For the past two decades, a small but mighty fund has been championing diversity and changing the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals along with other nonconforming people in the Tucson community.

The LGBTQ+ Alliance Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, will celebrate the milestone with a 20th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Grant Awards Ceremony on Sept. 19 at Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa, 245 E. Ina Road. The event has sold out.

“Tucson as a whole is a stronger, more vibrant community when it embraces all of its diversity. Overall, LGBTQ+ rights actually help benefit Tucsonans as a whole because when we create spaces that are welcoming of diverse people, it actually benefits all of the others that may not identify as LGBTQ but may in some way be nonconforming. By paving the way for differences to be accepted, everyone who is slightly different benefits,” said Kent Burbank, a long-time Alliance Fund board member.

Burbank has been a supporter and donor to the cause for the past 19 years, since initial recognition by the National Lesbian and Gay Community Funding Partnership that underfunding of LGBT issues was a serious problem.

“A great deal of research shows that LGBTQ+ issues are underfunded in comparison to other populations of similar sizes and similar issues. Our issues don’t get the same traction. It is slowly getting better, but we are still underfunded and we are determined to change that,” Burbank said.

Since inception, the Alliance Fund has gifted 182 grants totaling $873,397 to more than 65 nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of LGBTQ people in Pima County.

Burbank emphasized that grants run the gamut, encompassing the arts, education, health, homelessness and social services for youth, adults and seniors. In addition, it funds grants to many mainstream organizations — including Pima Council on Aging, which offers Cultural Competency Training on elder LGBTQ+ issues for long-term care providers and Our Family Services, which provides Emergency Housing for LGBTQ+ youth.

“Our Family Services would tell you that many of the homeless youth they work with are LGBTQ+ youth, but like many nonprofits, they are under-resourced. As a community, if we want LGBTQ+ issues and problems to be addressed, the best way is to make sure that mainstream organizations have dedicated funding streams for that,” Burbank said.

Burbank said the Alliance Fund is also gratified to provide funding streams for general operational support to nonprofits such as Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, Southern Arizona Senior Pride and Southern Arizona Gender Alliance.

SAGA is on a mission to “educate for, advocate for and create community for transgender and gender-nonconforming people.” It credits support from the Alliance Fund for funding of a part-time staff position and for much of the growth it has achieved, according to Erin Russ, SAGA director of programs.

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“If it weren’t for the Alliance Fund, we likely would not be where we are today. We are not big, but we are making a big impact and in large part, that is due to the continuous support from the Alliance Fund — financially and emotionally and also in referring us to other sponsors,” Ross said.

The small nonprofit provides inclusion training for health-care providers, mental-health providers, employers, human resource departments, first responders, public service officers, educational facilities and community service organizations.

SAGA also offers support, social and discussion groups that reflect the various aspects of gender and society; legal support for those seeking to change identity documents; and a list of providers and resources who understand and support the transgender community. Ross said that the nonprofit works with as many as 300 transgender people annually and the numbers continue to rise.

“We have more and more families contacting us to support their children. A national study a few years ago indicated that there are about 6,000 transgender adults in Pima County; that is just adults, not youth. We have had contact with about half of those adults since we have been in business and want to continue to get the word out and promote awareness about SAGA,” Ross said.

Ultimately, everyone in Tucson benefits — culturally, socially and economically — by having a strong LGBTQ+ community where people feel accepted for who they are, according to Burbank.

“Tucson wants to be a vibrant business community, and communities that embrace diversity and rights of LGBTQ+ people attract companies that want to have a diverse work force and locate in communities where that diversity is celebrated,” he said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net