Cyndi lauper has long been a staunch and high-profile champion of humanitarian rights, including for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
“I always figured, if you’ve got a big mouth, use it for something good,” says Lauper of her drive to end injustice in the world.
In 2008, Lauper co-founded (with Lisa Barbaris and Jonny Podell) the True Colors Fund, a philanthropic organization — named for Lauper’s platinum-selling 1986 album and its No. 1 Billboard track — that works to end homelessness among LGBT youth by educating the public, advocating within government agencies and instituting systemic change.
In America, up to 1.6 million young people experience homelessness each year and LGBT youth make up 40% of this staggering figure, according to the fund.
“At first, the True Colors Fund was (called) the Give a Damn Campaign,” says Lauper, who cites Harvey Fierstein, “a very outspoken advocate for the community,” as one of her main inspirations. “That was the beginning of it. It was about giving a damn about equality. I realized it would be a great thing if everybody gave a damn because, like in our civil-rights movement, everyone has to participate in order to create change — not just some of the people, not just the people it affects, but also the people it affects outside of the community. We all have brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who are affected.You can’t sit back and watch your family and friends have their civil rights stripped from them bit by bit. And that campaign got straight people, gay people, questioning people, bisexual people to stand forward and say, ‘I give a damn.’”
Since then, the True Colors Fund has successfully focused its efforts to end LGBT homelessness at the local, state and national levels through five key strategies: community organizing, public engagement, public policy, research and youth collaboration.
“The work that we do really is about looking at what the systems are and what are the solutions that are needed to be put in place to actually start driving the (homelessness) numbers down,” says Gregory Lewis, True Colors Fund executive director. “In America the response to homelessness has been a crisis response system. Our work is about creating the solutions that will start helping communities actually end the problem of youth homelessness.”
Planned initiatives and events for the True Colors Fund in 2016 include a True Fellowship program for selected LGBT youth to create, develop and execute their own LGBT-orientated projects within their communities; a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Research Project; and a continuation of the digital-based Forty to None Network, a national collaboration between professionals and youth committed to ending LGBT homelessness complete with a True Connect mobile app and online inclusion training program for service providers and communities.
“Our dream was to create a network so that all the extended caregivers and outreach programs and all the people involved who are servicing the (LGBT) youth will be able to see what everyone else is doing, because there was no online network,” says Lauper. “Now there is. We’re also working to bring in all the government agencies and trying to get everybody to work together to help the kids. I’m proud of that.”