LGBT philanthropists tour South Africa


San Francisco lesbian philanthropists Tracy Gary, left, and Jody Cole, right, two of the 17 participants in Atlantic Philanthropies LGBT donor tour of South Africa. (Photo: Inka von Sternenfels)


Anyone who knows Jody Cole, owner of Wild Rainbow African Safaris, know she’s passionate about Africa and loves sharing knowledge about the continent, but this time she wasn’t leading the tour, she was being led.

Jody, along with 17 other European and U.S. LGBT philanthropists — including San Franciscans Tracy Gary and her partner Inka von Sternenfels — participated in a first-of-its-kind donor trip to South Africa focused on LGBT issues in January. The trip was organized through Atlantic Philanthropies.

“I obviously have a passion for Africa and more particularly sub-Saharan Africa,” says Jody, who has partnered with Sweet, a lesbian travel company that gives guests the option to go on volunteer excursions.

Jody is also a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and wanted to get more involved culturally in southern Africa, she says.

The donor tour was her next step into making a deeper investment into southern Africa. “It just was a natural next step for me,” says Jody, a 49-year-old lesbian, talking about her more than 20 years of LGBT activism and philanthropy in the San Francisco Bay Area and her deepening interest in Africa. “The next step would be for me to couple my work of taking people to Africa on safari and philanthropic passion.”

Tracy, 61, agreed, and as the only lesbian couple on the trip she “highly recommended it for couples to go.”

“The most moving part is the understanding that the work is not done,” says Tracy, who was touched by the African LGBT activists’ “extraordinary sense of hope,” especially after experiencing so much brutality and living in poverty.

Tracy is a foundation expert and the author of “Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy.”

The trip started with a pre-tour for guests who arrived early in Cape Town. The group then took its tour, which included a safari trip guided by Jody.

Each donor paid for their own travel expenses as well as donated $10,000 to participate in the tour, says Katherine Pease, the U.S. co-organizer of the LGBT South African delegation for Atlantic Philanthropies.

Helping LGBT southern Africans

The tour was a part of Atlantic Philanthropies’ passing of the torch to the new Other Foundation, which in collaboration with HIVOS is focused on LGBT human rights in southern Africa. HIVOS is an international development and humanitarian organization based in the Netherlands that works in developing countries, according to its website.

The Other Foundation is being formulated to continue humanitarian work as Atlantic Philanthropies’ funding for South Africa will cease at the end of the year, explained Katherine .

Carla Sutherland, Ph.D., a foundation and gender and sexuality expert, has been tapped as the Other Foundation’s interim director, says Katherine, a 43-year old bisexual woman. Sutherland has experience in establishing grassroots grantmaking in the southern African region and in Asia and the Middle East. She formerly established and led LGBT funding programs for the Arcus and Ford foundations.

Atlantic Philanthropies has invested $5 million to be distributed over a five-year period to establish the Other Foundation, a limited-life foundation for the LGBTI community in the southern African region, says Gerald Kraak, program executive of the reconciliation and human rights of Atlantic Philanthropies in South Africa. HIVOS is providing the direct program funding, he added.

While South Africa has the most progressive LGBT laws written into its constitution and advocates for LGBT rights on the global stage, enforcing the laws on the ground and in the justice system continues to be a challenge, according to experts.

Katherine believes the model for the Other Foundation comes at a critical time in the global LGBT movement. The foundation empowers local organizations to inform donors about their activism and issues within their communities and distributing monies, investing to make changes in their communities. At the same time the foundation creates confidence in individual donors, empowering them through increased direct access to what is happening on the ground through its program.

“This is a really important model,” says Katherine , who helped organize the donor delegation tour to South Africa. “There’s an increasing interest in the LGBTI community in the U.S. around supporting LGBTI issues globally. The needs are so enormous and I think that finding ways to give donors the experience of seeing and understanding what’s on the ground is very powerful, giving them the confidence to know that their contributions are going to really have the impact: The kinds of impacts that they envision.”

Inka von Sternenfels, Tracy’s partner, listens intently to the guide along with other LGBT members of the LGBTQI Donor Study Tour of South Africa. (Photo: Tracy Gary)

Inka von Sternenfels, Tracy’s partner, listens intently to the guide along with other LGBT members of the LGBTQI Donor Study Tour of South Africa. (Photo: Tracy Gary)

Paying it forward

The goal of the tour was to raise awareness and eventually money for the plight of African LGBT activists in the southern African region. During the journey donors met LGBT community leaders representing 30 organizations from southern Africa, including Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zaire, and visited the Alexandra township outside of Cape Town, says Katherine. Donors also explored the politics of southern Africa, gender-based violence, intersex and transgender issues, LGBT activism in rural African communities as well as different ways of giving and their own interest areas.

“We were there to learn,” says Jody, but by the end of the tour she was “feeling very, very small.”

“How can my writing a check or sitting here in a room with these people really make a difference in their lives?” asked Jody, describing one woman the group met who told her story of being gang raped three months before.

“She was just as poised as could be, absolutely beautiful black woman, telling her story,” says Jody. “I felt helpless. I felt completely and utterly helpless in that moment.”

Jody and Tracy believe that trips like the one organized by Atlantic Philanthropies are profoundly important and “absolutely necessary,” says Jody.

Tracy says she and von Sternenfels wouldn’t have learned as much if they hadn’t taken the trip or went on their own.

“We had an exceptional trip because there were so many local leaders and advocates who were there,” says Tracy.

The tour was successful, according to Katherine . An estimated $370,000 of funding was identified to support LGBTI issues in South Africa as a result of the tour, she told Girls That Roam.

Perhaps one of the most moving moments on the trip, at least for Jody, was discovering where the southern African LGBT movement is today compared to the U.S. movement.

Jody estimates that maybe only four leaders the group met even had an operating budget or knew what they were referring to. It reminded many of the activists and philanthropists of pre-Stonewall days when U.S. LGBTs experienced extreme violence and had nowhere to turn, as there was no formal LGBT organization, she says.

LGBTQI Donor Study Tour

Inka von Sternenfels, far right, with other members of the LGBTQI Donor Study Tour of South Africa and southern African gay activists. (Photo: Tracy Gary)

“Where they are in their movement is that they are still trying to figure it out,” says Jody. “There is no infrastructure there. There are still horrible things happening in the community, not to say it has stopped here. They don’t know where to turn. They have organizations popping up all over the place. There was a true and real desire and need – kind of almost an emergency state in some places – to set something formally up, but they don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Jody questions how to get U.S. LGBTs to help at a time when the community’s infrastructure is somewhat solid and growing.

“How can we get other people involved?” asks Jody, pointing out the privileges LGBTs now have in the U.S. “In the United States we kind of have an infrastructure in place. We have community centers. We’ve got national organizations. We’ve got a president now who is directly addressing marriage and our cause, speaking our name in front of the entire nation,” says Jody.

“How do we encourage people of means — both time and money — to start looking outside of our current world and encourage them to participate in advocating on behalf of international gays and lesbians who do not have the same privilege we have,” Jody says.

To learn more about the Other Foundation, contact Kraak at

Originally published by the Bay Area Reporter.

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