started by two white cisgender queer activists in 1988, to commemorate the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, where over 200,000 people gathered for five days of protest against the homophobia of the Reagan Administration during the AIDS epidemic. At that time, the death toll of folks infected by the virus had surpassed 40,000 people.
More than 30 years later, there is still much work to be done to cultivate safety and visibility for queer and trans people.
This year’s celebration of coming out was as essential as ever.
In today’s extremist socio-political climate, we’ve witnessed an onslaught of anti-trans legislation, attacks on bodily sovereignty for trans and gender nonconforming folks, and the disproportionate impact of Monkeypox on queer men, same-gender loving men, and trans femmes—as well as continued violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community across the board.
The March on Washington marked the unveiling of the AIDS memorial quilt, a massive patchwork honoring those lost to the virus, and at the time an unprecedented show of support for gay rights. Shayna Brennan/AP
Fighting Stigma, Shame, and an Epidemic.
Since the inception of NCOD, the LGBTQ community has achieved significant milestones, like Marriage Equality and the expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protecting LGBTQ folks from employment discrimination. However, almost every step forward has been juxtaposed with vitriol and harsh backlash in the form of rampant queerphobia and transphobia, gender-based violence against trans folks, and consistent violations of LGBTQ civil rights.
In the 1980s, the queer community faced severe and inhumane treatment from our nation’s government at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. President Reagan and many of his cabinet members stood by as thousands suffered and died at the hands of a little-understood virus—some of them even refusing to mention the word “AIDS” or acknowledge the existence of the virus until 1985.
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and the spread of misinformation exacerbated the problem, with many evangelical organizations blaming queer folks for the virus and the eminent suffering that followed. This hate speech resulted in insufficient funding for public health programs and enhanced societal barriers, like stigma and discrimination. It also facilitated in allowing the virus to continue spreading throughout the LGBTQ+ community and hampered any marginal efforts to turn the tide against the epidemic.
The moment was especially traumatic for trans folks, specifically trans women and BIPOC trans folks, who were excluded from the narrative due to erasure and bias within not only broader society but also the LGBTQ community. Fear of discrimination, threats of violence, and a lack of access to gender-affirming medical care made trans folks the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS at the height of the crisis—and that fact still stands today.
New Epidemic, Familiar Story.
As we reflect on the missteps of the response to the AIDS epidemic, the U.S. is facing another viral outbreak with Monkeypox. The number of Monkeypox cases continues to rise, with the CDC reporting more than 25,000 cases in the U.S. alone. Because the data sets for this virus have skewed mainly towards men who have sex with men, we’re seeing some of the same harmful tactics and responses to this virus that were used during the AIDS crisis.
We’ve seen a dangerously slow rollout to curb the spread of the virus. While vaccine programs and testing facilities have sprung up across the country, limited quantities of the vaccine have highlighted racial disparities and a lack of equity for testing, prevention, and treatment. Other inequities like a lack of access to transportation, rigid vaccination schedules, and the prioritization of wealthy white communities have also underscored anti-blackness and capitalism’s significant role in the Monkeypox response efforts.
And still, while the Monkeypox epidemic has been a critical topic of discussion, it is not the only public health crisis that is inundating the LGBTQ community. Trans and queer folks continue to grapple with employment and housing discrimination, high rates of gender-based violence, and lack of access to critical healthcare, mental health, and reproductive services. Because these issues disproportionately impact BIPOC trans and gender nonconforming folks, little to no action has been taken. In fact, we’ve seen even more targeted efforts to continue to strip away LGBTQ+ civil rights— once again, highlighting that the responsibility has fallen on the queer and trans community to fight for their own lives and access to the resources they need most.
OLTT action at Houston City Hall in response to trans violence and the murder of Iris Santos, May 2021.
How Philanthropy Can Take Action
NCOD is a day that holds profound personal and political importance to many. And while it is a time to uplift and celebrate all LGBTQ identities and champion trans and queer visibility, it’s also an opportunity to call attention to the many interlocking oppressive systems that disproportionately impact queer and trans folks, and especially trans people of color.
As funders, we have a critical role to play in ensuring that movements have the capacity and resources to carry forth the legacy of queer and trans movements for liberation.
Specifically, philanthropy must provide flexible and unrestricted funding for LGBTQ and BIPOC leaders who are working at the intersections for transformative change.
Borealis Philanthropy’s Fund for Trans Generations (FTG) and Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color (ELLC) Fund are committed to resourcing this essential work. A number of FTG and ELLC Fund grantee partners are leading healing, organizing, and advocacy in the health space to support their communities:
To learn more about how you can support these organizers and the broader queer and trans-led movement ecoystem by partnering with Borealis Philanthropy, contact Maya Berkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.