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While the South is home to more than a third of the U.S. LGBT population, less than 4 percent of national LGBT funding goes to the South, according to a 2014 report. Much of the vital work for LGBT equality in small towns around the South is done by grassroots organizations with little or no budget. Through the Southern Equality Fund, the Campaign for Southern Equality is committing resources to the grassroots groups that fuel our movement.

At the 2015 LGBT* in the South conference, we announced the first four grant recipients of the Southern Equality Fund. Three of the recipients were chosen by CSE, while the fourth was voted on by conference attendees.

Brandon King was awarded a grant for the Elite Project, which provides HIV counseling, resources and testing in the Birmingham area. The project will use the grant to promote their services and to reconnect with lost clients.

Central Alabama’s high infection rate spurred Brandon to apply.

“Recently Birmingham was listed as 17th in the country for HIV rates,” Brandon wrote. “For young people, particularly same-gender-loving young men of color that number is especially high.”

Suzy Guerrero of Henderson Fuerza Activa (Hendfact) also applied for a grant so that her group could promote their services. As an organization working to meet the needs of people in the Henderson, North Carolina area, they want to prominently place a billboard on the state highway in town, letting everyone know about their services. They also want to use the grant to fund a series of workshops that will help cultivate leadership within the community.

As the pastor of People Being Jesus (PBJ), Debbie Early has grown a unique ministry, with a focus on directly serving LGBTQ people, homeless people and people living with HIV. Debbie takes the ministry beyond spiritual care to address the needs the community members who show up, many of whom are referred by an HIV service provider. Debbie hopes to continue shining light in Hendersonville, and to grow the ministry to include support groups.

Z Zaldivar, who lives in the Foothills of North Carolina, applied for funding for a film project that will focus on the challenges transgender people face in the state and especially in rural areas. A central focus of the film will be suicide prevention in the trans* community. The film will be used to promote a forthcoming trans* resource guide that will connect transgender North Carolinians with competent service providers. In addition to the Southern Equality Fund grant, Zaldivar is working with Transgender Allies Group and Equality NC Foothills on the project.