October 20, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 42
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Sunday, Jan 26, 2020



Lesbian Notions by Libby Post
Healing the world
by Libby Post - SGN Contributing Writer

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans last September, my partner Lynn and I were transfixed by the images on television - the death and destruction, the despair and heartbreak. We knew we wanted to send money, but didn't want to use the traditional relief route of the American Red Cross - we still had questions about how they managed the massive amount of money they raised after 9/11.

Then I received an e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign about helping. There was a link to a group called the Rainbow World Fund ( I clicked through and, to my surprise, I found the website for the LGBT community's only world relief agency. We were all too happy to make our $250 contribution through RWF. Right up front, they told us the money would go to America's Second Harvest to provide food for the folks in the Crescent City who lost everything.

Luckily for us, we could go on with our lives. A few weeks later, we received a hand-written thank-you note from Jeff Cotter, the fellow who thought up RWF. I was impressed - with today's technology and fast pace, hand-written thank-you notes from not-for-profits have gone by the wayside, except when they're to major donors. And one $250 gift does not a major donor make. So, I decided to check out the RWF and have a chat with Cotter.

A social worker for about 15 years, Cotter said he just wasn't fulfilled professionally. "I wanted to do something I had never done before. I wanted to have a positive impact on the planet and help people," the San Francisco-based Cotter told me in a phone interview. "I put those ideas out to the universe and let them go." A few months later, Cotter said, his own inner voice told him to start a world relief agency based in the LGBT community.

It was a good thing he listened. In the past two years, the organization has raised over $1 million for humanitarian aid and medical supplies in this country and abroad, from mostly $100 and $200 contributions. In 2005, RWF raised $390,000 for Katrina relief and sent $250,000 to the victims of the tsunami that hit Indonesia.

Cotter just returned from a relief trip to Guatemala with 15 RWF volunteers plus two American nuns who served as their guides. The group brought $250,000 worth of medical supplies - HIV, heart, and diabetes medications; antibiotics; antifungal cream; hypodermic needles; and other goods - to villages throughout the country.

In addition to 1,650 lbs. of supplies, RWF also brought between 500 and 600 stuffed animals to brighten the lives of children, and it made direct cash grants to an orphanage, a school, a medical clinic, and OASIS, the country's only LGBT organization.

"We gave OASIS $5,000, and we also brought down 2,000 condoms," said Cotter. "This was our third humanitarian trip to Guatemala - it's different from other Central American countries because 50 percent of the population is indigenous, and it encapsulates the developing world."

Through its work, RWF is also presenting the LGBT community to the world. "Our first priority is to help those who need it, but a by-product is changing how people see the LGBT community," said Cotter. "The Fund is a way of putting our highest values - love, kindness, and compassion - to work, and of providing a platform for our concern and caring to be seen and heard around the world."

Cotter told me that when he approached America's Second Harvest, the group was thrilled to collaborate. According to Cotter, America's Second Harvest has quite a few Gays and Lesbians working at its Chicago headquarters. The same can't be said for some of RWF's other "straight" philanthropic partners. Cotter said those other organizations understand that RWF helps them in more than one way.

"Making them more conscious, helping them explore LGBT issues, an area they haven't thought about before - well, that's also part of their mission in helping to heal the world," said Cotter. "And now, the organizations we work with are out about working with the LGBT community, with us - they don't make a secret about it in any way."

Cotter is still working as a psychiatric social worker three days a week - he doesn't draw a salary from the Rainbow World Fund. "We want to give LGBT dollars the biggest bang for their buck, so to speak." Without ego and with a pure desire to heal the world, Cotter and the Rainbow World Fund are making a real difference in the lives of a lot of people, while at the same time opening up hearts and minds to the LGBT community. It's a tremendous combination.

But it's also a tremendous opportunity for each of us. Actions do speak louder than words - go online and give to the Rainbow World Fund. It will be your opportunity to help heal the world.

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at

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