L to R: Monisha Harrell and Marsha Botzer
L to R: Monisha Harrell and Marsha Botzer Courtesy of the authors

Which Northwest charitable foundation, known for its generous gifts to the Seattle Art Museum, Town Hall Association, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Seattle Arts and Lectures, also funds hate groups advocating for LGBTQ conversion therapy and discrimination? The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, based in Vancouver, WA, is the surprising answer.

While supporting arts and culture philanthropy with one hand, with the other hand the Murdock Trust is promoting hate, discrimination, and abuses like conversion therapy.

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Conversion therapy includes the monstrous practice of inducing nausea, vomiting, and other responses in LGBTQ youth while showing them erotic images. Last week the Washington Legislature passed a statewide ban on conversion therapy on minors, thanks to the hard work of key legislators, Equal Rights Washington, and many others.

During hearings on the ban bill, we were appalled to hear testimony from representatives of the Family Policy Institute of WA and the so called “American College of Pediatricians,” defending the inhumane treatment of our young people. These groups operate with assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which the Murdock Trust has awarded $375,000.

Declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alliance Defending Freedom has been called the largest anti-LGBTQ organization in the country. This Murdock Trust grantee uses high powered lawyers to defend conversion therapy, fight against marriage equality, and promote anti-transgender discrimination bills and initiatives around the country, including North Carolina and Washington State.

While applauding its own arts and culture programs, the Murdock Trust is much more quiet about its less popular agenda. According to its own tax forms and records, Murdock provides millions to anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, and anti-worker groups including: $212,000 to a gay conversion therapy provider, the Portland Fellowship; $1.24 million to Focus on the Family; and nearly half a million to the anti-worker Freedom Foundation. Murdock also gave nearly $ 2 million to anti-choice “crisis centers” that intimidate pregnant women and attack Planned Parenthood.

It’s ironic that, despite the Murdock Trust’s best efforts to erase us from public life, LGBTQ artists continue to thrive at institutions receiving their funds. While we’re not suggesting the Seattle Art Museum and Town Hall turn down much needed grants from the Murdock Trust, we think it’s time to increase the pressure and scrutiny on this funder.

Unfortunately, instead of listening to community demands to stop funding extremist groups, the Murdock Trust is ignoring criticism from both inside and outside the philanthropy world.

Steve Moore, the Trust’s Executive Director, appears to be unaware of the undeniable linkage between the hate speech delivered by his grantees and anti-LGBTQ violence. Responding to the mass murder of 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida, Moore called the Trust’s work “good, hopeful, constructive, and fruitful,” and characterized his staff as “agents of peace.” How can that possibly be true when the Trust is sending millions to the very same groups feeding public fear and dehumanizing LGBTQ people?

That’s just the money going out. Coming into the Murdock money pipeline are returns from millions invested with Endeavour Capital, which is under fire for funding ethically challenged bail bonds, polluters, and fraudulent health care providers. Murdock, through Endeavour, is also a part owner of New Seasons, a controversial retail chain with plans to open stores in Seattle’s Ballard and Central District neighborhoods over community objections. New Seasons is in the hot seat for hiring a union-busting firm associated with Trump Hotels, and two LGBTQ employees have alleged they were fired after they publicly criticized working conditions.

A local watchdog group, the Northwest Accountability Project, is launching a national petition calling on New Seasons to cut ties with the Murdock Trust. “New Seasons claims to care about equality and inclusion but their relationship to the Murdock Trust shows otherwise,” the group says. “Our hope is that this petition drive makes them do the right thing and sever their relationship to Murdock.”

If the Murdock Trust won’t stop funding anti-LGBTQ groups, then we must find other ways to stop it from benefiting from our community’s support and resources.

Monisha Harrell and Marsha Botzer are chair and vice chairs of the board of Equal Rights Washington.

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