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Honoring the legacy of Pride Month with Irvine Program Officer Tuquan Harrison

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. We spoke with Program Officer Tuquan Harrison about the legacy of Pride Month, its roots in activism, and what that means for philanthropy. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Tuquan, and I use he/they pronouns. I identify as a Black, non-binary person, born and raised in Inglewood, California.

Inglewood is a small neighborhood in the South-Bay region of L.A. and is well-known for having a thriving Black community. I was raised by a single mother but am part of a big family from a small, rural town in Texas called Itasca. Like many African-American families from the South, my lineage can be traced back to enslaved people.

When my mom was born, my grandma and auntie moved to California as part of the Great Migration, searching for safety and better economic opportunity. The late ‘80s and ‘90s in Los Angeles was a dark period because of rampant incarceration, surveillance, discriminatory housing practices, and lack of equal access to wealth building for Black Americans.

Although we struggled, we prided ourselves on the strong southern traditions, family values, and love. These family traditions and Black American Southern cultural practices continue to influence how I move through the world.

What path led you to work in philanthropy?

Philanthropy wasn’t on my radar as a career. I fell in love with grantmaking as a community organizer for the Budget Justice Coalition in San Francisco. The coalition of Bay Area organizations and advocates worked to reduce inequities in San Francisco’s city and county budget process, ensuring budget priorities reflect the needs of underrepresented communities: people living with HIV, LGBTQ+ youth, people without stable housing, and more.

That experience taught me the value of using collective voices to elevate community needs and led me to my role a Senior Advisor in the mayor’s office, working on grantmaking for LGBTQ-serving organizations. One highlight was launching the Dream Keeper Initiative in 2021, which reinvests $120 million in San Francisco Black communities to address historic inequities for all Black people.

And I had the opportunity to develop San Francisco’s first BIPOC Trans-Equity Funding project to provide a more flexible approach to public funding. That innovation is something I appreciate bringing to my role at the Irvine Foundation. With philanthropy, we can get to the root causes and create more expansive opportunities.

How does the experience of the LGBTQ+ community inspire your work at Irvine?

I’m inspired because there is a lot of work to do to improve economic opportunity. Irvine is in the position to dig deeper and put workers who are most marginalized at the center of our efforts.

I think about the experiences of transgender individuals, who continue to face barriers to hiring and lack some federal protections from on-the-job discrimination. Nationally, more than 4 in 10 transgender people who are currently working are underemployed, and transgender workers are more likely to have a household income under $10,000 compared to the general population. It can be difficult for transgender people to update their identification and documentation to match their identity, access healthcare, and medical leave for gender-affirming care, so this is a new layer to the conversation about quality jobs.

I am hopeful about creating pathways that empower folks economically. That requires thinking outside the box to serve workers whose needs don’t fit into how the systems are currently designed. I am inspired by the opportunity to support efforts that include all workers.

What does the legacy of Pride month mean to you?

For me, it’s important to remember that Pride started as a riot. Black and Latinx trans women and nonbinary people fought back at the Stonewall Inn because they were tired of police violence, over-surveillance, and being economically and politically disenfranchised. Honoring this legacy is about continuing to support the most marginalized people in our community.

Within the mainstream LGBTQ+ movement, many White and White-adjacent individuals have gained access to more economic opportunities, while BIPOC LGBQ and transgender people still struggle to achieve the same prosperity. There are communities who aren’t able to feel safe in their identity — so far, in 2022, 14 transgender people have already been murdered.

So when I think about the legacy of Pride, I think about continuing to champion racial equity and intersectionality, and recognizing that we aren’t seeing opportunities for people equally.

Happy Pride and onward toward an equitable future for all!