Echo names 2019's Leaders of the Year award recipient: Equality Arizona

By Michelle Talsma Everson, January 2020 issue.

 “I love our LGBTQ community, and we should have access to everything that everyone else does,” says Michael Soto, the executive director of Equality Arizona (EQAZ). “We [the LGBTQ community] deserve the same promise of life, liberty, and freedom. It’s an honor and privilege to do what I do every day.”

What Soto does

day in and day out is lead Equality Arizona, Echo’s 2019 Leader of the

Year. Yes, an organization was chosen for this honor because, as an

organization, Equality Arizona is moving the local and statewide LGBTQ

community into the future, one initiative at a time.

Soto explains

that EQAZ actually includes two nonprofit branches. The first, Equality

Arizona, has a mission to “build a strong and resilient LGBTQ social movement

and culture in Arizona by increasing access to safety, well-being, and

inclusion in society,” according to the organization. The second branch,

Equality Arizona Action, aims to “build the political power of the Arizona

LGBTQ community for our full inclusion in the social, economic, and civil

mechanisms of our society.” Both of these missions merge to fulfill their

vision of “An Arizona where LGBTQ people are included in and lead the social,

economic, and civic systems of our state, counties, cities, and communities.”

“Equality

Arizona has been around since 1992 and has always worked for policy and

political inclusion of the LGBTQ community,” Soto says.

Toasting the repeal of the No Promo Homo law.

Soto was first

involved in Equality Arizona, and activism in general, as a student at Arizona

State University in the early 2000’s. He was on the EQAZ board for three years

before taking the helm as executive director a year and a half ago. He explains

that, this year, EQAZ has many initiatives in place that are worth paying

attention to and getting involved with.

“The 2020

election, both national and local, is our top priority this year,” Soto shares.

“It’s vital that the LGBTQ community is part of the process. Our goal is to

show the community how powerful and influential we are if we all get out and

vote.”

EQAZ is working tirelessly to interview candidates across party lines in both local and national elections to vote on who to endorse. Their criteria includes how supportive the candidates are of LGBTQ causes and initiatives, and new this year is that EQAZ members (and not just the board) will vote on the candidates that the organization will officially endorse.

In addition to endorsing

LGBTQ-friendly candidates, another top priority for EQAZ is voter registration.

“We’re working on getting our voter registration into high gear,” Soto says.

“We also ask that voters pledge to vote for LGBTQ supportive candidates.”

Those interested

in becoming EQAZ members can easily sign up on the organization’s website at

equalityarizona.org/membership. “Members are obviously mostly members of the

LGBTQ community but they are also friends, family, and allies,” Soto says.

“Members can be anyone that wants to help build a safer and healthier community

for LGBTQ Arizonans.”

Some other

initiatives that EQAZ has on their full plate, according to Soto, include:

Soto prepping for Lobby Day 2019.

Passing

comprehensive nondiscrimination policies on a local level, including working

with the Arizona legislature.

Banning gay

conversion therapy on a local and national level.

Passing inclusive sex education in local school

districts. The organization is currently working on a model with Tucson school

districts that provides policies and resources for educators and parents.

“LGBTQ students need to see themselves in sex education or they’re at a severe

disadvantage when they are making those types of decisions,” Soto explains.

The

organization is doing a lot of storytelling work exploring what it “means to be

an LGBTQ Arizonan.” The interviews and stories touch on all facets of LGBTQ

experiences—workplaces, schools, therapy, police brutality, and more.

Multiple health

care initiatives. For example, the organization is working with first

responders and those who work in emergency rooms on how to serve LGBTQ

community members better in emergency situations.

Working with

the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS on legal document workshops for transgender

individuals who are transitioning.

And many more!

Soto and crew.

In 2019, EQAZ

had success on many levels, including being a part of the movement to get the

“no promo homo” law repealed that banned AIDS and HIV education, citing that it

“promoted a homosexual lifestyle.”

Teamwork equals results.

Soto and EQAZ note that the law had a negative impact on Arizona

students for decades. “Every student deserves medically accurate and age

appropriate sex education. Every student deserves a safe and inclusive educational

experience and we won’t stop until that is unequivocally true,” Soto wrote in a

blog post. “Every law, that creates an unequal civil society for LGBTQ people

of every gender, race, socio-economic class, ability, and legal status, is a

barrier to justice and equality. Equality Arizona is here for that fight.

Arizona schools are still not safe for LGBTQ students – we beat one harmful

law, but now it’s time to work with the department of education and school

boards to implement positive and affirming policy and to support them in

building inclusive cultures for LGBTQ equality.”

So how does Equality Arizona make all of this happen

with a small staff and nonprofit budget? They depend on their members and

supporters, Soto explains. The organization hosts regular social events and

monthly meetings across the state. Events are sometimes political or

organizational in nature (for example, membership meetings), but at other

times, they’re mainly for connecting likeminded community (like queer poetry

potlucks).

Ready for signups on Voter Registration Day.

“Our goal is to

build up LGBTQ leadership and provide them support, but it’s always encouraged

to be local decisions and topics. After all, they’re the community we are

honored to serve,” Soto shares.

To keep updated on Equality Arizona’s events and news, follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/EqualityAZ or visit equalityarizona.org.

Meet Echo’s leaders
(formerly men and women)
of the years past:

1994: Bill MacDonald & Dianne Post

1995: Barb Jones & Mark Colledge

1996: Beth Verity & Ken Cheuvront

1997: Linda Hoffman & Neil

Giuliano

1998: Kim Charrier & Steve May

1999: Amy Ettinger & Steve May

2000: Richard Stevens & Marti

McElroy

2001: Kathie Gummere & Doug Klinge

2002: Don Hamill & Jeannie Metzler

2003: Kirk Baxter & Madeline

Adelman

2004: Brad Wishon & Cathy Busha

2005: David Fiss & Kyrsten Sinema

2006: Bill Lewis & Brandi Sokolosky

2007: Tom Simplot & Regina Gazelle

2008: Gary Guerin & Annie Loyd

2009: Micheal Weakley & Tambra

Williams

2010: Meg Sneed & Jimmy Gruender

2011: Caleb Laieski & Kado Stewart

2012: Greg Stanton & Nicole Stanton

2013: Julian Melson & Trudie

Jackson

2014: Kit Kloeckl & Angela Hughey

2015: Katy June & Stacy Louis

2016: Sen. Katie Hobbs and Nate Rhoton

2017: Bob Parsons and Renee Parsons

2018: Eion Cashman, Jason Jones, and JayyVon Monroe


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