Over the past nine years, the Trans Justice Funding Project (TJFP) has distributed more than $4.5 million across 1,116 grants to groups run by and for trans people.

Earlier this month, TJFP announced its 2021 grant recipients, awarding $850,000 in grants to 191 trans-led grassroots groups, projects, and organizations. Of these recipients, 121 were first-time applicants to the program; 159 had BIPOC leadership; and 15 came from places outside the contiguous U.S., including Puerto Rico and the Northern Marina Islands. TJFP also distributed 117 ReUp renewal grants, bringing its total 2021 funding to $1.3 million and 308 organizations.

We talked with TJFP Co-Founder and Executive Director, Gabriel Foster, to learn more about how this Industrious 594 Dean member company is working to fund groups tackling a wide range of issues — including racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other oppressions that intersect with the experiences of trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Tell us about the Trans Justice Funding Project.

The Trans Justice Funding Project is a community-led funding initiative founded in 2012 to support grassroots trans justice groups and projects run by and for trans nonbinary people in the U.S., including U.S. territories.

We make grants annually by bringing together a panel of six trans and nonbinary activists and organizers from around the country to review applications, decide who our grantees will be for that year, and the amount of funding that they will receive. When we say community-led funding processes, we mean that the people most affected are the ones who make the decisions about where funding goes within various trans and nonbinary communities.

There aren’t a lot of foundations or funding initiatives that were built by and for trans people. We are primarily, if not almost all, BICOP, Black, brown, indigenous, or people of color. Many of us are never invited to make final decisions about our communities. So challenging the power dynamics about who gets to make decisions in general, but also about funding in particular, is really important to us.

Every penny that we raise goes directly to our grantees. We want to reward the work our grantees are doing then get out of the way so that they can continue to do their best work.

What are some of the groups the Trans Justice Funding Project has helped fund?

Over the past nine years, the work we’ve been able to fund has really expanded. For a lot of our grantees, this is the first time they’ve applied for funding. It’s really profound that there are all these groups that are still popping up — last year and this year, more than 100 of the groups that have applied have been new. To be able to fund so many newer groups in all parts of the country feels like a major win.

Some of the groups we funded back in the day are now too big for us, like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Another one of our grantees that is no longer a grantee is My Sistah’s House. They build tiny houses for trans people to live in so that they can have a safe community and access to housing.

In our first year, we were able to raise a little more than $55,000 in about six weeks, mostly by word of mouth and Facebook. This year we’ve been able to fund 308 groups with $1.3 million. So we’ve come a really long way.

Something else that’s unique to our communities-led funding model is that, from the beginning, we’ve funded groups that do not have 501(c)(3) status or fiscal sponsorship because sometimes the most powerful and radical work doesn’t come from an office or government structure. We want those groups to be able to continue to do critical work regardless of their status.

Why do you love what you do?

Every year, around the fundraising season, I read the applications myself and see how much people are doing with so little; yet they’re still doing it, because they’re called to it. It is their purpose. It restores my faith in humanity, frankly.

The people who make up the Trans Justice Funding Project are just really incredible people who want to come back to each other, year, after year, after year, and make that impact greater year, after year, after year, for the next generation and for the generation that exists today. I’m floored by it. And so I’m always appreciative of all the ways that people give and give generously.

The majority of the people who give to us are individuals. We have more than 4,000 monthly donors now. It just reaffirms for me again — and again, and again — after 20-plus years of being in community organizing — of all the incredible things we can do when we come together and we pull our resources. We can be unstoppable.

Trans Justice Funding Project staff members meet virtually (clockwise from top left): Gabriel Foster, Co-Founder and Executive Director; Marin Watts, Director of Operations and Communications; Demian Yoon, Database and Communications Coordinator; and Deputy Director Cathy Kapua.
Trans Justice Funding Project staff members meet virtually (clockwise from top left): Gabriel Foster, Co-Founder and Executive Director; Marin Watts, Director of Operations and Communications; Demian Yoon, Database and Communications Coordinator; and Deputy Director Cathy Kapua.

How can people support the Trans Justice Funding Project?

The slogan for our fundraiser was “Our future is now.” I really do believe that. If you want to see a different future, you have to support it now.

If people are able to give even $1, that adds up, right? Someone sent in snail mail with a check for $5 and wrote: “My monthly benefits are coming in, but not soon enough; I just wanted to make sure I got to donate.” Together we can have an impact.

One of the things that’s really beautiful is that we are funded primarily by individuals. When you have individuals that give you funding, there aren’t usually a ton of strings attached, which means that we can really do some powerful work because we don’t have someone telling us exactly what to do with our funding. We get to give it to the communities and make sure that they can not only keep the lights on, but also can hire more staff or expand their work far and wide.

We have so many people that give to us and have been continuing to give. Last year when racial uprisings were happening across the country, people came and rose to support an organization like us that is Black and trans led. So many people came into our website to donate at one point that our website broke.

We also invite people to spend some time on our website to learn more and to share that information. We have a digital map of the different groups that we’ve funded, so if people want to fund them directly, they don’t need to do so through only us.

How does your Industrious workplace inform your work?

When we first came to Industrious, it was the first office space we’d ever had. It was kind of scary, but the moment that we got in there, Industrious did so much mixing and mingling, and wanting to make sure that the different groups, organizations, and businesses really knew each other — it really helped.

We got to connect with folks that were doing equally amazing things, share our work with each other, and grow our knowledge. I met people who are doing innovative HIV/AIDS work and got to learn from the other folks who were also queer and brown and Black who were working around immigration issues and migrant issues. And if we hadn’t been in that coworking space we wouldn’t have had access to some of those people and gotten to have those conversations. So it was really incredible.

At one point the Transgender Law Center ended up working next door to us. We were working with them already, so it created this hub where we got to be in conversations in-person with people we would have been in meetings with already.

Is there anything new happening with the Trans Justice Funding Project that you’d like to share?

Our 10th anniversary is coming up. We’re in the process of completely revamping our website to make it even more of a multimedia interactive resource. There will be videos about trans organizing, particularly in areas that are under-resourced and overlooked. We’re really excited to work on that, and we were hoping to launch it at the end of the year.