In November, Lighthouse Foundation released its 2023 update on its research project, the Black Queer Equity Index, providing a guide that non-profit leaders can use to improve the experiences of marginalized employees and clients.
Since 2020, researchers have surveyed and interviewed Black queer board members and employees within four LGBTQ+ non-profits in order to identify some of the biggest challenges they face in their workplaces and provide solutions to help leaders address them.
"This project is unabashedly focused on the needs of Black queer employees and board members, because we recognize that centering the needs of those who experience compounded marginality is the key to these organizations better serving their entire workforce and the wider community," said Lighthouse Foundation founder Jamie Frazier. "When Black queer people win, everybody wins."
In March, the four non-profit organizations that participated in the studyAIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC), Center on Halsted, Chicago House and Howard Brown Healthwill receive personalized reports that will show the areas they can improve and offer tools to do so.
Every year following, the organizations will each receive another report detailing their progress.
Equality Illinois participated in the first phase of the study, but its leaders and employees didn't take part in the surveys or focus groups that led to the creation of the rubric, Frazier said. This means they won't get a personalized report in March.
Frazier said Equality Illinois leaders told him they were too busy to continue the study, and didn't think the results would apply to the organization because it's not a service provider. Equality Illinois didn't respond to requests for comment.
"All of these organizations, including Equality Illinois, serve LGBTQ+ Black and Brown communities and have some impact in fighting HIV/AIDS, so all of the questions posed in this rubric are relevant to Equality Illinois," Frazier said.
He added that there's still time for Equality Illinois to finish participating in the study and receive their personalized reports, and "challenges" its leaders to do so.
In the future, Lighthouse Foundation hopes to work with another cohort of non-profits to continue adding information to the index and to help more leaders improve equity in their organizations.
But, Lighthouse Foundation needs more funding in order to do so, Frazier explained.
"We need financial investment … to make this what we know it can and must be," he said. "That is, a national tool for not only Black queer liberation but ultimately for the betterment of the entire workforce, so they can better meet the needs of the communities they seek to serve."
The Black Queer Equity Index and its creation
The Black Queer Equity Index's recently released rubric is designed to help organizations "create standards for good and faithful non-profit management," Frazier noted.
Researchers were able to create the rubricwhich lays out the challenges employees face and offers tools to address themafter spending about three years speaking with Black LGBTQ+ employees and board members.
Terra Campbell, associate director of community relations at Howard Brown, participated in the project's surveys and focus groups to share her experiences at the non-profit as a Black trans woman.
Campbell was struck by how many people shared her experiences and faced similar challenges, she said. Every single person who participated reported experiencing marginalization, according to the study.
"I wanted to participate because I saw there was a need for organizations that are trying to be diverse to have a place to start, so they can really create a space where Black leaders can grow and where they feel safe and appreciated," Campbell said.
Lighthouse Foundation partnered with Northwestern's EDIT program, an organization that leverages its research expertise to improve the wellness of marginalized groups, in order to properly collect data from the study's participants.
"We love finding ways to support agencies who are trying to make things better for their communities," said Gregory Phillips, founder of Northwestern's EDIT team. "We've been really happy with the way this has played out ,and we're excited to see how it can actually make a meaningful change for people."
Throughout the process of creating the surveys and focus group guides, researchers continuously consulted with outside experts from Black and queer-led organizations, like Life is Work, Brave Space Alliance, the Chicago Black Men's Caucus and many more.
The study was funded by twenty companies and organizations, including the Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund, ECLA World Hunger, Grand Victoria Foundation and ViiV Healthcare.
"This isn't the Lighthouse Foundation Equity Index, this is the Black Queer Equity Index," Frazier said. "If it's going to truly be Black and queer, then the project must, from beginning to end, be deeply collaborative and include the voices of black, queer led and serving organizations."
The new rubric essentially defines some of the challenges that Black queer employees said they faced within their non-profits, including a lack of access to professional development and an inability to share their lived expertise with higher-ups.
Then, the rubric provides specific interventions to address each concern. The interventions are designed to improve employees' experiences within the workplace but also equip the non-profit organizations to better support the marginalized communities they serve, Frazier said.
By clearly defining organizations' shortcomings and offering actionable steps to address them, the index provides a road map for non-profit leaders who want to make their organizations more equitable.
"I appreciate the way the project is positioned," said Angela Barnes, a former Center on Halsted board member who participated in the study from its inception. "It wasn't about giving people a passing or failing grade, but it was about building a tool that really gauges how well organizations are serving the community and tries to get them where they need to be."
The upcoming March reports illustrate if the organization meets the study's newly developed standards for a more equitable workplace as well as access to tools to help each one improve.
Erik Glenn, a researcher from Northwestern University's EDIT program, said he's excited this research project will "quickly" have some "material impact" on people's lives.
"It's hard not to see the immediate value in this type of work," Glenn added. "It's difficult to find research on the implementation of structural interventions, especially when it comes to queer communities of color."
What Did The Black Queer Equity Index Uncover?
Based on the reported experiences of Black queer employees and board members at LGBTQ+ nonprofits, the index identifies five key areas leaders can address in order to increase equity within their organizations.
The index implores leaders to better allocate resources, give more voice and power to marginalized groups, prioritize systemic change over individual efforts, collect demographic data and provide more professional development opportunities.
"Sadly, none of the findings really surprised me," said Barnes. "Still, I think it's very important for these things to be called out. There's importance in taking the temperature and having this data so that people can't say this isn't real or just one person's experience."
The index shows nonprofit leaders what they're doing wrong, but also provides tools to help improve their processes so they can ensure their Black queer employees and clients have access to the resources they need.
The section about resource allocation asks organizations to analyze how much they spend on programming for their employees and clients, and then assess the differences in cost per person based on the participants' race, gender, sexuality and zip code.
If an organization is already doing this, it meets the index's standard. If an organization analyzes these costs based on a few identity markers, but not all, they'll receive lower grades as well as recommended strategies to improve their processes.
Another portion of the rubric implores non-profit organizations to "create mechanisms that give voice and power to the most marginalized in the organization, whose experiences match those of the clients." Organizations meeting this standard can demonstrate that they offer ways for Black LGBTQ+ employees to speak directly to leaders, including CEOs. They also provide affinity spaces for Black LGBTQ+ employees to build community and create workplace solutions.
The index identifies organizations' tendency to expect Black LGBTQ+ individuals to personally contend with the racism they experience, and calls on leaders to implement more systemic changes in order to create a healthy work environment.
Frazier was surprised to learn that many of the organizations surveyed didn't track intersectional demographic data. In most cases, non-profits tracked people's race, gender and sexuality, but they didn't make note of people's intersecting identities.
For example, an organization might track how many queer people it employs and how many Black people it employs, without noting how many Black queer employees it employs. To meet the index's standard, organizations must track intersecting demographic data and document grievances, terminations and discipline alongside people's identities.
To address this, Lighthouse is working with the EDIT team to create a tool to make it easier for employers to capture this information.
"This is a profound example of how the BQEI does not just expose a problem, but also creates a solution," Frazier said.
Black queer employees overwhelmingly asked for more professional development opportunities that "offset the marginality they have experienced," according to the index.
To meet the professional development standard, organizations must offer training opportunities led by Black LGBTQ+ people or organizations with "rigorous analytical preparation, meaningful life experiences and deep connections to the community."
The standard requires organizations to offset employees' workload so they can complete the training, include training within the employee performance review process and analyze the cost of each person's training alongside their identity markers. Organizations should also offer external coaching programs and internal mentorship programs for Black LGBTQ+ employees, according to the index.
The index is not only designed to identify non-profits' shortcomings but also to support leaders' efforts to improve their organizations.
"The biggest thing I noticed from Lighthouse Foundation, was that they actually mobilized and took action based on the data they collected," said Campbell, a study participant. "They didn't just let the report sit on a shelf and get dusty like some folks do."
Lighthouse also created more professional development courses and networking opportunities for Black queer employees. This year, the Lighthouse Foundation launched its inaugural Workforce Development Conference, convening Black LGBTQ+ non-profit staff and unemployed people for interactive workshops, resume development, networking events and more.
"This is a great example of how this project is not a call out, it's a call in," Frazier said. "It's not merely making noise on the sidewalk, it's creating a pathway to systemic change."
What's next For the Black Queer Equity Index
Frazier said he hopes the project will continue even after the non-profits take delivery of their reports. Barnes said studies like the Black Queer Equity Index are important because Black LGBTQ+ employees might not always feel comfortable "raising their hand and being vocal" about the challenges they face within a board or staff meeting.
"When you have a mechanism where you can say how you're feeling and how you think things can improve in a safe way, that's so beneficial for organizations," Barnes said. "When you can compare the information you gathered to the results of your cohorts in the industry, that's even more helpful."
Now that the initial research from the Black Queer Equity Index exists, other researchers can use it to expand their own studies, Glenn said, adding that it "immediately becomes a resource for other investigators around the country and the world. Where we've found a little, they'll find a little more. It will push the dialogue further."
Campbell encouraged other non-profit leaders to participate in the project because their input can help lead to more sustainable solutions to inequity.
"The work that you do today is the liberation you create for the next generation of employees in the space you work in," Campbell said. "It's an invaluable opportunity because it not only helps ourselves, but it also helps the next person of color that's applying to the organization."
The report is available at bit.ly/BQEIUpdate .