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.
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.”
Arizona has been around since 1992 and has always worked for policy and
political inclusion of the LGBTQ community,” Soto says.
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.
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
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.”
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.”
initiatives that EQAZ has on their full plate, according to Soto, include:
comprehensive nondiscrimination policies on a local level, including working
with the Arizona legislature.
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.
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.
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.
the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS on legal document workshops for transgender
individuals who are transitioning.
And many more!
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.”
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
“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
1998: Kim Charrier & Steve May
1999: Amy Ettinger & Steve May
2000: Richard Stevens & Marti
2001: Kathie Gummere & Doug Klinge
2002: Don Hamill & Jeannie Metzler
2003: Kirk Baxter & Madeline
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
2010: Meg Sneed & Jimmy Gruender
2011: Caleb Laieski & Kado Stewart
2012: Greg Stanton & Nicole Stanton
2013: Julian Melson & Trudie
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