By Liz Massey, July 2016 Issue.
Since its formation in January, the Greater Yavapai County LGBTQ Coalition (GYCC) has been experiencing rapid growth and filling a previously unmet need for connecting a vibrant but widely dispersed rural community, according to organizers.
“We are a little overloaded by requests, messages and demands,” said Chris Duarte, who co-chairs the coalition. “People have come out of the woodwork and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. People are excited.”
A Community Without A Center
Duarte and others living in Yavapai County say that the coalition has provided a new focus for queer residents and their allies, an important function in a region with a very different population profile than the Valley of the Sun. Yavapai County has a total of just 222,255 residents, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates, compared with 4,167,947 persons living in Maricopa County.
The largest city in Yavapai County is Prescott, which was the location of the Prescott Pride Center in the early 2000s. When the center closed in 2011, it left a hole, which residents filled with a virtual alternative – a Meetup group, which eventually grew to include 400 members.
Members of the Meetup group used the platform to publicize local LGBTQ activities, including meetings of the local PFLAG chapter and a gay bowling league. Still, without a centralized physical presence, the community struggled to communicate and act in a cohesive way, according to volunteer organizer Bev Bostrom, who had been active in planning picnics, dances and other events with other volunteers after the Prescott Pride Center closed. Such activities helped keep members in touch with each other, but it was hard (even with the Meetup group) to get the word out to all corners of the county.
“When the center closed, it was very difficult for a lot of people in our area to have any contact at all,” Bostrom said.
Overcoming The Hurdles
According to Duarte, physical distance wasn’t the only roadblock to connecting LGBTQ people in Yavapai County. The demographics of the region and cultural attitudes surrounding LGBTQ issues also created challenges.
“Prescott’s motto is ‘Everyone’s Hometown,’” Duarte explained. “It’s traditionally older, with more than 30 percent over the age of 65, and more than 90 percent white. We like to keep confrontation to a minimum … Hostility and hate towards the LGBTQ community is usually hidden, while at the same time, nobody wants to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”
The strong emphasis on retirement living in Prescott has led to an age gap within the queer community as well, he said.
“When I moved here two years ago … I attended a ‘coming out’ event at the local UCC church. There were more than 150 people there, and most were over the age of 65,” Duarte explained. “I found a huge gap between the LGBTQ retired people and the young people that needed support. When it came to people between ages 25 and 65, the community was virtually non-existent.”
On a positive note, Duarte said that the formation of GYCC had helped reactivate volunteers who had been involved with the Prescott Pride Center.
“Many of the same people who were involved in the Prescott Pride Center are working with all parts of the community, [developing] inclusive health services, youth programs, faith bridge-building, support for aging LGBTQ adults, and much, much more,” he said.
A Rainbow of Possibilities
Currently, GYCC provides a physical meeting space on the third Tuesday of each month at the First Congregational UCC Church in Prescott. Online visitors can connect through the coalition’s Facebook page (facebook.com/lgbtqyavapai) and a monthly newsletter is also available. Additionally, the organization hosts a Google calendar that lists events sponsored by various members of the coalition, including the PFLAG chapter in Prescott, an after-school youth program, a Gay-Straight Alliance, the NAZGEM Transgender Mentors Network, and others.
The coalition is currently forming a board of directors, and beginning to assemble a financial sub-committee that will focus on locating sources of funding that can sustain programs and services requested by the LGBTQ community.
According to Duarte, his day job – working as the program administrator/trainer for a LGBTQ health and wellness program at the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic – allows him to network with other queer-friendly organizations in the area and raise awareness of the coalition’s aims, as does his volunteer position as a board member of Equality Arizona.
One of the largest concerns of the coalition, however, is reaching LGBTQ residents and allies in small towns and rural areas, who often have the least contact with LGBTQ events and support. The coalition, Duarte explained, was reaching out to communities across Northern Arizona – including Sedona, Page, Kingman, Bullhead City and others – as well as advocacy organizations in Phoenix and Tucson, in order to provide local residents with opportunities that city-dwellers may take for granted, such as the ability to provide foster care and adopt children as a same-sex couple.
Duarte said the coalition planned to leverage technology to reduce the issues posed by the wide distribution of LGBTQ persons across the county.
“Starting in June, we are going to be hosting webinar-style meetings for those who cannot make it in person,” he said.
Duarte said that another benefit of forming the coalition is that it gives potential allies a place to connect with the LGBTQ community. In Yavapai County, encouraging an ally is often a matter of educating them about the community’s most pressing issues.
“Many people are just not very knowledgeable on [LGBTQ issues], and so they can seem prejudiced, but really they merely lack understanding,” he said. “With a healthy and positive introductory conversation, people tend to be very supportive of the mission of the coalition.”
The Main Event(s)
After the coalition has become better established, Duarte said he hopes that it can partner with Prescott’s business community and other organizations to host events that might draw LGBTQ persons from around the state, noting Yavapai County’s mild four-season climate and Prescott’s reputation as a year-round tourist destination as advantages for GYCC in this area. He also mentioned that recent events aimed at locals, including a drag review show and a community picnic, had drawn sold-out crowds.
Bostrom shared Duarte’s optimism, and reiterated the importance of having a physical location for Yavapai County’s queer community to gather.
“The fact that we now have a place to meet with all individuals involved with LGBTQ interests is incredible,” she said. “It’s extremely important that we are now able to get together to relay information to all parts of the county.”
Greater Yavapai County LGBTQ Community Coalition
Monthly Coalition Meetings take place at 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesdays of the month at First Congregational UCC Church 216 E. Gurley St., in Prescott.