A trio of gutsy and remarkable women working to advance LGBTQ rights around the globe were honored last week by the equally indomitable Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
The foundation’s 40th anniversary gala on Nov. 13 drew more than 300 people to celebrate the lasting contributions to social change made by Katherine Acey, who led the Astraea Foundation for 23 years; Indyra Mendoza, founder of CATTRACHAS in Honduras; and Joo-Hyun Kang, director at Communities United for Police Reform.
All three have helped foster the legacy of this global human rights bellwether, which has held the distinction of being the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQ rights around the world since 1977.
As a longtime admirer of Astraea’s work – I had the honor of serving on the grants panel in the early days of the organization’s International Fund for Sexual Minorities, and the Levi Strauss Foundation has supported Astraea for the past decade – I was thrilled to be on hand to mark this milestone.
Astraea’s impact and reach are unparalleled. It has directed more than $36 million in funding to pioneering grassroots organizations in all corners of the globe, with 1,700 partners hailing from 99 countries and 48 U.S. states. Its organizational resume boasts a litany of firsts, including the first to support a transgender group (1993) and the first U.S. organization to support international LGBTQ groups (1996).
But it is the way Astraea does its work that stands out.
This is where I cut my teeth in the work of foundations, learning almost everything I know about what it means to do high-impact, values-driven philanthropy. I saw firsthand how meaningful social change can blossom from modest investments in the grassroots.
As Joo-Hyun Kang, one of my personal heroes, said in her powerful acceptance speech: “It all starts with following the leadership of the most affected.”
Astraea’s talented staff are adept at not only identifying resourceful activists but also supporting them through the lifecycle of their brave work, whether they are starting a helpline, educating journalists and judges, organizing campaigns against violence, building connections between social movements, or changing policies and cultures.
J. Bob Alotta, the organization’s visionary executive director, pointed out, “Astraea has granted $36 million in a way that no one else would have done.” To rapturous applause, Bob declared: “Astraea is freedom’s investment plan.”
It’s a plan we at the Levi Strauss Foundation are proud to invest in.
Learn more about Astraea’s work here: