Since their debut in 1998, twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin have advocated for LGBTQ and gender equality amid a recording career that has sold over 1 million albums, earned three Juno Awards and one Grammy nomination. The Vancouver-based duo — who in 2019 released a memoir, High School, and a new album, Hey, I’m Just Like You — launched the Tegan and Sara Foundation in 2016 to improve the lives of fellow LGBTQ women and girls.
In March, TSF established a series of community grants to meet the immediate needs created by the coronavirus pandemic among LGBTQ people, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus due to factors including “compromised immune systems, higher rates of tobacco use and provider discrimination,” according to TSF.
The program provided $29,000 to grassroots organizations in North America through microgrants worth between $500 and $1,000 in its first round; the foundation is currently funding another round to benefit black-led organizations. Previously, TSF primarily funded what Tegan calls “shared spaces,” including LGBTQ summer camps and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in high schools. Tegan explains why the work of TSF (which accepts donations at teganandsarafoundation.org/donate-to-tsf) is so crucial.
For 23 years, Sara and I have been playing music and meeting fans, and a massive part of our audience is female or queer-identifying. But progressively over the past few years, we started to hear stories that didn’t sound like ours anymore. Young queer people we talked to still felt an enormous amount of pressure and shame around their identity, and they were not accepted or having struggles at work or with family and friends. Those stories sparked us to want to do more and fund programs to increase positive representation.
In launching the foundation, we started a whole other business which involved grant writing, funding and social media. There was so much we didn’t know, and it has been so much harder to raise money than we thought. Major corporations love to throw money behind Pride, but with [events] being shut down this year, all of the physical spaces and money dried up. A lot of the organizations we were interested in helping didn’t have the power or staff to apply for grants, so we tried to make our process simple and easy. We didn’t make people jump through hoops, but we were also incredibly cautious about who we were supporting. All of the organizations [selected in the first round] are small and doing necessary work.
To have this foundation is incredibly satisfying, gratifying and empowering, but it also hurts a lot. We’ve raised over $1 million, but it took three years. I wish more people cared about trans women of color. I wish that people didn’t think that because we got marriage equality, the fight is over. We’re growing and learning, and the social justice community has embraced us, but it can be hard to pull back the curtain and see how the hot dogs are made.