By Grace Lieberman
This Valentine’s Day, a crowd of local LGBTQ+ and allied citizens joined with seasoned lobbyists and organizers to #QueerTheCapitol. The all-day event was organized by Equality Arizona with the help of a myriad of local LGBTQ+ organizations including GLSEN Phoenix and the Safe Out LGBTQ+ Youth Coalition.
The organizers hosted training sessions on how to effectively lobby Arizona legislators; then attendees put their new skills to the test in meetings with their representatives.
The first and most poignant training session hosted by Bren Pantilione was on how to effectively tell your story. This exercise was to help people write an articulate summary of their own story and how LGBTQ+ legislation directly affects them and their community.
Attendees from all walks of life shared moving stories. One transgender woman spoke of her experience being kicked out of the army and fired from multiple jobs for wanting to live as her true self.
Karrington Valenzuela, the drag queen who pioneered Drag Queen Storytime at Changing Hands Bookstore, spoke of putting himself through school alone at just 19, and how wonderful it felt to read to children and know, “they saw me not as a man, not as a woman, but simply as beautiful.”
Another session covered intersectionality, a term coined by the academic Kimberlé Crenshaw to explain the difference having compounded marginalized identities makes in one’s life experience.
To help attendees understand, politician Brianna Westbrook recalled a time in Washington D.C. when she remarked on a passer-by’s Seahawks cap which was misinterpreted as her saying, “Hey, sweetheart.”
Westbrook explained that the man was rather confrontational with her but the situation, fortunately, did not turn violent. Westbrook is White, and she said that though she was scared because the confrontation was motivated by her gender if she were a Black transgender woman, then the risk of violence would have increased significantly.
The next session was an intense breakdown of Arizona’s diverse political climate, revealing that both the Arizona House and Senate are very close to becoming equally split between Republicans and Democrats.
Regarding the Political Landscape training session, Pantilion said, “We want to train folks so they can lobby for themselves and their communities.”
Organizers said that Phoenix has the infrastructure and population to be a destination city, but we are missing the necessary legal protections for all marginalized people to bring in large amounts of business and tourism.
Peppered throughout the day were meetings with representatives that ranged from thankful conversations about their contributions to LGBTQ+ equality or tense attempts to leave an impactful impression on the more intolerant legislators.
In one meeting with lobbyists, referring to the updated anti-discrimination bills House Representative Kelli Butler said, “there’s a lot of issues where you can see both sides, but discrimination of minority groups makes no sense.”
Attendees also heard some speeches from organizers and socialized under tents to shield themselves from the persistent drizzle of rain.
The crowd seemed empowered and excited by this event. There was talk from many about getting more involved in activism and lobbying, as well as suggestions that LGBTQ+ Lobby Day be a recurring event.
Overall, attendees were happy to be able to learn effective ways to have their voice heard in government, and some felt more connected with the greater LGBTQ+ community than they had in a long time.