Media release

Grants bring services to LGBTQ communities

“These organizations work to ensure the health, safety and fair treatment of all LGBTQ Rhode Islanders,” said Adrian Bonéy, who administers the Equity Action Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.

Eight nonprofit organizations that serve the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities will share $53,000 in grants through the Equity Action Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. The funding will support organizations engaged in efforts ranging from civil rights advocacy for families and youth to improving the delivery of health care.

“These organizations work to ensure the health, safety and fair treatment of all LGBTQ Rhode Islanders,” said Adrian Bonéy, who administers Equity Action at the Foundation. “This important work is enhanced by strengthening alliances between nonprofits working to address the most critical needs of Rhode Island’s LGBTQ communities, including investments in health, education and the arts, as well as issues critical to young and elderly members of the community.”

Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI) received $5,000 to support its Emergency Financial Assistance program for LGBTQ+ individuals living with HIV under its AIDS Project Rhode Island program. There are about 2,400 people living with HIV in Rhode Island, according to the state Department of Health.

“This funding will enable us to continue providing short-term payments to assist with emergency expenses such as essential utilities, housing, food, and medication,” said FSRI CEO Margaret Holland McDuff.

The grant comes as FSRI seeks to replace the loss of about $800,000 in state funding.

“This support is critical as our services are faced with a sudden and unexpected cut in funding. Now we have a brief reprieve in which to continue client care while identifying alternative sources of funding,” said Holland McDuff.

Girls Rock! RI received $3,000 to support a re-branding effort that will result in a new name for the organization in order to make it more welcoming to trans and non-binary participants and volunteers.

“When the organization was formed in 2009, the Riot Grrl movement still carried weight as a symbol of inclusive, underground feminism. As language and culture evolved, the word ‘girl’ carries very different connotations now,” said Rikki Davis, Girls Rock! RI’s co-executive director.

“It has become apparent that the very name under which we function is no longer empowering to LGBTQ participants, staff and volunteers,” said Davis. “We intend to make it clear that we offer a space that was created specifically for critical thought around gender-based oppression and empowerment for all marginalized individuals across the gender spectrum, not just ‘girls.’”

Last year, 40 percent of its volunteers, 16 percent of its participants in middle school and 23 percent of its participants in high school reported identifying as LGBTQ, according to the organization.

"Genuine equity and inclusion can only occur when all of our participants, volunteers and staff begin to see themselves represented in the name and identity of the organization," said Denise Mathews-Riedpath, Girls Rock! RI’s other co-executive director.

GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) received $8,000 to support its ongoing youth and civil rights advocacy. The work includes holding semiannual roundtables of LBGTQ advocates, providing legal support to families of LGBTQ students and strengthening the state’s protective legal framework for the LGBTQ community.

“While our outreach has increased substantially, LGBTQ families and youth still face discrimination in critical areas of their lives. We aim to ensure that Rhode Island youth and families are respected and cherished for who they are,” said Janson Wu, executive director.

Among the organization’s work last year is passage of legislation that sets guidelines for accurately reporting on death certificates the gender of a deceased transgender person and state Department of Education policy requiring school districts to adopt transgender-inclusive policies.

New Urban Arts in Providence received $5,000 to support the Untitlement Project, a summer program in which low-income youth use writing and art to explore issues of identity, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Students meet four days a week.

“Our students investigate stereotypes, media awareness, violence, anger, vulnerability, loneliness, love and relationships. The goal of the Untitlement Project is to raise consciousness and explore inequities around privilege, power and language,” said Daniel Schleifer, executive director.

“Through writing workshops, storytelling, journaling, spoken word performance, creative expression, inequity and small teamwork, they grow through deep listening, hard questions and vibrant, challenging dialogue," said Schleifer.

More than 700 students are enrolled in New Urban Arts’ Youth Mentorship in the Arts program, New Urban Arts' core after-school program. About one-third identify as LGBTQ, according to the organization.

Project Weber/RENEW received $8,500 for its Transgender Outreach Project. The funds will be used to support a trans peer outreach worker who will focus on high-risk trans individuals on the streets.

“Trans persons experience numerous structural barriers to social and health care services, as well as significantly higher HIV incidence compared the general population. We will mitigate these disparities by providing accessible and welcoming harm reduction and linkage to health care services,” said Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director.

The outreach worker will facilitate trans support groups, conduct street outreach, distribute Narcan, clean needles and safer sex materials; and perform case management with clients.

“An indirect, but critically important, group that will benefit from this program is the wide Weber/RENEW organization and community. The program provides visible trans role models and promotes understanding of trans persons and communities,” said Daley Ndoye.

SAGE-Rhode Island received $9,000 to train nurses, social workers, community service providers and other healthcare staff working in long-term care, acute care facilities and community agencies. The organization serves older LGBT adults, through service, education and advocacy.

“LGBT elders experience health care disparities as a result of societal stigma and the effects of a lifetime of discrimination,” said Steering Committee Chair Catherine Gorman. “As the number of LGBT older adults increases, there is a growing need for improving quality of health care to this largely invisible, vulnerable population.”

The goal is to train at least 100 staff members from long-term care facilities, hospitals and community agencies. SAGE-RI will provide at least six hours of workshops, focused on developing LGBT cultural competency

“The number of requests from health care and community agencies for LGBT education continues to increase. This will improve the quality of care LGBT elders receive as they interact with the health care system,” said Gorman.

Sojourner House received $6,500 to provide shelter, housing and supportive services to LGBTQ victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. The supportive services will include clinical therapy, support groups, one-on-one advocacy, empowerment education, free HIV testing, sexual health education and financial literacy education.

"We are committed to working to end domestic violence in all communities. Intimate partner violence affects the LGBTQ individuals at higher rates than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts, yet the issue is seldom addressed in the community," said Vanessa Volz, executive director.

In addition, Sojourner plans to provide training and education on LGBTQ abuse and cultural competency issues to at least 100 law enforcement and social services professionals.

“The fear of not knowing if a professional is supportive of the LGBTQ community causes many LGBTQ victims to stay silent. Providing training send the message to LGBTQ victims that we care, that we respect them and that we believe them,” said Volz.

Thundermist Health Center in Warwick received $8,000 to support its Trans Health and Wellness Program. The grant will enable the organization to expand its social- and community-building events to improve the physical and mental health and wellness of the trans community.

“Our patients face many barriers to participating in community events. We focus on fun, engaging activities that promote health and wellness and reduce social isolation,” said Jayeson Watts, director of Thundermist’s Trans Health Access Team.

The goal is to stage 50 events per year. The programing includes yoga, swimming, fitness classes, music therapy and game night. Thundermist serves more than 800 patients through its Trans Health and Wellness Program, up from fewer than 600 a year ago.

“For some, this is often their first interaction with us, and then they feel safe enough to enter medical or behavioral health care as a result,” said Watts. “Alternatively, sometimes people who already are our patients have little-to-no contact with the broader trans community, and the program serves as a bridge for them into a larger community in which they can gain support.”

The announcement comes as the Foundation’s Equity Action Fund celebrates its 15th anniversary. The public can support the fund’s work by donating to it on the Foundation’s website or by contacting Adrian Bonéy at abonéy@rifoundation.org.

The Equity Action Fund is guided by a volunteer advisory committee comprised of leaders in the LGBTQ communities. Since 2004, Equity Action has made nearly $1 million in grants to dozens of organizations.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $114 million and awarded $52 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2018. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.