GALE is struggling but looking forward

Peter Dankmeijer

29 December 2022 - This GALE Update is the first one since a year. This is because GALE was struggling to survive. The year 2022 was a challenging year and GALE did not have the space for PR and news provision. We hope this will get better in 2023.

Financial struggles

GALE has suffered a series of financial setbacks which seriously hampered the progress of the organisation. After the banking crisis of 2008, it became very challenging to acquire international funding. international donors suffered big losses due to the crisis and decided to stop funding international “intermediaries”. They reorganised their funding to benefit local organisations directly. One of the consequences of this was that most of the already little international LGBTIQ+ funding is now going to very basic developmental needs of LGBTIQ+ organisations. Generally, this is a very good choice, but education is seen as a luxury or secondary goal. And the work of GALE, which is focussed at advocacy and training of mainstream educational organisations and schools is certainly not considered a basic need.
GALE is based in the Netherlands and the Dutch government postponed the consequences of the banking crisis by offering GALE funding for another five years (until 2016). This support was connected to the funding of the Dutch Government to UNESCO for a project against homophobic bullying, which had been advocated by GALE. However, UNESCO was extremely hesitant in the cooperation with GALE and even blocked the attempts of GALE to get follow-up funding for the UNESCO project. No follow-up funding was acquired and UNESCO was forced to “integrate” it’s initiatives against homophobia once more in a broader strategy on school safety and sexual education.
GALE was founded with funding from Edu-Diverse, the Dutch expertise centre on LGBTIQ+ issues in education. The staff of GALE and Edu-Diverse were shared and Edu-Diverse kept supporting GALE throughout the years. However, in 2016 the Dutch LGBT grass roots organization COC decided to aim for a monopoly on LGBTI funding in the Netherlands. This led them to treat Edu-Diverse as a competitor instead as a partner. They advised the Dutch government that Edu-Diverse was not reliable (despite Edu-Diverse having a history of 15 years of close cooperation with the government and the COC). In order to maintain a good relationship with the COC, the Dutch government cut all funding for Edu-Diverse, which as a consequence had to liquidate itself in 2018. In turn, this left GALE without the ongoing support of Edu-Diverse.

Coping strategies

The main ways of coping with this steadily decreasing income was to lay off staff and the director deciding to cut his salary in half. Another strategy was to look for funding were it still was available, which was only in Europe, were several EU funding programs were available. The adoption of a specific EU Strategy on LGBT issues made it easier to get funding from these programs, because LGBT equality had become a formal priority.
However, most of the European funding worked with standard staff rates, which was based on an average rate for the entire union. Such rates were too low to pay a reasonable salary to Dutch workers, even with the deceased income of the director. Therefore the reserve of GALE was further depleted and the turnover became so low in 2021 that GALE could not apply for projects itself any more (organizations that are project leaders need to prove they can prepay a year of project funding in case the project fails). GALE kept on going to be partner in projects developed by others, but this created the challenge that GALE was “drifting” around being partner in a series of projects, but it could not really focus on key issues that were its own priorities.
To solve this, GALE sought a structural cooperation or even merger with other international organizations, like ILGA, Human Rights Watch, Outright International and Amnesty International. All these attempts failed. The international LGBT organizations were afraid of the financial risks and the vision and expertise of GALE to change mainstream educational organizations and cis-straight attitudes towards sexual and gender diversity was not connecting strongly enough to their core work.

The situation of the director

The director of GALE, Peter Dankmeijer, is nearing his pension. Currently he is quite exhausted from battling on several fronts; both doing (not always easy) projects on mainstreaming LGBTIQ+ issues in schools while working with mainstream organizations, and at the same time struggling with competition and misunderstanding within the LGBTIQ+ movement. The GALE approach is not always appreciated in a movement which often seems to be focused mainly on symbolic visibility and ideologic correctness rather than engaging in the more long-term and “feet in the mud” struggle to structurally change organizational and policy cultures.
The (European) projects that GALE currently survives on will end in 2023. Peter Dankmeijer will then take advantage of the opportunity to take an early retirement (well, early, at 66). This will free him of the obligation to keep doing fundraising and engaging in projects that are useful but not always the core priority of GALE itself. When the director gets his hands fee, he will refocus on unpaid cooperation with local organizations to do country reviews on the quality of LGBTIQ+ education policy and support organizations to undertake strategic action to take national policy to the next level. In addition, he will keep working on elaborating the My-ID education approach, which emphases long term attitude and cultural change.