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The Philanthropy of Nina West

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega The Philanthropy of Nina WestPhoto by Rick Buchanan.
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Two years ago, when Andrew Levitt A.K.A. Nina West started a fund with The Columbus Foundation, he made a resounding change on the impact of his giving. A philanthropist for the last 16 years, Levitt has given more than $2 million back to the community, using his platform as a performer to focus on the ever-changing issues affecting the LGBTQIA population. The Nina West Fund at The Columbus Foundation further enables and elevates this giving, funneling it to the organizations he supports.

“[The Nina West Fund] is an extension of The Columbus Foundation, which is one of the most reputable organizations in the country for giving, for philanthropy,” Levitt said, “and I wanted to align myself with that and raise my brand’s level of giving to a much more professional and public level, rather than there being any question about how my giving worked.”

When Levitt first got involved in philanthropy, the HIV/AIDs epidemic was in full swing, and no one was talking about it. Erasing the stigma around talking about safe sex and getting tested was his first priority. As that stigma has dissipated, and with the appearance of PrEP, the HIV-preventing drug, Levitt refocused.

In the mid-2000s, he turned to the issue of marriage equality, working to oppose California’s ballot issue, Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to wed. In 2015, the fight ended, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry is guaranteed for same-sex couples in the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v Hodges.

Once again, Levitt’s focus shifted.

“It’s evolved to our LGBTQIA youth, our trans youth, which is a really big issue right now,” he said, “recognizing people who need equal access under the law.”

“So my giving has adjusted over the years. It’s fluctuated, but it all has been under this umbrella of LGBTQIA, queer family.”

Levitt describes the Nina West Fund as a chance to zero in on projects while simultaneously diversifying his philanthropy. He supports all kinds of projects that he then gets to see come to fruition, like when he sent an LGBT family to Disney World with their sick child through Make-A-Wish, or when he gives dollars to the Kaleidoscope Youth Center to make sure they can provide a space for queer kids to stay after school.

Outside the LGBTQIA umbrella, Levitt donated funds to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that gives women access to a professional wardrobe, a career center, and employment retention programs. With help from the Nina West Fund, Dress for Success was able to renovate their dressing rooms, “which helps all kinds of women: trans women, women out of work, displaced women.”

The credit for all this fundraising, he gives to the Columbus community and to the people who attend his drag shows.

“The majority of the way that I’ve raised money is at the end of a drag show,” he said, “so I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this number again, and do what you can, and that money’s gonna go to charity.’”

“Really, that generosity and that impact over the last 16 years is because of these people that come to these shows,” he continued. “It’s because they connect to the story. They’re directly impacted by what we’re asking — what we’re trying to give — and that’s important.”

For more information, visit superdragqueen.com.

To learn more about The Big Give, visit columbusfoundation.org/giving-events/big-give-2017.

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