Five years with Steven Cole-Schwartz: Our queer family is stitched into the fabric of every single community

Jul 1, 2024

Photo: Steven, far left, speaking on a panel with Keron Blair of New Georgia Project and Walter Kendricks of Spokane Community Against Racism at our recent Shaping the Future: Eastern Washington convening. Photo: Uly Curry

In July 2019, Vice President of Grantmaking Steven Cole-Schwartz joined Inatai, excited to pull from his deep experience building organizations. Since then, he has done just that. As one of the first members of our executive team, Steven led the development of our grantmaking philosophy, practices, and approach. We asked Steven to reflect on his five years with us through five questions.   

1. Where is your favorite place in Washington?

Can I cheat? I’m going to cheat. My favorite places are our independent booksellers. I will always love Elliott Bay Books in Seattle for breadth, variety, and author visits. On a daytrip to Roslyn with my mom, I visited Basecamp Books and Bites and they introduced me to N.K. Jemison’s flavor of Black speculative fiction. That was a profound gift: the book they recommended brought back my love of novels. The hilarious booksellers at Port Book and News in Port Angeles and the lovely Lucy’s Books in Astoria, Oregon took me further on that journey. These days I get to visit Charlie’s Queer Books in my neighborhood for regular doses of queer and trans sci-fi, fantasy, horror, history, memoir, and kissing books.

2. Which Inatai value resonates with you the most?

Accountability. Inatai’s definition of who we are accountable to asks us to consider: What does it looks like to be accountable to our people in every pocket of the state? Implicitly and explicitly, I face this question every day. Sometimes we get the answer wrong, but I like that Inatai isn’t afraid of the question. Philanthropy is famously unaccountable. Taking accountability seriously, while trying not to take ourselves too seriously, is important and special.

3. What is an important lesson you learned over the last five years?

I cannot un-see the ways that our queer and gender-expansive family is stitched into the fabric of every single community in Washington. Across race, class, ethnicity, ability, industry, experience, and political boundary, the lesson is this: my people are leading, everywhere. After five years of traveling, facilitating thousands of grants, and supporting work in 39 Washington counties and more than 40 Sovereign Nations, I have noticed subtle and obvious gifts that our queer family offers Washington every day. What stands out most is our ability to hold heartache together with joy in imagining a more vibrant and just world. 

 4. Share a community power-building story that has stayed with you during your time at Inatai. 

 The creation of the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund sticks with me. During the first few months of the pandemic, a multiracial group of immigrant leaders and organizations came together to create a fund that got cash into the hands of COVID-affected people living without documentation. They advocated for—and won—the creation of a state-funded cash assistance pool. The group has continued taking steps forward, winning more and greater support for immigrant families throughout Washington, while simultaneously building powerful organizations, meaningful relationships, and influential leadership roles. 

 5. Finish this sentence: Washington is …

All of us. 

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