By Liz Massey, January 2016 Issue. | Meet Stacy Louis, Echo’s other 2015 Leader of the Year.
It’s always nice when your boss supports your efforts at work, and even nicer when he or she will say so in public. But in the case of Katy June, her boss has just a little higher profile than the average boss. She works for U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, planning fundraising events for the Congresswoman’s campaign office in Phoenix.
“Everyone loves Katy June,” Sinema said. “She is amazing at what she does not only because she is a hard worker and incredibly organized, but she is fun, happy and always eager to meet new people.”
The level of support June enjoys might be unusual in terms of the office that Sinema holds, but the intensity level of the praise is a common theme among those who have toiled alongside her in her work and community commitments.
In the Phoenix LGBTQ community, June is known for her bubbly personality, optimistic attitude and killer event planning chops. Her ability to help people have a good time for a good cause has contributed to her success as an event manager at SWAY Events, and now as a member of the finance team for Sinema’s local campaign office.
Coming Out Into Community
June, who graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2002, left the traditional office job she took after returning to the Valley to work at Hamburger Mary’s in central Phoenix. And according to June, this was a decision that would prove to be a critical turning point for her.
“Without knowing it at the time, Hamburger Mary’s gave me everything,” she asserted. “My partner, all my friends, my entire social network, as well as connections to SWAY and Gary [Guerin], Justin Unga and the Arizona Democratic Party … I look back at that time in my life incredibly fondly.”
Although June says she never questioned her sexual orientation growing up, she fell “head over heels” with her partner, Kelly Flading, a regular at Hamburger Mary’s. Despite her adoration for Flading, the pair was friends for two years before they began their romance. Once they were together, however, June remembers, it wasn’t a great struggle to tell the world about it.
“None of my friends were surprised,” she said, laughing. “The fact is that it was easy to tell people about us, because it seemed so natural.”
Swinging Into Action With SWAY
June strengthened her connection with Guerin, whom she had originally met working at Phoenix New Times, while she was working at Hamburger Mary’s. By the time Guerin started up SWAY Events, he said he was already sold on her track record as a “doer and a motivated person,” who frequently solved event-threatening challenges on the fly.
“During one of the first years of Dancing with the Bars, we were co-hosting at Forbidden,” Guerin recalled. “We had been planning and filming the video component of the show for months, and due to some technical difficulties, nothing would work. Behind the scenes Katy and I pulled together a new flow, improvised and made it work. I don’t think anyone even noticed the videos were missing.”
June said she really loved the way that SWAY was able to find a business niche helping nonprofit organizations raise funds for their initiatives.
“The liquor companies had a budget to reach the LGBT population,” she said. “We were already doing that, so we streamlined things for them [by hosting events], and basically did the work for them. We also streamlined the work that nonprofits had to do to raise money. It worked very well – working with the bars and doing the promotions and helping nonprofits – and it was so much fun.”
Voting For Change At All Levels
The events that June helped SWAY produce – including pre-parties for the Rainbows Festival and Phoenix Pride, Echo’s Readers’ Choice Award ceremony, Charlie’s 25th anniversary party and the IONAZ Girl Splash Bash – had not escaped the notice of Unga, who invited her to help with event logistics for the Arizona Democratic Party’s election night party in 2008.
The energy of that night “was like nothing else I had ever experienced,” June recalled.
“It was electric – everyone was crying” after Obama’s victory was announced, she said. “The diversity of the crowd was amazing – there were people of all ages, genders, economic classes. I called Justin the next day and told him I wanted to become a professional Democrat.”
Shortly thereafter, June became a fundraiser with the party for the 2010 election cycle, which she admitted was difficult because the Democrats suffered so many defeats at the state level in that election. Despite the disappointment, she was “hooked” after that election cycle.
Show Her The Money
June acknowledged that her jump from event-driven fundraising for nonprofits to doing something similar for a political party and its candidates was not without its challenges.
“In politics, the stakes are also different, the pressure is intense, and the goals are big,” she said. “But, if you want to win elections, you HAVE to raise money to do it.”
Michelle Davidson, Sinema’s campaign manager, said June’s knowledge gained at SWAY Events helps her plan fundraisers that are considered “outside the box” for political fundraisers.
“[Katy] is a critical part of the team,” Davidson said. “ She plans fun, creative events that people want to come to! I mean, who else does spinning fundraisers or makes beer floats? Only Team Sinema! She makes donors, volunteers and guests feel great about the investment they are making in our campaign.”
Family Matters, Future Plans
The change in industry represented a vocational turning point for June, but it also represented a shift in lifestyle for June and her partner, who were getting ready to have their first child. Palmer, their daughter, was born to June in the fall of 2011.
“Life has changed dramatically for us over the past four years,” June said.
“Many of our friends have made that change alongside us. We’ve gone from having our beers at a bar, to sipping a beer while our kids have a play date. We no longer have a Saturday night out, but have birthday parties to go to instead.”
As Parker grew, June found herself in a race to balance the demands of her career, exercise her event planning talents as a community volunteer and fulfill her roles as a mother and partner.
“For several years, I was ‘supermom’ and tried to do it all,” she said. “This year, I decided to pull back, and instead of saying yes to every request that came my way, I focused on one or two things that were important to me.”
In 2015 alone, June served as the co-chair for the HRC Arizona gala in February, she won Echo’s 2015 Reader’s Choice Award for Service By A Woman, was back co-hosting SWAY Event’s final production of Dancing With the Bars with Barbra Seville in August, and so much more.
For 2016, June said she will serve as a co-chair for the 2016 RED Brunch for Aunt Rita’s Foundation because “I can’t stop doing events,” but mostly she is focusing on being the best mother she can to her daughter, and preparing with Flading to expand their family.
“Once I decided to shift energy to my family life, my priorities shifted, too,” June said. “I’ve continued to have a passion for Phoenix’s LGBT community, but I’ve also discovered a passion for my own little family.”
While June isn’t entirely certain what lay ahead for her in the New Year, she said she isn’t worried about how things will turn out.
“I’ve always defined myself by my career and my community projects,” she said. “I’m not sure what will come next, but I’m confident whatever it is, it will be great.”