- Supports groups that promote, or test the limits of, First Amendment freedom of speech rights, particularly with regard to human sexuality
- Funds projects that promote taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand, racial preferences, radical feminist and homosexual agendas, and special rights for people with HIV/AIDS
Established by Hugh Hefner in 1965 as an operating department and charitable giving program of Playboy Enterprises, Inc., the Playboy Foundation (PF) seeks to “foster social change” in a manner that “promote[s] the principals of freedom and democracy.” Toward that end, PF provides financial support for “projects of national impact and scope” that seek to: advance “open communication about, and research into, human sexuality [and] reproductive health and rights”; “eliminat[e] censorship and protec[t] freedom of expression and First Amendment rights”; and “protec[t] and foste[r] civil rights and civil liberties in the United States for all people, including women, people affected and impacted by HIV/AIDS, gays and lesbians, racial minorities, [and] the poor and the disadvantaged.” Governed by a board of directors consisting of senior managers in Playboy Enterprises, PF historically has awarded about 10 to 12 grants — with an aggregate value of $25,000 to $30,000 — per year. Since its inception, PF has distributed more than $20 million in grants.
In its inaugural year, PF became the first and only corporate giving program in the United States to support organizations promoting abortion rights and seeking to “repeal restrictive abortion laws.”
In 1971, PF awarded a $100,000 seed grant to establish Metro-Help, a crisis-intervention and referral service for youth, which in 1974 became the toll-free hotline, National Runaway Switchboard.
In 1977, PF began awarding post-production grants to the producers of documentary film and video projects that “identify injustices and advocate for social and political change.” Typically, these are films that depict the U.S. and other Western societies as nations replete with inequity, racism, discrimination, environmental despoilment, xenophobia, militarism, corporate corruption, misogyny, authoritarianism, and homophobia. Most of PF’s grants to filmmakers are earmarked for projects with small budgets, on the theory that large-budget films “are usually made by very experienced filmmakers” who “can get money from other sources.” Among the movies that PF has funded over the years are: The Times of Harvey Milk (about one of America’s first openly gay politicians); An American Love Story (about an interracial couple and their two biracial daughters); Damned in the USA (about alleged censorship of artistic expression in the United States); Paragraph 175 (about a past provision of the German Criminal Code that made homosexual acts between males illegal); Radium City (about a private Canadian corporation that intentionally exposed its workers to radium poisoning); The Celluloid Closet (a documentary survey of how homosexuals are depicted in Hollywood movies); Nuyorican Dream (about the difficult lives of low-income Puerto Rican youngsters in New York City); and The Girl Next Door (about a teenager who falls in love with a former porn star).
In 1979, PF donated seed money to establish Children of the Night, a pioneering program to provide teenage prostitutes with an alternative to life on the streets.
That same year, PF established the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards “to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for Americans.” Nominees have traditionally come from the areas of print and broadcast journalism, arts and entertainment, education, publishing, law, and government. Winners receive a commemorative plaque along with a cash award of $5,000. Some noteworthy recipients of this award have been: Zephyr Teachout, Victor Navasky, Norman Lear, Glenn Greenwald, David Cole, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Cecile Richards, Jeff Cohen, Norman Solomon, Ed Asner, Morton Halperin, and Saul Landau. Organizational honorees have included the ACLU and the American Library Association.
In 1983, PF began funding AIDS research at New York University Medical School. The Foundation subsequently continued to finance national and local organizations devoted to finding a cure for HIV/AIDS, and to educating legislators and the general public about the disease.
Throughout the 1980s, PF awarded a number of grants to the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation directed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The grants were earmarked to help finance a training program for health-care professionals in the treatment of sexual dysfunction.
Each year from 1989 to 2004 at the annual Sundance Film Festival, PF gave a Freedom of Expression Award “to recognize the documentary film that best informs and educates the public on an issue of social concern.” Among the winners were: Heart of the Matter (about one woman’s struggle with AIDS); When Billy Broke His Head … and Other Tales of Wonder (about disabled Americans struggling to deal with their physical limitations); Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary (about the expected ramifications of Proposition 187, a California ballot initiative designed to eliminate education and health benefits for illegal immigrants); Dialogues with Madwomen (about a number of women suffering from mental illness); and Dark Days (about homeless people living in the underground tunnels of New York City).
In 1996, PF provided a five-year, $250,000 grant to establish the Hugh M. Hefner Fund as part of the ACLU Foundation’s Bill of Rights endowment campaign.
In 1997, PF pledged funds to help finance the construction of the Chicago CORE Center, an outpatient facility devoted to treating AIDS and other infectious, communicable diseases.
In 2017, PF gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to civil liberties attorney Burt Neuborne, who has served in various official capacities with the ACLU, the National Organization for Women‘s Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Human Rights Commission, and the Brennan Center for Justice‘s legal program.
Further Reading: “Funder FAQ: The Playboy Foundation” (Independent Magazine); “The Playboy Foundation” (PlayboyEnterprises.com); “The Playboy Foundation ” (PlayboyEnterprises.com); “[Winners of the] Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award” (WikiVisually.com).
- The Freedom of Expression Award included a $25,000 cash prize.
- The Playboy Foundation: A Mirror of the Culture?
By Cliff Kincaid