EQAZ conference teaches and celebrates the importance of advocacy

By Hana Khalyleh - Jan. 15, 2015

The first-ever Equality & Justice Conference – hosted by Equality Arizona (EQAZ) at the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center Jan.10 – paired a plethora of featured speakers with local activists for a day of educating and celebrating the role of advocacy in Arizona’s quest for equality.

“I think there’s been a huge call for it,” said Catherine Alonzo, EQAZ co-chair. “It’s something that can really fill a gap, so we can start thinking through how to advocate at an individual level.”

The conference opened with a keynote address by Dr. Kevin Patterson and Dr. David Patterson, who shared their family’s adoption story and the role advocacy played in marriage equality becoming recognized in Arizona.

"We all have something we can do and it needs to be something that we’re comfortable doing, good at doing and have pride in doing,” Kevin said. “Whatever that something is that we can do, it’s our responsibility and our call to action to do it.”

Kevin also shared that his journey to find his voice as an activist wasn’t necessarily an easy one.

“I’m not a scream-at-people type of person,” he said, adding that he was once a reluctant advocate. “I had to turn the question to myself and ask, ‘What does advocacy mean to me?’”

This sentiment was central to the conference’s variety of sessions, such as social media and storytelling, which were structured to inform attendees about advocacy tools.

One such session, led by Robbie Sherwood, ProgressNow Arizona executive director, focused on the role of Twitter in activism. Sherwood referred it as a way to chip in to “citywide, nationwide and worldwide conversations.”

The session offered do’s and don’ts on executing social media activism, training the audience to make the most of communication tools and maintaining an online presence in the fight for LGBT equality.

The conference also featured a panel that included State Representative Rebecca Rios, Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego, Arizona Department of Transportation Public Affairs Manager Eric Gudino, former Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot, and several others, discussing the influence of advocacy in the legislative process and emphasizing the difference that can be made by speaking to the representatives of their respective district.

“As a constituent, the most important thing you can do is send an email or a phone call [to your representative] saying that you are a registered voter in their district” Representative Rios said. “Don’t ever underestimate the ability you have to forge a connection with your elected official.”

Creating laws that will benefit the LGBT community starts with those who the community elects, according to District 5 Supervisor Steve Gallardo.

“I guarantee you: the people [of Arizona] agree on our stance of equality,” he said. “Now let’s change the state, let’s change the legislation.”

Jim Bloom, manager of state and local affairs for Arizona Public Service Company (APS), said that protesting can actually do more harm than good for the LGBT community in some cases as it could alienate potential allies from the cause, and that protesting should only be carried out as a last resort when it would propel the cause forward.

“We have to get our youth to vote,” Councilwoman Gallego said, discussing the difference that can be made by the younger attendees. “Especially our LGBT youth. We have to get them to the polls. That’s where the real impact is.”

Other speakers at the conference included Abbey Louise Jensen and C. Michael Woodward (MPH), who discussed the challenges facing the transgender community.

Attendees traveled from across the state to participate in the first-ever conference. Kathy Phelan traveled from Tucson to attend the training seminars and meet the guest speakers.

“I’ve really learned a lot,” Phelan said, after a session led by Stan Williams, Arizona Organizing Director of Enroll America, on the power of telling a personal story.

“Connecting an emotion or a value gets people into action,” Williams said, before concluding with a group exercise that involved practicing storytelling to convey a specific message.

Additionally, David said Arizona has come a long way since the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in October, but emphasized that the focus on equality needs to shift to workplace protections and the transgender community now.

“The struggle isn’t over yet,” he said. “There’s still a lot of fighting left to do. We aren’t there yet.”

Photo courtesy of The Dinah

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Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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