Strengthening the LGBTQ Community in New York City

Maryse Pearce

For Maryse Pearce, MBA/MPP’18, program manager at Stonewall Community Foundation, the professional is also personal.

“As a queer person living and working in New York, I’m in many ways a beneficiary of the work” of the foundation, she says, whether she’s attending a talk about LGBTQ history at the Brooklyn Museum or enjoying a play written by a queer immigrant. 

The foundation, named for the iconic Stonewall Inn that sparked the fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States, is focused on strengthening New York City’s LGBTQ community. As program manager, Pearce oversees its grant and scholarship programs, community events, as well as donor education on LGBTQ issues.

Just a year into her role, Pearce is proud to highlight grantee Out My Closet, an organization that hosts free pop-up clothing shopping opportunities for homeless queer youth and provides sexual health education. When Stonewall Community Foundation was contacted by a major clothing company with thousands of dollars worth of excess clothing to donate, she was able to make the connection with Out My Closet, even though it was outside of her usual scope of work.

“It’s really great to support organizations in multiple ways,” she says.

National Queer Theater is another grantee close to her heart.

“We provided one of their first grants, and the festival blew up in the best way,” she says. The summer festival featured four plays from countries where being LGBTQ is criminalized, earning a profile in the New York Times and more than 7,000 attendees.  “Policy and legal advocacy is most of what I’ve done professionally and that’s so important, but telling and celebrating our stories is just as important.” 

Pearce has advocated for LGBTQ rights since college, when she was the co-president of Washington University in St. Louis’ Pride Alliance. She moved to Boston after earning her undergraduate degree, working for GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).

But after four years at GLAD, she was ready to make a bigger impact, and she chose to pursue dual master’s degrees in the Social Impact MBA and Master of Public Policy at the Heller School. At GLAD, a lot of her work had included lobbying legislators and educating GLAD’s legal team about issues the community faced, but she wanted a stronger foundation in social policy. She also wanted more expertise in nonprofit management that she hadn’t gotten from her work experience.

“I was drawn in by Heller’s social justice focus,” she says. “I didn’t want to have to do a more traditional graduate program and translate that to the work I wanted to do. I wanted to be around people who cared about the same things I cared about.”

At Heller, “I was lucky to work with and learn from the other students,” she says. “Even today, if I get stuck and need advice at work, I still reach out to them.” 

She took part in the Ford Hall 2015 protests at Brandeis, when students of color advocated for racial justice and a more inclusive, equitable and diverse student experience. “It was a really vivid example of the multiple strategies that are necessary for change,” she says. “Policy is important but policy has to come from somewhere, and it usually comes from protest and direct action.”

After graduating, she worked briefly for HR&A Advisors, an economic development consulting company. Though she gained critical experience working with foundations and evaluating their programming and strategy, she found herself missing more direct advocacy work. That led her to Stonewall. 

She still draws on her classes, such as fundraising and development, practicing philanthropy, and financial management, as well as her fellowship experience at the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy, in her work today.

“There’s a lot of potential in philanthropy,” Pearce says. “What I like about it is the ability to look at the field of LGBTQ advocacy from a birds-eye view, see how different strategies and organizations fit together, and how to support that.”