By Timothy Rawles, April 2020 Issue.
Both Phoenix Pride and Mayor Kate Gallego are celebrating special achievements this year.
Mayor Gallego is only the third female mayor in the city’s history and Phoenix Pride is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
These milestones are important because it shows that Phoenix truly is progressing beyond the reaches of its conservative past enough to be appealing for transplants who move to the state from what they assume are more liberal parts of the country.
The LGBTQ community is especially concerned where they land, because there are still some states that heavily discriminate against them. Mayor Gallego wants to make it clear, to both natives and visitors, that her city is inclusive and she made that clear from the time she took office.
“My first day as mayor I brought together community advocates including several folks from the LGBT community,” Mayor Gallego explained. “My first action was to sign the Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry. And one of the reasons I wanted to do that on my first day was to send a strong message that this is a key community value, that I realize that diversity is our strength and that an inclusive community is stronger, more resilient, and more prosperous.”
And stronger it is. The mayor says Phoenix was just named the top city for LGBTQ retirees. And the LGBTQ dollar is making an impact on the landscape.
“I would say that our LGBTQ community has played a huge role in our downtown and our mid-town revitalization, changing the face of Phoenix,” she said. “We have also been a leader in Arizona in terms of LGBTQ elected officials; Kyrsten Sinema being probably the most prominent example. But we have had, at many times our legislature has had, one of the highest numbers of LGBTQ elected officials.”
Although there is still some progress that needs to be made and recent news stories about a proposed law by State Senator Sylvia Allen that would remove the term “homosexual” from being taught in public schools is troublesome, Mayor Gallego is quick to point out the city’s firsts for LGBTQ Pride.
“The transgender flag comes to the country from Phoenix, Arizona,” she said. “We are the national origin. And I think that’s important. We need to do a better job telling our story that Phoenix has played a prominent role in pushing LGBTQ rights. We are proud that the city of Phoenix has transgender-inclusive healthcare and we were one of the early communities to adopt that.”
The state itself proved that they were ready for LGBTQ rights in 2006 after voters defeated Proposition 107, making the state the first to oppose a same-sex marriage ban.
Mayor Gallego thinks Arizona has always had a strong respect for individual rights, it is a diverse area and so many people have friends or family members from the LGBTQ community. “We want everyone to be able to love who they love. But time and time again when Arizonans are voting, which is an anonymous activity, they want LGBTQ elected officials, we want allies, we want to vote for LGBTQ rights.”
She says she is going to be at Phoenix Pride this year to mark its 40th anniversary. For her it’s not only an achievement for the city, but in a way, it defines Phoenix.
“I think it’s an important opportunity to celebrate on how far we’ve come and what we have achieved as a city,” the mayor said. “But also recognize that we still have a lot of work to do. I am proud that Phoenix has a non-discrimination ordinance, but I don’t think that your city or zip code should determine whether you have protections from discrimination. I am pushing for a day when all of Arizona is protected by a non-discrimination law. It is wonderful that Phoenix and Tempe and Tucson and some of our peer cities have stepped up to protect our residents, but we need the entire state to do so.”
When asked if there is one place in Phoenix that the LGBTQ community has adopted and wishes to spend their money, she says she’s heard that the community feels welcome in every part of the city and that’s important.
“Many people would point to Melrose as a great example of a neighborhood where the LGBTQ community has helped build a great sense of place,” she adds. “One of the things Mayor Stanton did was rainbow crosswalks at places that are important to the LGBTQ community and one of those is in Melrose, the other is downtown near the Roosevelt corridor in the Southwest Center.”
The mayor has an LGBTQ advisor in her office named Doug Mings, but many of her employees stay involved wherever they can in the community.
“For example, my economic development advisor, I challenge her to work on making sure that we have a more robust LGBTQ tourism strategy,” she said.
“We have strong data that shows LGBTQ tourists tend to spend more and stay longer, and I want to aggressively pursue that business. I also think it’s important to where we started our conversation, which is people don’t always know true Phoenix and if tourists can come here and see what a welcoming progressive city we are, they may want to do more business with us or even move to our community. But we are aggressively pursuing large LGBTQ events including the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce Convention. We also pursue smaller events. We actually have the most significant non-profit for LGBTQ sports in our community and so I want to take advantage of great partners like that to make sure whether it’s Chamber of Commerce or volleyball that they feel welcome bringing events to Phoenix.”
One of the things the mayor is trying to do is give voices to those who have historically not had one. Groups of people who have been ignored from policymaking because their perspective hasn’t been a part of the dialogue.
Annie DeGraw, the mayor’s communications director says, “The new group that seems to have that power now is young people, people of color and people who identify with groups that haven’t traditionally been a part of the conversation even though they make up a large portion of the community.”
In the end, it’s all about change and that change has already started. Phoenix is becoming an LGBTQ destination and that is in big part to Phoenix Pride which continues to grow every year.
Mayor Gallego wants to keep that momentum going and hopefully make Arizona’s Urban Heart beam brighter with every color of the rainbow.
“Our goal is to make Phoenix the preeminent city for the LGBT community,” she said. “We want to be a welcoming community that celebrates and supports all of our residents.”