TransOhio's decision to cut ties with Stonewall Columbus is an opportunity for change
It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s your funders.
I’m breaking up with the LGBT nonprofit industrial complex, informally called Gay Inc. You know, those big organizations that pull in money like giant magnets.
I’m talking about those LGBT organizations that are funded through an endless cycle of grant applications. Gay Inc. never stops fundraising, even though they have more money than other LGBT organizations. Keeping themselves afloat requires constantly appeasing their donors, leading them to claim credit for the work of other organizations or shut down vital programs their donors don’t like.
Gay Inc.’s funding structure makes them more beholden to monied elites than homeless queer and transgender youth.
Gay Inc. is made up of organizations that are staffed by talented, dedicated people who too often lack decision-making power over the programs for which they are responsible. Many of these staffers suffer in organizations that reflect the same racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist and classist power structures as the rest of our society. Inside Gay Inc., shame and denial perpetuate those systems.
When I say Gay Inc., I’m talking about Stonewall Columbus, but I’m also talking about a nationwide phenomenon that is bigger than any one organization or individual.
Last week, Gay Inc. in Columbus was called to account. Local organization TransOhio issued a statement cutting ties with Stonewall Columbus. They wrote, “As Central Ohio’s main LGBTQ+ Center, Stonewall has an obligation to support and protect the most vulnerable among us. ... Stonewall has failed to live up to that duty for far too long.”
TransOhio cited many reasons for its decision, including events at Stonewall’s 2017 Pride celebration, where four Black queer and trans people were beaten and arrested by Columbus police officers.
Stonewall Columbus officials have refused to apologize for their complicity in the police violence against the four protesters. TransOhio wrote, “We believe that an apology most certainly is due — however delayed — and that denial of this most basic step to restoration continues Stonewall’s pattern of racist and transphobic behavior.” TransOhio was joined by Mozaic and Kaleidoscope Youth Center; both issued statements in solidarity.
Local media covered the split, writing that, “Division within the LGBTQ community in Columbus is boiling over.” It would be more accurate to say that divisions within our community, the result of systemic inequality, continue to simmer, as they do everywhere in America.
TransOhio’s announcement did not cause change so much as it reflected it. Many queer and trans people have been ghosting Stonewall Pride since June 2017. Rather than attend Stonewall’s Pride parade, we’ve participated in Community Pride, organized by Black Queer & Intersectional Collective (BQIC).
There’s a big difference between ghosting and breaking up, however. That’s why the statements from TransOhio, Mozaic, and Kaleidoscope are so important. They honestly describe the state of the LGBT movement today: Our biggest, most well-resourced LGBT organizations are not equipped to serve the most marginalized in our community.
With honesty comes opportunity. By breaking up with Gay Inc., we are finally free to find new ways to confront racism and transphobia.
The inability of Stonewall Columbus to adequately address systemic oppression is not about will. It’s not about malice. It’s not about leadership. It’s about money.
An organization is beholden to the people who fund it. Only organizations that are accountable to the most vulnerable members of our community will make the change we need.