The health emergency brought on by COVID-19 is presenting a financial emergency for national and international LGBTQ fundraising operations. Four immediate areas of concern are clear: Pride, LGBTQ galas, dance parties, and bars.
The model for LGBTQ fundraising is based on corporate sponsorships and social status. Corporate sponsorship fund many of our events creating a reliance on a neoliberal market model for support. When corporations are doing well and their stocks are going up, LGBTQ causes receive funds. But if there are rocky times, then sponsorships are likely to dry up.
In addition, the price tag for access to these events confers social status to certain individuals and groups. Major donor packages, VIP packages and high prices restrict who has access to dinners, galas, and awards events. This creates a dichotomy between those LGBTQ people with money and those with less. Both of these issues present a foundational problem with the structure of fundraising in the LGBTQ community. First is the 30 year model of elites funding the gay mainstream movement. And the second is the way corporations fund the gay mainstream movement.
To be clear, my argument is not that private business cannot do good work or help LGBTQ causes. My point is that we need to be aware of how these funds shape the community.
Nearly, 100 Pride events have now been cancelled. Kristine Garina, President of the European Pride Organisers Association, stated: “Today brings the devastating news that the number of Prides cancelling or postponing because of COVID-19 will pass 100, and it’s very clear that this pandemic is going to have a huge impact on our movement.” The map below shows the extent of the cancellations which are the result of COVID-19 concerns and social distancing requirements and the financial distress of the market.
In the past few weeks, both GLAAD and HRC have noted that they have had to cancel events due to COVID-19 concerns. This is a problem of neoliberal models. Grassroots movements have diversified models of fundraising that allow them to absorb times that are financially distressed. However, this means sacrificing elite models that rely on feelings of high status for major donors.
“This is a $2 million implication to our bottom line,” GLAAD’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells Variety. “They are our biggest fundraising events and they help support a lot of our programming.”
According to Variety’s story on the GLAAD events, “Taylor Swift was to be honored in Los Angeles along with Janet Mock. In New York, the honorees included Ryan Murphy and Judith Light. More than 1,000 guests were expected in Los Angeles and another 800 in New York.”
In addition, HRC stated, “we have decided to cancel or postpone all of our public events through the weekend of April 4, including our large-scale fundraising dinners in Nashville on March 14, Los Angeles on March 28 and Houston on April 4.”
Dance parties are a steady source of income for LGBTQ community organizations. However, the Task Force’s Winter Party Festival came under scrutiny for taking place as the COVID-19 concerns arose. The Miami Herald stated, “Nine people who attended Winter Party Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of gay men to Miami Beach, have reported testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, according to the LGBTQ Task Force, which organized the festival.”
However, the Task Force is not alone. This is similar to Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. NBC reports, “Health experts say it’s no surprise that New Orleans is the center of the coronavirus crisis in hard-hit Louisiana after over a million people flocked to the city to celebrate Carnival for more than a month, culminating in Mardi Gras at the end of February.”
In addition, to defend the Task Force, Florida officials have stated, “Regarding WPF, we made the most informed decision at the time, following official guidance available at the time,” Carey said in a statement Monday. “Information and circumstances have changed rapidly since WPF.”
Lastly, there is the issue of bars. There is a difference between small businesses and non-profit organizations. Small businesses have weathered the Great Recession, Grindr, and now COVID-19. To get a snap shot of the damage done to retail establishments DC’s weekly magazine wrote, “Movie theaters, gyms, spas, massage parlors — all have been directed to shut down. Restaurants and taverns can only serve takeout and delivery. Nightclubs are shuttered. It was all part of a progressive series of orders from Mayor Muriel Bowser, that started on Friday, March 13.
Washington, D.C. is, effectively, in hibernation.”
Ultimately, whether the few bars, many Prides, and national organizations survive is a question of grassroots support. Hopefully, the LGBTQ community recognizes that it is through grassroots action rather than neoliberal corporate reliance or major donor elitism that we can move forward together through this crisis. But this will challenge the existing gay mainstream movement. Allowing everyone in the tent includes poor queers with an eye toward centering the marginalized as well as those who have benefited from a system of class exclusion. The future will tell us which model succeeds.