Jon Stryker–Selfless Generosity

Photo: © 2019 age fotostock

NEW YORK–Circulate through the LGBTQ community at large and mention the name Jon Stryker, and you will likely get no reaction. None. And that lack-of-recognition factor is just the way Jon Stryker likes it for fame is the furthest thing from his mind.

However, being unseen is not the same as being silent, for Jon Stryker speaks loud and clear through Arcus, a foundation he created in 2000 and heads as its president. The fact that Arcus Foundation is America’s largest grant-maker to LGBTQ causes is a direct acknowledgment of Stryker’s own homosexuality and the bullying he saw as a student matriculating through the Kalamazoo, Michigan, public school system.

As a young teenager just entering middle school, Stryker already knew he was gay, and watched helplessly as bullies made easy targets out of both homosexuals and blacks. Had he not been gay, he would have still been repulsed by the hatred he saw, having been raised by parents who taught him that racism had no place in a world of compassion.

“The civil-rights movement of black Americans is so poignant to me because I was already aware that I was gay,” Stryker said, “and the furious and ignorant hatred and fear of blacks that I observed was not that different from the hatred and fear that our culture had of gay people at that time.”

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1958, Stryker was only five when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and all of 10 when the same fate met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For Stryker and his two older sisters Ronda and Pat, the deaths were a personal betrayal of respect and honor that they had been raised to expect. The Strykers were advocates of integration not only in the school system but in the workplace as well, at a time when racism in Kalamazoo was rampant despite the signing of the Civil Rights act in 1968.

The ethic began with Stryker’s grandfather, a doctor whose many orthopedic inventions because the basis of the Stryker Corporation, a multi-million dollar medical supply company, and a man who preached that helping others came before recognition of yourself. Though his grandfather was still living when his father died in a plane crash when Stryker was only 18, his grandfather died just four years later. Stryker inherited one-third of his family’s trust that controlled the Stryker Corporation. Two years before he completed his bachelor’s degree at Kalamazoo College, Stryker found himself a multi-millionaire.

Dr. Homer H. Stryker

But it would take another two decades, a failed marriage and two children before Stryker could admit publicly that he was gay. The acceptance of his sexual orientation and its revelation to his family freed Stryker to form the Arcus Foundation based on the philosophy that “people can live in harmony with one another and the natural world.” Based on compassion for all races and sexual orientations, “Arcus believes that respect for diversity among peoples and in nature is essential to a positive future for our planet and all its inhabitants,” the foundation’s mission statement reads.  “We work with experts and advocates for change to ensure that LGBT people and our fellow apes thrive in a world where social and environmental justice is a reality.”

By 2000, the Stryker Corporation was generating over a billion dollars in revenue and was growing at a rate of 20% per year. Money became Jon Stryker’s way of finally having his message heard. “About the time that I started the Arcus Foundation, in 2000, I was also coming out as a gay man. I quickly realized that there was very little funding for LGBT communities and that LGBT rights were a niche that was not only personally important to me but also an area where I could have a big impact as a donor,” he told Synergos, a global non-profit aimed at ending poverty. And while Arcus Foundation started small, with a single employee, it wasn’t long before Stryker was donating grants internationally with a staff of 22. 

Getting money to sources who need it proved harder than any expected, but when you are giving out something like 17 million dollars a year, and 559 million dollars in 20 years,  it takes an organization to make certain that the grants are actually being used as they were intended. A lot of follow up, much detailed communication, even more verification, and suddenly Jon Stryker is the rich kid seeing his message spread across the planet and harmony between all people.

Fortunately he has help through a board of talented people including architect Slobodan Randjelović who he married in December 2016. Stephen Bennett, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, an international network of disability advocacy organizations and providers of services. Evelynn M. Hammonds with Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2002 after teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was also the founding director of the Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology and Medicine. And transgender Janet Mock, the New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness, and host of MSNBC’s So POPular! a weekly series about popular culture, politics, identity, and representation. She also serves as Contributing Editor for Marie Claire — the magazine where she first stepped forward publicly as a young trans woman.

While Styker’s main focus is on boosting LGBTQ organizations, at heart he has always been as interested in the world of conservation. His advocacy on the part of giant apes has gotten him international recognition. In fact, a Myanmar snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri was named in Stryker’s honor after his foundation supported the primate research teams who discovered the colobine species in Burma nine years ago.

Last year, his foundation gave $16 million in grants to ensure that viable populations of great apes and gibbons are protected from extinction through monitored sanctuaries. Stryker is a founding board member of the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, and Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida. Save the Chimps is notable for rescuing 266 chimpanzees from the Coulston Foundation, a biomedical research facility that went bankrupt in 2002 after being accused of horrible violations of the wildlife act. The rescue of these chimpanzees was the single largest rescue of chimpanzees in history and transformed Save the Chimps into the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary. Ironically, Dr. Frederick Coulston, who died in 2003, used his early chimp research in an attempt to discover a vaccine for HIV.

Closer to home, Stryker purchased the 129-acre parcel of land called Manitou Point Preserve in Garrison, New York along the Hudson River, giving all but 21 acres for public use and trail hiking, administered through the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Labeled “one of the Hudson River’s great estates of the early 20th century,” the property included a 10 bedroom, 6.5 bathroom, 8,500 square foot Colonial Revival brick mansion commissioned in 1894 by Edward Livingston, a descendant of Robert Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Although the house was in major need of renovation to be saved, Stryker took on the challenge by hiring the architecture firm of Lee Harris Pomeroy, known for its historical restorations of New York’s Plaza Hotel, Trinity Church, Grand Central Terminal, Saks Fifth Avenue and St. James Church. In addition to replacing the deteriorated copper roof, galvanized iron cornice, and porches, the firm used nitrate photographic negatives found in the home to restore the porch staircase and other parts of the mansion. New column capitals, balusters, and decorative plaster moldings were modeled on the few extant examples. 

For a description of the extensive renovation of the property that now is in use as a primary residence by Stryker and his husband, click here.

During the last 19 years, the 61-year-old philanthropic and all-around-gay-good guy has given away $555 million dollars of his own money. But with the current political climate created under the Trump Administration and the nearly daily reports of transgender murders, Stryker has moved into elevating his support for the “T” of LGBTQ and linked arms and wallets with the NoVo Foundation.

 

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“They have been there for me; they supported me in each and every struggle. They are … my mums, my dads, my sisters. My transgender people are like my family now.” . Transgender activist and dancer Alicia Nalunkuma reflects on having found community despite her difficult upbringing in Uganda. Expelled from multiple schools for identifying as trans, and outed by her boss to the media for being trans after he attempted to sexually assault her, Alicia fights with her organization Transgender Equality to ensure a future for trans people in her home country. . You can read Alicia’s full story on @GNRCatholic’s vitrual exhibit “Grant Me Justice,” a collection of stories from LGBTQ people in countries where same-sex activity is criminalized. Visit the link in our bio for more details. . #transvoices #translivesmatter #transequality #transrights #transrepresentation #representationmatters #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtrights #lgbtqrights #queerrights #humanrights #stopdiscrimination

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NoVo Foundation was founded in 2006 by husband and wife, Peter and Jennifer Buffett. Peter is the famed musician and composer (and the youngest son of Berkshire-Hathaway founder and philanthropist Warren Buffett). While the NoVo Foundation’s mission is the fairly broad “fostering a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership,” it has always found the discrimination against transgender people to be particularly harsh and statistically fatal.

With a $20 million grant from Stryker’s Arcus Foundation over five years, the Global Trans Initiative allows NoVo to help fund transgender activists and organizations as well as helping to ensure that all transgender people live in a world where they are recognized, valued, and supported by their families and in society.

“In the United States, we are experiencing a continued breakdown of the fundamental pillars of democracy including independently functioning branches of government, rule of law, and a free press,” NoVo stated. “There is an escalating assault on human rights, and the impact reverberates globally, with the deepest impact on girls and women, communities facing racial and ethnic discrimination, LGBTQI people, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, immigrants, and refugees, and other marginalized people and communities around the world.”

 

Richard Hack is an award-winning author and journalist; and an outspoken advocate for equality in business and government, as well as neutrality in news media.

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