By Buddy Early, April 2019 Issue.
To celebrate Echo’s 30th birthday, this year I will be catching up with some of Arizona’s LGBT personalities from past and present to revisit the people, places and events that helped shape our community.
Of all the roles you could play in our community, I’ve always felt like Pride volunteer has to be the most thankless. The amount of hours these folks dedicate to planning and producing the event vs. the appreciation shown in return doesn’t even enter the realm of a debate. Very rarely do people actually praise the committee and volunteers; they’re more likely to complain about the things they don’t like. It’s a no-win situation and an unacknowledged commitment. But to the volunteers themselves it is one of the most personally rewarding experiences they’ll ever have.
I decided to ask longtime volunteer Linda Hoffman why she stuck with the organization through all the good and bad years. There certainly were times during her tenure when most of us would have given up.
From the time I came out and started going to Pride events through all the years I worked as a full-time, professional homosexual, Linda was a mainstay with the Phoenix Pride organization. She started her run in 1994, the year after the festival was almost rained out and near bankruptcy. In the coming years, however, Linda, along with an all-volunteer Board led by personalities like Beth Verity and Ernie Mendoza, would help shepherd critical growth in the festival. She helped ensure the important move from Tempe to Phoenix, and assumed the responsibilities of Parade Director when that portion was brought back in 1997.
Then, in 2001, she became President of the Board. This was right after the festival was hit by “Hurricane Aurora” — what I call the storm that shut down the weekend event a few hours after the gates opened on Saturday, named after then-reigning Miss Gay Pride Aurora Gayheart — putting Pride closer to bankruptcy than ever before.
Linda told me that despite the grim outlook, she never gave up.
“I spent that summer working on a plan to be able to hold the festival and parade the following year, even with no money in the bank,” said Linda, who ponied up $26 for a Pride PO Box since the organization had less than that in its account.
At a Board meeting that fall, members of the community and the media showed up, expecting to witness the dismantling of Pride.
“A woman who was a member of the community, (and) on the board, said let’s get to the business of shutting this organization down,” Linda remembers. “I was shocked.”
Linda wasn’t having it. She laid out her plan, which included having agreements from contractors and entertainers, allowing Pride to settle with them once income from vendors and admissions at the next festival was in. Cut to 2002 post-Festival: thanks to Linda’s leadership and fundraising efforts from Pride royalty, Pride was able to pay its debts and became solvent.
With money in the bank, Pride was “on the path to growing into the large organization it is today,” Linda beamed. This included eventually hiring the organization’s first full-time executive director, taking over production of the Rainbows Festival, and adding numerous other events to its regular slate. But it was the creation of the Pride Scholarship Fund in 2002 that Linda is perhaps most proud of.
Linda felt that LGBT youth had so much to worry about, specifically basic living expenses, that it is up to the community to offer a hand up whenever possible. She also figured Pride Scholarship recipients would become future Pride volunteers.
“The youth is our future. They have to be able to earn a living, have a place to live, and essentially be in control of their lives.”
Although she is retired from her government job nearly a decade now, Linda is only semi-retired from Pride. She remains the event’s Radio Manager every April, and one volunteer is the annual recipient of The Linda Hoffman Spirit Award. However, nowadays she mostly enjoys “hanging out on the couch” and making jewelry, said Linda, who also was a longtime volunteer with the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association.
“It’s a self-satisfaction,” she told me when I asked her what she gained from all those years serving the community.
“I told the board every festival – at some point, go up on the top of the hill and look around, and understand that this is what you have created. … You have no idea who or how this event may have touched somebody in the crowd.”