We may have left 2020 behind us, but the year left many of us devastated. We experienced, for the first time in over a 100 years, a global pandemic that disproportionately affected persons of color and the economically disenfranchised. Continuing police brutality against Black and Brown persons sparked Black Lives Matter protests around the United States. And the trend of violence against Black transgender and non-conforming persons claimed 43 lives in 2020 according to the Human Rights Campaign.
So much went wrong in 2020 — or rather, so much that was already wrong was laid bare — that it’s difficult to know just how we can go about fixing a broken system. Many of us want to direct our efforts toward action, but don’t necessarily know where to start. The sheer magnitude of the disaster that was 2020 kept many of us in both a literal and metaphor stasis, trapped in our homes and overwhelmed.
But that was 2020. 2021 won’t magically rid us of the previous year’s ills, but a new year affords us a chance to start fresh and channel our energy in positive directions. For those who are looking to make a difference — or to continue making a difference, if you’ve already started — below are five LGBTQ+ non-profit organizations that are tackling systemic inequality and worthy of both your time and your dollars.
Who are they? The Ali Forney Center
Where are they? Main office midtown Manhattan; Drop-in Center located in Harlem; emergency and transitional housing in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.
What do they do? The Ali Forney Center (AFC), which was founded in 2002, is the nation’s largest center for LGBTQ+ homeless youth. The AFC provides a supportive foundation for youth as they navigate their way toward housing stability and independence. Their services include a 24-hour drop-in center, where youth-in-crisis can access shelter, food, showers, and medical attention; emergency short-term (1-6 months) and transitional housing (2 years) in shared apartments throughout Brooklyn and Queens; an outreach program that provides supplies for youth still on the streets; hormone therapy an transgender-specific housing for transgender youth; and a peer mentorship program which allows past recipients of support to work as peer educators for those new to the Center.
How you can help: The AFC offers a variety of opportunities for those looking to help. Since the Center operates as a residence and support service for homeless youth, they remain open and operational during the shutdown. They are in need of volunteers to help with meal preparation and to work as mentors to facilitate workshops, life-training skills, and one-on-one support with resume-building and job searches in their Learning, Employment, Advancement, and Placement program (LEAP). They are also looking for volunteers to help with event planning, and with administrative work in their mid-town office. Most onsite volunteer positions come with a minimum monthly commitment.
If you aren’t able to volunteer your time, you can still help out by donating to the AFC. In addition to financial donations, the Center also accepts donations of clothing, games, housewares, test books, and other items that go directly to the youth in need; you can purchase items through the Center’s Amazon Wish List. The AFC also has a separate Wish List with items specific to transgender youth needs.
Who are they? The Audre Lorde Project
Where are they? Main office Brooklyn; services provided to greater NYC area
What do they do? Named for the iconic writer and activist, the Audre Lorde Project (ALP) is a community organization center focused on building wellness, education, and progressive reforms for LGBTQ+, Two-Spirit, and Gender Non-Conforming people of color in New York City. The ALP facilitates community organization, education, and development through programs like SafeOUTSide the System, an anti-violence collective that teaches communities, groups, and organization de-escalation, reducing their reliance on police, and Brick by Brick, a campaign for safe housing for transgender persons. According to their annual report, the ALP is looking to expand their grassroots funding while divesting themselves of state funds and grants so that they can more directly serve the New York community.
How you can help: In addition to accepting financial donations, the ALP also offers opportunities for those who want to work more directly within the organization. Interested volunteers should sign up for the membership program, available on the ALP website. The program offers three tiers for volunteers: Supportive Membership, for those with lower time commitment; Active & Active Ally Membership, for those with medium-level time commitment; and Core Membership, for those with high time commitment. The ALP is looking for members to help with fundraising, writing, event planning, and outreach, as well as perform administrative work or join working group committees that direct organization policy.
Who are they? The Center for Black Equity
Where are they? Nationwide
What do they do? Founded as the International Foundation of Black Prides in 1999, the Center for Black Equity (CBE) is a multinational network committed to advancing economic, social, and health equity for Black LGBTQ+ communities. The network consists of Black Pride organizations throughout the United States, North America, and Europe, and on member programs such as DC Black Pride, Philadelphia Black Pride, Center for Black Equity Alabama, and Center for Black Equity Baltimore. Partner programs work within their local communities to improve opportunities for LGBTQ+ persons of color by organizing community-building events, facilitating job training, and providing access to medical care and HIV testing.
How you can help: Financial donations support the network of Prides and programs who are part of the CBE. At the local level, most member programs and many Pride organizers nationwide — who also accept financial support directly — are on the lookout for qualified volunteers.
Where are they located? Greater New York City; Global Reach
What do they do? GLITS was founded in 2015 by Ceyenne Doroshow, a trans woman and former sex worker, to advance healthcare and human rights for transgender sex workers. The organization works to address four key issues: supporting transgender asylum-seekers; improving access to healthcare and safe sex supplies for transgender sex workers; improving housing conditions for transgender persons and providing support for job placement and legal services; and advocating for transgender health, wellness, and inclusion in society at large.
GLITS also offers re-entry support for transgender persons who are incarcerated which includes career training, housing and clothing referrals, and TransDignity Post-Release Kits that include necessary toiletries and make-up products. This past year, in the wake of both the Covid pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, GLITS’ founder Doroshow raised over $1 million that will go toward opening housing units and support centers for Black transgender persons in the greater New York area.
How you can help: GLITS is looking for volunteers to help with fundraising, social media, web design, writing, event planning. If you are interested, you can apply to be a volunteer on the organization’s website. They also accept financial donations.
Who are they? The Okra Project
Where are they? Providing services to Black transgender persons in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
What do they do? The Okra Project was started in 2018 by Ianne Fields Stewart as a collective to train Black trans chefs to prepare home-cooked, healthy, and culturally-specific meals to Black trans persons in need. While the project has had to suspend the at-home meal service during the Covid pandemic, it has shifted its response to provide mental health services to Black trans persons in need through the Nina Pop and Tony McDade Mental Health Recovery Funds. This past year, following the Black Lives Matter protests, the project raised over $100,000, compared to its previous operating budget of $10,000. Currently, the Okra Project is slated to resume its meal services in 2021. In an interview with Forbes, Stewart said that she hopes to open a physical location with an on-site kitchen.
How you can help: The Okra project accepts financial donations, which are tax-deductible.