For the past six years, Jarrett Lucas has been making his way, as he says, "up the non-profit stepping stool," working at Stonewall Foundation for the past six years. Now Executive Director, Lucas is steering the ship of one of the city's most visible nonprofits, responsible for helping support and promote many LGBTQ organizations and issues in New York. PAPER, in collaboration with American Express, talked to Lucas about Stonewall's plans for the future, his hopes for New York, and why he's so excited to see LGBTQ youth expressing themselves on the subway.
How did you come to Stonewall and what are you doing for them (you're sort of helming the ship now, correct?)
I'm really tempted to make a pirate joke here… But yes, I am helming the ship. I started at Stonewall six years ago as a consultant. My job was to create an initiative that would identify and train a diverse group of young people to serve on nonprofit boards. In the process of doing that, I fell in love with the organization and its ethos of centering identities that often get pushed to the margins. Also, I'm trained as an engineer and am super curious, so I got involved with EVERYTHING. Governance. Scholarships. Special events. I went from consultant to Program Manager to Deputy Director to Executive Director. You could say I climbed the nonprofit step stool. And I'm still doing a little bit of everything.
What is Stonewall working on this summer/the near future? What's on the horizon for the organization right now?
Right now we're busy mobilizing support for our community in Orlando. In striving to live up to the spirit of the Stonewall riots, we fight like hell to make sure our people have what they need to resist fear, discrimination, and violence. And we do that through philanthropy, which is basically translating love into action. Stonewall got its start in the 80s during the early days of the AIDS crisis, setting up funds for people who were dying, turning great loss into legacy. After the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Sandy, we supported the people most affected. This is who we are. I'm proud to be at an organization where being responsive doesn't mean setting our work aside. In fact, we get to dive more deeply into our mission of channeling money to where it'll have the greatest impact. In the months ahead, we'll also be launching grant initiatives that serve the trans community, LGBTQ youth, and people at the highest risk of becoming HIV-positive.
How can people get involved with Stonewall and support it? What's the best way to do so?
Donate! Stonewallfoundation.org/donate It shows you have skin in the game. Also, we're a foundation. We move money in strategic ways. Every dollar we have to grant begins its life as a gift. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities, too. We only have four staff, so we are always looking for skilled folks, from video editors to investment bankers. We can put anyone to work. Call us. 212-367-1155. Or email us email@example.com. We answer and we reply!
What do you think have been some recent really positive developments—both in NYC's nonprofit universe, and the city's broader LGBTQ community?
Getting a project off the ground in NYC takes a lot of effort, especially when it's bricks and mortar. But, about a month ago, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Bronx Trans Collective, a new drop-in center by Yankee Stadium where trans and gender non-conforming people can build community and receive services tailored to their needs. Stonewall made a modest grant to furnish the space and we also fund several of the trans-led groups housed there, so it was a big deal to witness the opening. The center is going to touch, change, and save countless lives. What's brighter than that?
What do you think is the next big step, both for Stonewall Community Foundation and for New York's LGBTQ community in general?
There are so many issues that deserve more attention and energy, but I hesitate to name a single one as a priority. And I'll admit to some bias, being that Stonewall funds in over 30 issue areas. I just believe our movement can do better than single-issue politics. We're supposed to have a whole agenda! LGBTQ people are wonderfully complicated and we deserve a wonderfully complicated movement. One that is intersectional. A movement that recognizes that ending homelessness requires that we address sexism, the wealth divide, access to education, Christian fundamentalism, racism, and the criminal legal system. A movement that understands the difference between trying to save homeless youth and trying to end homelessness. I want that. I want service provision that embraces intellectual scholarship and real life. I want advocacy that makes a point not to leave people behind. I want a movement that names root causes and opposes what we're actually up against. See what happens when you let an engineer-turned-activist take the helm?
What are some of your favorite things about New York's young LGBT community?
I am in looove with the Ackerman Institute's Gender and Family Project. We recently honored them at our annual gala. The Project works with children who are gender expansive, and their families, to foster acceptance and safety. In a world that's so rigidly "organized" by the M or F binary, it ain't easy to say, This is who I am, when you've been labeled or identified as something else. To know that a six-year-old kid who is trans has a chance to be exactly who they are, with family support, makes me so happy.
I am also living for the LGBTQ teens that hold hands, cuddle, kiss, and kiki on the subway. Or anywhere in public really. Those acts are revolutionary! I may never know their names, but they are, as Laverne Cox prefers to be called, possibility models. They model what it means to live courageously. They show us how dope, interesting, and honest our own journeys could be.
And my last shout-out has to go to Marizol Leyva, who is literally a model. Marizol is this gorgeous, kind, and talented young trans Latina from the Bronx. She also happens to be the younger sister of one of my favorite allies, Selenis Leyva, who plays Gloria Mendoza on Orange Is the New Black. I think it's so important to spotlight the heroic people who inspire allies and give them the chance to step up and show up. Marizol is one of those people. And, if I have my way, she's also going to be the first trans person to host a cooking show on the Food Network.
Photo courtesy Jarrett Lucas.