Courtesy of Phoenix Pride, December 2017 Web Exclusive.

The board of directors of Phoenix Pride has announced that the organization’s executive director of nearly five years, Justin Owen, will be departing his professional role at the agency Dec. 31.

Owen has accepted the position of executive director of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy in Scottsdale, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

“For more than 20 years, the pride movement has been a home and an extended family for me, and serving as the executive director of Phoenix Pride over the past four-and-a-half years has been the greatest honor and privilege of my career to date,” Justin Owen added. “I fully intend to remain connected to Pride in a volunteer capacity, and to stay active in pursuing equity and parity for Arizona’s entire LGBTQ community, even as I move into my new role beginning in January.”

Justin Owen. Courtesy photo.

Under Owen’s nearly five years of leadership at Phoenix Pride, the organization has undergone tremendous growth, and 2017 will stand as one of the most successful years in the agency’s history, with record attendance and revenue at the Phoenix Pride Festival and Parade April 1-2, Rainbows Festival Oct. 21-22 and local Unity Rally for Equality and Pride June 11. In addition, the agency awarded more than $80,000 in community grants and scholarships during the ninth annual Community Spirit Awards June 23.

“While we are certainly sad to see Justin depart the organization which he has so successfully led for us on the professional level over the past four-and-a-half years, we are extremely excited to see him pursuing this new and exciting opportunity in his career,” said Mark Leeper, Phoenix Pride board president . “Under Justin’s leadership, we have experienced tremendous growth in multiple areas, and he is leaving us in a position of strength and stability, with significant leaps in our presence, reach and credibility in the community. We are also very happy to announce that Justin will remain involved in Phoenix Pride on a volunteer basis, and we are thrilled that he will continue to share his skills, contacts and experience with our organization and our community.

Concurrently, the board is pleased to reveal that Phoenix Pride has hired veteran business owner, Pride board member and community leader Michael Fornelli to serve as interim executive director upon Owen’s departure.

“At the same time, we are excited to announce the appointment of Michael Fornelli as our interim executive director, effective upon Justin’s departure,” Leeper added. “Mike’s long presence in our community as a business owner, community leader and local icon for LGBTQ rights, provides a phenomenal platform from which to continue the momentum Phoenix Pride has built as an agency, and we look forward to writing the next chapter in our history with Mike at the organization’s professional helm.

Mike Fornelli. Courtesy photo.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be entrusted with the professional leadership of Phoenix Pride, an organization that I have loved, admired and supported for many, many years, and I am especially excited to continue working with Mark and the entire Phoenix Pride board through this critical next phase of the organization’s existence,” Fornelli stated. “We are facing an era of challenge and change for the LGBTQ community, with uncertainty surrounding policy at the federal and state level, and increased incidents of anti-LGBTQ bias and violence. However, our community is at its strongest when we come together and stand boldly, and Phoenix Pride will continue to be the touchstone for that unity, by providing the two largest public LGBTQ community events in the state of Arizona and continuing to lend our voice to advocating for equity for our community, including the push for anti-discrimination protections at the Arizona Legislature.”

Fornelli has been the owner and president of BS West  in Scottsdale since 1992. His experience includes extensive background in financial management, staff leadership, community engagement and event production. He has served as a festival entertainment manager and pageant director for Phoenix Pride since 2013, and joined the Phoenix Pride board of directors earlier this year. In addition, he is an Echo Magazine Hall of Fame inductee who serves as board director and chief of staff for USofA Pageantry, and he previously held a three-year term on the board of directors of local LGBTQ youth support organization one•n•ten.

For more information on Phoenix Pride, visit

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