By Megan Wadding, Dec. 18, 2014. Meet Kit Kloeckl, Echo‘s 2014 Man of the Year here.
A vision that originally launched on the verge of the great economic recession has evolved into one of the most powerful platforms for the business and LGBT communities alike.
The year was 2008, and Angela Hughey and her partner of 20 years, Sheri Owens, had just tied the knot in California. As the couple embarked on their honeymoon they launched the website for what we know today as One Community.
As the co-founder and president of the Phoenix-based “small business with a big heart,” Hughey never backs down from a challenge and that has been particularly evident throughout 2014.
The idea for One Community was stemmed from Hughey’s concern that the business community in general did not have much of an active working relationship with the LGBTQ community.
“We found that [members of the LGBTQ Community] are incredibly loyal consumers and we have a higher median income than our heterosexual counterparts,” Hughey said. “So we thought we really needed to create a vehicle that could evolve based on who our community was both demographically and psychographically.”
That’s when Hughey and Owens began reaching out to businesses to bridge the gap and foster a relationship with the LGBTQ community.
The end result was One Community, which touts itself as an “interactive web and events community” for LGBTQ and allied individuals and businesses that encourages business professionals and consumers to support businesses who support the LGBTQ community and diversity.
Standing in Unity
The Unity Pledge, now an integral component of ONE Community, is a signed agreement by Arizona businesses and individuals that shows an effort and commitment to furthering workplace equality for the LGBT community its allies.
It all started back in 2012, when Hughey created a short documentary for One Community about longtime couple – now newlyweds – Nelda Majors and Karen Bailey. According to Hughey, a single comment made by Majors served as inspiration for the Unity Pledge.
“[Majors] said that back in the 1950s, when [she and Bailey] first got together, it was very dangerous to be gay,” Hughey recounted. “She said you could lose your life, you could lose your family and you could lose your job, simply for being gay.”
At One Community’s Spotlight on Success awards that year, Hughey repeated Majors’ words and reminded the crowd that even after 50 years, not much had changed and that members of the LGBTQ community could still lose their jobs due to the lack of any real nondiscrimination laws in Arizona.
From there Hughey said many business owners contacted her confused and upset, and, with the help of a multicultural advisory board, the terms and goals for the pledge were created.
“There is a lot of research out there that says diverse and inclusive workplaces you have healthier employees, they stay on the job longer, they work harder and better and are happier in general,” Hughey explained. “The business community has always been ahead of municipalities and federal legalization. Good business is to do what is right.”
The Unity Pledge was officially launched in February of 2013 in a joint press conference with Mayor Greg Stanton.
“One of the first businesses we reached out to was PetSmart and they loved [the idea of a pledge],” Hughey said. “It was actually their idea to create a Unity Pledge for individual [employees] because they wanted to make sure their associates could participate and have a voice.”
In total, Hughey said that the Unity Pledge now collectively encompasses over 500,000 employees of various businesses and organizations, including some nationwide businesses, whose employees span the country.
“[These] businesses are saying … we have adopted these principles,” Hughey said. “It has elevated the conversation about diversity, inclusion and equality for all Arizonans, and while it is an Arizona-based pledge, it is not just affecting businesses and organizations in Arizona.”
Some businesses, such as PetSmart, not only adopted the principles of the Unity Pledge at its Arizona locations, but they also did so companywide and took the extra step to implement fully inclusive nondiscrimination policies and procedures, at locations throughout the country.
Despite the fact that fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A’s president and CEO has made headlines in recent years due for his views and comments against same-sex marriage, Hughey said that nine locally owned franchises – all located in municipalities that do not have fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in place – have actually signed the Unity Pledge.
We’ve always believed that change happens internally, so when you create internal advocates, which these [franchise] owners are, you empower them and you give them the ability to change internally and that’s a fantastic evolution that’s happening,” Hughey said.
Vote with your wallet
In an effort to better understand the needs, wants and demographics of the LGBTQ population in Arizona, Hughey spearheaded a detailed survey to shed light on who we as a community are, what we want and where we are going.
Modeled after DATOS, a market research survey done annually by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which provides an overview of both the Arizona Hispanic community and the Hispanic community nationally, the State of LGBTQ Arizona survey was created as a means to collect what Hughey calls “gay data.”
“I’ve always said that we need [this],” Hughey said. “Because if we had data and it is specific to [LGBTQ] Arizona, people would start to understand who we are as a community, and when you understand who we are as a community, the fear goes away.”
To create and conduct the survey, One Community partnered with Univision, Arizona State University and the Raul H. Castro Institute of Phoenix College.
After more than a year of collaborating, the results of the survey were released in a report last month and were quite a testament to the buying power of the LGBTQ community.
Hughey said what was remarkable about the survey results is that Arizona’s data is very much in line with national data in showing that 68 percent of our non-LGBTQ friends and 42 percent of our non-LGBTQ family members are now directly aligned with the LGBTQ community.
“The reality is, research has been out there for years that says once you know us, it doesn’t matter what your religious or political belief system is, the propensity to vote against on things that matter – like equal protection under the law – plummets because you realize that we’re just like anyone else,” Hughey said.
Businesses learned a long time ago that being fully inclusive only benefits them, she added, and more and more businesses and organizations are moving in that direction with each passing year. They are also learning what the alternative means.
“What we’re hearing from the LGBTQ community and allies is what we’ve always heard: you vote with your wallet every day,” Hughey said. “We have a choice where we are going to buy our car, or what financial institution we put our money or where we are going to go to school. When we are educated consumers, we are going to choose to support businesses and organizations that have supported equality.”
Arizona is open for business, to everyone
In early 2014, a proposed amendment to the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arizona was introduced in the legislature. If the bill, known as Senate Bill 1062, had passed it would have allowed business owners to deny customers service based on the religious beliefs of those associated with the business.
“The concern was that if we continue to legislate hate and discrimination, people will stop coming here,” Hughey said, “it would have affected everyone in the state.”
Just as SB 1062 passed both the House and Senate and was heading for Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk, Scott Koehler, owner of FASTSIGNS on Central, called Hughey with the desire to rally the community to do something about it. Initially he considered having a mural painted on the side of his Phoenix building, but then thought it better to make a widely distributed and unmistakable banner.
After brainstorming with a handful folks, the decision was made to move forward with the now-famous slogan, “Open for business to everyone.”
“[Koehler’s] team worked around the clocked and we passed out 3,200 signs in a three-day period of time – about as quickly as they could make them,” Hughey said. [The sign] was also posted it on social media and email channels. Then it went viral.”
Statewide, businesses used the sign as a way to communicate their stance on the matter known, as it became national news
Foreseeing the negative impact SB 1062 would have brought to Arizona, many businesses – from Fortune 500 companies to the National Football League’s decision to have Glendale host the 2015 Super Bowl – Governor Brewer vetoed the bill Feb. 26.
“The governor did the right thing,” Hughey said. “There was such an outcry. Members of the business community had learned that this was not just a social justice issue, this was an economic development issue and that this would negatively harm our state. Arizona came together.”
Four years ago, One Community launched the Your Vote is Your Voice community dialogue group as a way to engage multiple communities, because she believes that outreach is a powerful way for everyone to bring their specific issues forward to foster unity and social progress.
“We’ve always been very keyed in and very focused on cultural diversity and ensuring that we have really great dialogue with all of our emerging communities,” Hughey said. “We think that if you discriminate against one [minority] you discriminate against us all.”
Your Vote is Your Voice is currently undergoing a major overhaul that will see it reactivated in 2015.
“It ensures we all have a voice,” Hughey said. “Talking about things when they arise is wonderful, but talking about things before we even get there is even more empowering.”
Additionally, Hughey has big plans to keep expanding One Community, while continuing to focus on its core values and goals, in the year ahead.
“Our goal for One Community is do more of what we are doing. To connect, educate and empower our LGBTQ and allied community… and to really educate people on the importance of the state being truly open for business to everyone,” Hughey said. “We just had our sixth anniversary [at One Community] and our promise is that we would go statewide.”
As a respected business owner, a community organizer and a leader of a multitude of advocacy groups, Hughey has contributed to work that has forever changed the business landscape by setting the standards for workplace equality and nondiscrimination policies in Phoenix and beyond.
Although leadership comes naturally for Hughey, she maintains that she is really a homebody at heart.
“I just like hanging out with Sheri and [my cat] Milkshake, reading and taking a little downtime,” Hughey said. “If you don’t take time to breathe and be thankful and to just enjoy and savor what is happening, then I think you’re missing a great opportunity.”