On Monday evening, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice hosted a gala to celebrate the Foundation's 40th anniversary. The annual event brought together more than 385 individuals from around the world to honor the activists who have since Astraea's founding in 1977, led the fight for LGBTQI civil rights. During the celebration,
Astraea raised more than $100,000 in on-the-spot donations, the figure is made even more important given today's climate plagued by divisive. While the results of last Tuesday's elections were major victories on behalf of queer and people of color around representation in U.S. politics, there still remains so much left to fight for when it comes to LGBTQI rights. For example, 2017 has been the deadliest year on record for transgender people with at least 25 individuals mainly women of color were violently murdered.
The funds raised from Astraea's gala help the organization meet its goal to provide $40 million in grants to LGBTQI causes by the end of 2017, Astraea's 40th year.
"Astraea is freedom's investment plan," said J. Bob Alotta, Astraea's Executive Director. "We began as a small volunteer organization funded with just a few hundred dollars. The Founding Mothers envisioned and put into place an organization dedicated to LGBTQI causes. Over the next 40 years Astraea will continue to fuel the change makers of this resistance. I hope that we'll be able to move forward by coming together; openly discussing the intersection of money and power and supporting local organizations."
In 1977, Astraea was founded by a cross-class, inter-racial group of women activists as the first philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI justice. The organization was also the first to make a foundation grant to a trans* group in 1994, and two years later, Astraea became the first U.S. organization to provide critically needed funding to international LGBTQI groups working at the intersections of racial, economic, social and gender justice. In 2012, Astraea became the first public foundation in the U.S. to work with the federal government to support international LGBTQI rights. Recently, Astraea launched the first ever Intersex Human Rights Fund in the world. Today, Astraea remains an unparalleled leader in the justice for LGBTQI rights and the only foundation committed exclusively to this cause.
The gala, held at The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts in New York City, focused on celebrating Astraea's 40 years celebrated both its history and future of the movement honoring activists, artists and philanthropists. Honorees included Katherine Acey, who was appointed the Foundation's first Executive Director in 1989, a position she held for 23 years, leading the way for radical change of the 1990s and 2000s. Both Indyra Mendoza, the general coordinator and founder of CATTRACHAS and Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform received the Visionary Activist Award. Astraea presented Ise Bosch with her namesake Ise Bosch Transformative Philanthropy Award and also honored Kobi Conaway and Andrew Owen, seed funders for the world's first ever Intersex Human Rights fund and writer and organizer Naomi Sobel.
"I came to Astraea in 1995, when I was looking for a funder who worked internationally who could help me support lesbian issues," said honoree Ise Bosch. "Astraea's work reminds us that feminism and transformation are not just about identity, but whether we have the heart and vision to fight for justice,"
"We are at a pivotal time. It continues to be difficult to be part of the LGBTQI community both here in the U.S. and in so many places abroad," said honoree Nona Hendryx. "Astraea is working to funding organizations that enable real change and to uplift artists telling our stories. Through this work we see the human spirit is resilient, it is strong and we are resisting."
Gina Yashere, famed queer black comedian, emceed the gala, bringing humor to the event while advocating for improved freedoms for the LGBTQI community! Yashere who was named one of the top 10 rising talents in the Hollywood Reporter and is the only British person to have featured on "Def Jam," was not the sole source of entertainment for the evening Toshi Reagon, who Vibe Magazine describes as a "one woman celebration" and "one helluva a rocker," performed as did critically acclaimed jazz musician Liz Wright, who recently released a new album, Grace.
"From the beginning, the women who founded Astraea were conscious of being diverse and inclusive the need for us to be multi-class and multi-racial. But we were still cautious to use the term "lesbian," because of all of the backlash that surrounded the LGBTQI community in the 1970s," said Katherine Acey, Astraea's first executive director. "I am happy that we did, and that the use of "Lesbian" is a prominent part of our moniker now. I am proud of what Astraea has helped the LGBTQI community accomplish in the past 40 years- and am eager to see what the next 40 years hold."