Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals Bridget
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Arizona Equals Bridget

An interview with HRC state director Bridget Sharpe

We’re back from our winter break with a new episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation, featuring an interview with Bridget Sharpe, the Arizona State Director for the Human Rights Campaign. Arizona Equals is our home for the stories of queer people living in Arizona. If you’d like to share yours on a future episode of the podcast, let us know!

Full Episode Transcript

Jeanne From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. We're back with our first episode of 2023 featuring an interview with Bridget Sharpe, the Arizona State Director of the Human Rights Campaign. Bridget and I get to work pretty closely at the Capitol, and so it was fun to talk about how that world can feel when you spend a lot of time there, but also how it could be more accessible. Today is Wednesday, January 18th, and this afternoon there's a meeting of the Senate Education Committee where they'll be discussing and voting on a pair of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. We'll have more updates later on our social media feeds and in our newsletter. But if you're interested in following along live, you can join us at the Capitol, or you can watch a live stream on the Arizona Legislature's website. This was a great conversation, and so let's just get it started.

Bridget So hi, my name is Bridget Sharpe. I use she/her pronouns and I work for the Human Rights Campaign as the Arizona State Director.

Jeanne Very cool. We've gotten to know each other a little bit over the past year working at the Capitol, which has been fun and interesting and challenging. I think, you know, the first word I jump to is fun for some reason, which is wrong. It's really not, but for whatever reason, that's how I describe it. I get the impression that you've been working at the Capitol quite a bit longer than I have at HRC, right? or have you moved between different jobs?

Bridget Yeah, so I started with HRC in November of 2019. So that is kind of when I first started. Did some volunteer work for them before, but actually prior to that, oddly enough, I worked in Scottsdale. I was a lobbyist for a trade association.

Jeanne Oh, okay.

Bridget And the association covered small business salons and cosmetologists, barbers, nail techs, those kinds of things. So I was in charge of all 50 states, which was a lot at the time. But you just have to be strategic and pick and choose which states we wanted to work in. Were there harmful bills in certain states? Were there good bills we could support? So it was a lot of traveling, which I kind of miss, actually, because I got to go to a lot of cool places, a lot of different capitals.

Jeanne Well, did you get to go to basically every state?

Bridget I wish. But I got to visit a lot of state capitals. I spent a lot of time in Austin, Texas, which the Texas legislature is a completely different topic of conversation, but their Capitol building is really beautiful, so it was kind of nice to get to hang out there.

Jeanne It is really beautiful, actually. I just remembered I have been there. It's gorgeous.

Bridget Yeah, I love the dome. It's so pretty. You could just sit there and relax all day, but of course, things were crazy, so that never happened.

Jeanne The thing that immediately stood out to me is this idea of being based in Scottsdale and working across 50 different state legislatures, and now being based in this national organization and working in one state legislature. What's that adjustment like for you, I mean, even just from a strategy standpoint and from the relationship standpoint with lawmakers?

Bridget Yeah, I mean, I feel like I'm much more impactful in one state, because focusing all my energy into Arizona, which has been my home for a long time, And I love it here. I am loving seeing all the change that's happening in Arizona. But yeah, strategically, I have such better relationships with lawmakers because I can spend more time in person or just over email, providing trainings, those kinds of things. So the relationships are much stronger versus at my old job, it was more kind of flying in as needed. And that was tough because I am very much somebody who values folks doing the work on the ground. And so it was hard to kind of come in as this person from a national org saying

Jeanne Air drop in and say, this is what cosmetologists need.

Bridget Exactly, right. When there's already like existing, in-state trade associations. So it's a lot of trust to build, but then when you have to move on to the next state, you have to like refocus those energies and relationships completely. So I very much prefer working in one state and feeling like I know more about what's happening here and not feeling like I need to know what every single legislature is trying to do.

Jeanne It's a lot to keep up with just with one state. I feel like when I go into a meeting with anyone, but even lawmakers, if I'm going in and just asking them for something or just telling them facts, I can't tolerate that. It's like the worst feeling to just go to someone who you have no real preexisting relationship with and say, I need you to think about this this way. I don't really know who they are, I don't know what their priorities are. If I go into a meeting like that, it just sucks.

Bridget I agree, yeah.

Jeanne And I can't really imagine flying around between 50 states and I know we've got 90 people in our legislature and that's not big compared to Texas and some other states. So that's literally thousands of people that you might have to interact with.

Bridget We also did a little work in Rhode Island where there are like 400 members of the legislature.

Jeanne That's like half the population of Rhode Island.

Bridget Yeah, basically like every square mile is like a new legislator in Rhode Island. But yeah, I mean, it just-- it really speaks to this work and the importance of relationships, right? Like it speaks to-- it's much easier to pick up the phone and call a legislator's assistant when you know them and you have built that rapport. and you'll likely get in more likely to than somebody who is just kind of flying in and trying to do work. So I'm with you. -

Jeanne Yeah, that's right. I think part of that is why lobbyists get such a bad name and probably why a lot of people don't sit down and say, "I'm gonna be a lobbyist when I grow up." -

Bridget Right. (laughs)

Jeanne So how did you get into that earlier lobbying job before this?

Bridget Yeah, so I graduated college in 2008, which was, you know

Jeanne Not a great time to graduate.

Bridget Not a great time to graduate. Originally, well, I graduated with a public relations and advertising degree. And so, you know, bad time to graduate again. And I just sort of fell into working for the Arizona Democratic Party as a field organizer in East Mesa, of all places. The party had an existing organization called the GEMDEMS, the Greater Eastern Maricopa Democrats. And so there was a year-round office there. So I kind of just swooped in and made friends with the volunteers and ran the office and all that good stuff. So I was pretty much hooked after that. I mean, I loved knowing that we were making a change, making a difference, and even just talking to people in East Mesa, that is, they're usually assumed to be more conservative. It was great to meet folks who were like, it's great to see this office here and this work that you're doing because they feel at home, you know? And so that kind of really got me in. And then over the next couple of years, I worked for SEIU, which is a labor union. I worked for-- what was it? See, I'm forgetting already. Oh, Repower America, which was Al Gore's organization. Yeah, so they were trying to pass clean energy legislation with the hope of, at the time, Senator McCain supporting it.

Jeanne Was this during the Obama administration?

Bridget It was, yeah. So that was all 2009.

Jeanne Oh, OK. So from graduating to 2009, that's actually a lot of activity. -

Bridget Exactly, right.

Jeanne Yeah, I see.

Bridget And I'm sure you have experienced or heard this before, but people that work on campaigns, you work for six months and then it's off to the next thing. -

Jeanne Exactly.

Bridget Yeah, and so I really just wanted more stability and so ended up taking a job in DC, stayed there for a year, which is longer, but then ended up coming back to Arizona and then worked for Planned Parenthood for a bit and then moved to PBA, which was the job at Scottsdale.

Jeanne I see. And then that one was a longer, more stable--

Bridget Yeah, about 6 and 1/2 years, which is-- yeah. So it was nice to have stability. And the beauty industry people are so passionate about it, because it's their livelihood. It's all creative types who are just really cool and want to make a living doing--

Jeanne And mostly small businesses.

Bridget Yeah, mostly small businesses. So it was great to just meet people who are trying to support their families by running their salon or even just working in the salon. It was a good experience for me, I think, to just see this side that I haven't seen before.

Jeanne Right.

Bridget Yeah.

Jeanne Something, now that we're in this weird economic position of inflation but decent jobs numbers and people are wondering if there's a new recession coming.

Bridget Right.

Jeanne Something I hear people talk about a lot is how advertising spend is like a bellwether for recessions. It's like the first thing people cut is advertising spending. And so it seems like with the degree you had, that's probably the worst thing to graduate with right into the recession. Do you feel like you get to use the things that you studied and that you were excited about studying in college in this kind of work?

Bridget Yeah, I think that more the public relations side. I feel like in politics and in lobbying, like we mentioned, there's a lot of relationship building and making sure that people know who you are and that they can use you as a resource. That very much is part of it. But honestly, not really. Anything else? I mean, the writing portion, definitely. We wrote press releases all the time and did projects like that. And so I think that writing has really helped because with any job in a nonprofit, you wear several hats at once. And so you have to kind of pick up skills as you can. And I love writing. And so that's definitely a big part of my schooling that has just kind of stayed with me.

Jeanne That makes sense. You know, when I talk to people about their careers, and we don't always talk just about careers on the podcast, but I generally tend to think of like, I have this weird circuitous path I took. Most people I talk to don't just like pick a degree, work in that industry for the rest of their lives, but some people do. And so I'm always curious, especially for people who are maybe like younger and listening to this and going through college to really get that idea of like, what do you actually take away from college that sticks with you 10 years later, 15 years later?

Bridget Yeah. I mean, I would say, I mean, having the degree, you know, is just, I mean, it's a proud moment. It's something that, you know, you work for, you know, for four years or however long, and I just had my bachelor's. So that's, you know, a proud moment. And just the experience overall. I mean, I got to work for our radio station on campus, which was a blast. Yeah. I mean, we put together shows on campus, which is what I originally wanted to do. I thought I wanted to work at a record label and do-- or work at a music festival. That changed, obviously. But yeah, I think I take the experience. It was just a great time. Friends that I still have today and will be lifelong friends. Yeah, I just, I feel like the experience is the biggest part of it. And while you're there, experience as much as you can, but also try different things. Right? I mean, you may decide on day one, like I want to be a nurse. And then two years later you decide that's not the case. That's okay. Right. I mean, maybe a little more money, but depending. Um, so, so yeah, I think the experience was the biggest.

Jeanne It sounds like part of it is the different like connections you can get from a networking standpoint or just a community standpoint. When you made that transition out of college into the Democratic Party, was that because you were already involved in politics and you had connections or was it just a decision of the moment?

Bridget Yeah, so I was involved with the Northern Arizona University Young Dems for quite a while. My sister my oldest sister, or older sister got me involved because we went to school there at the same time. And then when you know, I was looking for a job. She was also working at the party doing research and those kinds of things and so she was like well, We have openings like what do you think? And so that's sort of how I fell into it and you know my sister and I do the same work. We were both in politics. So, you know, it was nice to have someone who was like, what do you think about this? And then that support also, you know down the line…

Jeanne And you both went to NAU?

Bridget We did, yes, yeah.

Jeanne Are you pretty close in age? Were you there at the same time?

Bridget Yeah, so she graduated a year before me. So we're 17 months apart. And so she now works for the DLCC. So that's the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. And she lives in New Orleans now. She just moved recently.

Jeanne Oh that's really cool

Bridget Yeah!

Jeanne I feel like that's not a very common thing for siblings to both end up working in politics —

Bridget Right, yeah.

Jeanne — or really for siblings to both end up working in the same field regardless.

Bridget Yes Yeah, it — well and in the same state too, right?

Jeanne And in the same state, yeah.

Bridget She helped, or worked for the party and did redistricting work while that was happening and taking place in Arizona. And so it was a lot of like, oh, you’re Franny’s sister or like, you’re Bridget’s sister and those kinds of things. Like people equate us all the time, so.

Jeanne Yeah. Is that like a family thing? Is that like a hereditary, you're all in politics kind of thing or just? -

Bridget I would say, so my dad who's no longer with us, he was really into politics all our lives. We grew up outside of Chicago. And so he was really involved in Chicago politics. He was actually on the radio for a long time. And so it was around news and interviewing folks. And so it was definitely a passion of his. So I would say it was kind of ingrained in us. But I think more for my sister, it was more like, this is definitely what she wanted to do. More as, with me it was like, well, I guess this works. And I found it to be a lot of fun.

Jeanne So more of just like a general family environment of interest and conversation and discussion.

Bridget Yeah, definitely.

Jeanne And then later on making the decision to make it your professional life.

BRidget Exactly, exactly. And sometimes you're like, man, I should have just stayed a volunteer or something because things are hard, right? Like things get hard during election season. Things get messy with primaries and stuff, and it can be rather exhausting. But I think it's been nice to see some of the shifts in Arizona the last couple years. And I think we can definitely shift our legislature to a more pro-equality legislature in the next two to four years. And so I think that that kind of keeps me going too. Like at the end of the day, I would love to see that happen. And I know a lot of folks in the state, in our community would love to see that happen too.

Jeanne Yeah, I think there's something like a little bit addicting about it when you can make it your whole life and you're able to find a job that pays you well enough to do that. Cause I also sometimes feel like, wouldn't it be nice to just have like a job that is outside of the fray, but I still get to be supportive in some way.

Bridget Right.

Jeanne And then I realized, I don't know that that's who I actually am.

Bridget Right. Yeah. And being honest about that, right. Like, I mean, I know for me and maybe for you too, like the fray is kind of fun.

Jeanne Right.

Bridget I mean, you know, it's exciting and it's, you know, I remember a particular time last year when you and I were sitting in a committee hearing and we were approached by a Republican legislator who had questions about his bill and actually wanted to change it. Like that was such a surprising moment.

Jeanne That was fantastic

Bridget It was so great and it was like so it shows you that like you can't necessarily say you know this legislator is this way or this legislator thinks this. You know, you have to be open to you know, other thoughts and other experiences.

Jeanne And if you're not there, you will miss those opportunities.

Bridget Exactly. Right.

Jeanne So it's really kind of like, uh, the more I push myself into this, I actually do get more results. So let me just keep trying.

Bridget Exactly. I'll keep moving forward then. Yeah. And you know, not to mention, you know, just seeing friends from other organizations at the Capitol and like running into folks, like there's a social component to it, I think, even just from the relationship building side. So that's kind of a fun part of it too. -

Jeanne Yeah, I think I've heard people describe it as, well, I can't think of the right word right now that I've heard people use, but it really becomes like a very, very small world once you're there.

Bridget Right, I agree.

Jeanne And I don't think, I don't know if that's totally fair to everyone else in the state, but it's definitely a situation where it's like, oh yeah, we all know these three reporters who are here all the time. We all know these 10 senators who are the most outspoken on things.

Bridget Right.

Jeanne And everyone kind of knows who everyone is. And it's, I don't know if it's insular, because I don't know that it's actually hard to get into it. But it's definitely a small world in a way that feels very much like a social thing.

Bridget Right, and I think sometimes it even gets smaller, when, like for our organizations, we obviously have goals that we want to achieve every year. So we know, we're almost hyper-focused on the LGBTQ issues while also playing a part in reproductive rights, in voting rights, and those kinds of things. So sometimes you miss what other organizations are doing because you're so hyper-focused on, okay, I just need to talk to these five senators and I'll be fine. So yeah, you get laser-focused on your things, And then it's like, oh, all these other crazy things are also happening at the legislature.

Jeanne Yeah. Well, and you've had the experience of having to have a much broader scope, even if it was with one trade group. Do you ever wish that that's the kind of work you got to do, is like a big picture policy role?

Bridget Yeah. You know, I think that there will be more hope for that in Arizona the next few years. Because at my old job, we never ran legislation. We just sort of reacted to it. So that was, yeah, something that I would have loved to do is be the person who's introducing the bill or with a coalition leading the bill. And that's been obviously hard for our groups the last couple of years. But already, we've seen interest from legislators who are just sort of on their own accord taking on pro-LGBTQ bills. And so I feel like our groups have a great opportunity to even if we know bills aren't gonna get committee hearings this year, we can at least educate these folks. And two years down the line, four years down the line, they have a solid understanding of why this is so important. So yeah, that's an exciting thing, I think, for sure.

Jeanne That time horizon is interesting in the context of what we talked about before, where it's like you get into a campaign job and six months later, you're off to a new thing. But then you still wanna think on these two, four year, or with something like redistricting, 10 year timelines. But you don't know actually where you're gonna be in one year. -

Bridget Exactly, right. -

Jeanne When you first got started in politics, was that the mindset you had, or was it a little bit more just, oh, this is new and exciting and I'm gonna figure it out as I go?

Bridget It was definitely new and exciting and figure it out as I go, which felt like a challenge. I mean, I feel like I've gotten to really love it and to find a niche that really works. And there's a certain kind of understanding that you pay your dues, you start from the bottom, so to speak, and then you work your way up. And so I feel like HRC, for me, has been kind of the perfect marriage of doing legislative work, which I love to do, also still working with HRC members and advocates, giving them a voice if they don't feel like they have a voice down at the legislature. And then there's also the elections piece of it where this last year we worked nine months of the year on the election, then it was like, okay, November's here. Well, December, because a lot wasn't figured out in Arizona until then. But, and then you get a little break and then it's just straight on into legislative session. And so it's a good kind of hectic, I think, where you know what to expect, and you can also do that long-term work and know, OK, so-and-so won their election. They're going to be a great ally or champion for us again this year. But there's so many new legislators this year. I haven't even, I feel like, started to get to know even all of them. And so I think it’s, yeah, there's so many factors that you plan for two years and you never know what's going to happen in two years. People get re-elected or not.

Jeanne I think I'm just still hung up on what I'm realizing now, having this conversation with you, is I'm constantly going around and having conversations that are like, oh, there's all these new legislators. And it's 90 people that we're trying to keep track of. People outside of our little bubble aren't aware that some years there aren't as many new legislators as other years. And so having that kind of conversation is like, OK, well, you started out working with the Democrats in 2008, and now you're at a point where you're having a conversation that's like, oh, here's this new person from this district, and here's this new person from this district. And I know there's a lot of people who are in that mindset, but there's also a lot of people who just don't think about politics that way at all. And I think even people who wanna get into politics aren't really necessarily aware that that's kind of how it starts to feel after a certain point. It's hard to come up with a great question for that, But I think I maybe wanna just roll the clock back a little bit.

Bridget Sure.

Jeanne You went to school in NAU, then you moved to Mesa for work. That's a big shift. Were you in Arizona before, and were you in Northern Arizona before that, or were you used to the metro area of Phoenix?

Bridget Yeah, so my family moved to Arizona in '97, I think, 1997, and so I did middle school and high school in North Phoenix. And so, yes, very familiar with it. And then, you know, just wanted to kind of get out of town and, you know, go to a smaller campus. So, you know, Flagstaff made the most sense. So yeah, but I love, I love Phoenix. It's amazing to see how it's grown, you know, even just from high school to now. And, you know, I knew I always wanted to live in like downtown or uptown Phoenix, and that's where I am right now. And it's just, you know, I feel like sometimes Phoenix gets a bad rap or, you know, people aren't excited about it, but I think it's such a vibrant community. And I think it's a great place to live.

Jeanne When you say Phoenix gets a bad rap, do you mean like Phoenix, Phoenix, or the metro area of Phoenix?

Bridget Well, I guess the metro area more. And there's tough parts about living in the metro area. You have to drive everywhere if you don't live on the light rail line, or the future light rail line, or bus lines. And so I think it gets a bad rap in that way. Phoenix is the fifth largest city, I think, in the country.

Jeanne Something like that. -

Bridget Yeah, and so, you know, it's, I just think people think, well, we should have more public transportation. I also think that that would be great. I think it's the sprawl that intimidates people a little bit. -

Jeanne Yeah, the sprawl, and I mean, you said you grew up in North Phoenix, well, not really grew up in North Phoenix, but you did middle school, high school in North Phoenix. You worked in East Mesa. That's very far apart. And North Phoenix, I think North Phoenix in the '90s versus what North Phoenix is now, for one, I think it just is farther north.

Bridget Yes.

Jeanne Have you seen that change? Like, how is that now that you're living in Phoenix again? Does it feel more sprawling or more manageable?

Bridget I would say — and actually, the first week that we moved here from Chicago, we were driving down Tatum Boulevard off the 101. I don't think the 101 was there yet. It was just a dirt road.

Jeanne Yeah, it wouldn't have been.

Bridget Right, my dad was just driving us in our van, like down this dirt road to like go see, you know, our house that was being built. And it was just like, where have you taken me? And what is happening? But now, you know, Desert Ridge is here. I used to work there in high school actually. And so, I mean, it just has grown so fast. And I think, you know, to say something good about the sprawl is people find neighborhoods that they really like and that they can live in and feel comfortable in. Yeah, there's a lot of, I think, diversity there and where specifically you wanna live, East Valley, West Valley. So I think that's provided folks with good communities.

Jeanne That's something I've seen is every now and then I'll learn about a really interesting community area in Glendale or North Phoenix or Gilbert or something that I've just never even been aware of —

Bridget Right.

Jeanne — as like, oh wow, that's a really vibrant walkable city area kind of thing. And I think part of the thing that happens with the sprawl is it's not necessarily impossible to have that, but you might not even be aware of what other communities exist —

Bridget Right, right.

Jeanne — unless you're really actively looking for it.

Bridget That's true. -

Jeanne Have you experienced that in terms of maybe trying to find community, but also maybe in terms of like organizing queer people. Cause I think it can be really hard to find like, what do I do in the East Valley if I'm queer? Or what if I'm in Glendale? What do I do? Where do I go?

Bridget That's so true. And I think my first like almost introduction into the community was just going to gay bars, to be honest, in my 20s. And hanging out with a couple of friends in particular that would frequent the bars off of 7th Avenue in Melrose. And that was my first introduction to drag queens and the drag queen community, and just how vibrant and wonderful it was. And so you end up meeting a lot of people, 'cause that's obviously downtown or uptown Phoenix. So you meet a lot of people who come in from Glendale to go to these bars or come from the West Valley to go to these bars and find community. But it is tough, I would say, outside of that, because where do you look? I mean, and also where do you look without infiltrating someone's safe space, too?

Jeanne Well, that's true, yeah. I mean, sometimes I talk to someone and I find out, oh, they just do have a really thriving and vibrant queer community in the pocket of the metro area that they live in. And no one would know. So that's the flip side of it.

Bridget Right, right. And even if, you know sometimes you'll tell people from different parts of the metro area, like, oh yeah, well Melrose is, I guess you could call it the gayborhood. You know, there's a lot of queer-owned businesses, you know, down there and they're surprised. They're like, I didn't even know that Phoenix had a gayborhood. And so, you know, everyone's learning, I think, but yeah, I mean, yeah, they're tough to find sometimes, but, but I feel like through my, you know, work with HRC, we have connected with a lot of families, either who are queer themselves or have queer children or trans children that will come from Scottsdale and they'll come from Tucson or even, you know, further south of Tucson and they just sort of find a post one day like an HRC post or an Equality Arizona post and then you get an email like what can I do about this? I think that's the most exciting part. You know, I wish that, you know, there were like five of me and five of my staffer in the in the state, Jacob, because you know you get to spend more time in those communities, you know, so yeah.

Jeanne Well so, that's something I think I wanna ask about is working with families, especially the past few years, maybe even just the past couple years. It seems like it's gotten scarier and scarier for families, even if some of the worst policies haven't actually come to pass. And for families who you work with, they're probably more likely to be really focused on that. And I think that can have a really big emotional toll. What are you seeing in terms of that? -

Bridget Yes, I completely agree with you. The emotional side of it has been both almost the most rewarding and the most scary, right? Because you connect with people on a very real level. Like you can't do this work without getting really invested in the families that you're doing the work for, right? I mean, because you know at the end of the day what you're trying to do each day is protect, help protect this person's child from harm, from getting bullied at school, from legislation that is ridiculous and unnecessary. So I think it's been both really hard, but also really rewarding, because I feel like we have — a lot of these moms, we have this kinship now where we sort of both know where we stand with each other. There's a big relationship part of that, a trust part of that, for sure, that I really value and take to heart. And I also think that I have some expertise where I can help and say, if someone wants to get involved, I can say, well, hey, let's set up a meeting with Senator so-and-so on this day, and let's start you off in that direction. But then they have the lived experience that they're open and willing to share. I mean, really, with the whole state, because if you get up and testify in front of a committee, that's going out live, and anyone can watch it.

Jeanne And it's public record. The videos are there forever.

Bridget Exactly. And so that's been a challenging part of it because you really want to make sure everybody feels comfortable. I try and stay away from us as an organization banking stories in some way because you want to make sure that if you have someone's story, you take really good care of it. And also don't just use it at your disposal.

Jeanne Can you explain what that means by banking stories?

Bridget Sure. let's say you have an advocate that really wants to get involved on a particular bill. Banking stories really means like, let's say you do a professional video shoot with them, where they talk about their story, they talk about their child, their faces on video. I mean, there's implications there. And so we try to, each year — we don't try to repurpose things, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. Because we want to make sure that families still feel comfortable. Maybe you get a great interview, and then the next year, it's going to be helpful for media. The first thing you do is go back to that family and say, would you be OK with us using this for this purpose? And so I guess it's — well, I guess it is kind of story banking, but it's making sure all along the way that everyone feels comfortable and protected.

Jeanne Well, and I would imagine, and it sounds like this is kind of what you're saying, part of the reality is that for families with kids, A year in a kid's life is actually a huge change. A year in the legislature can also be just a totally new reality. And so maybe that's a great story. Maybe they're comfortable with it being out there. But it's not genuine to the relationship you have with that family if you keep them kind of set in stone in that one moment in their life.

Bridget Exactly. And it's not fair to them either. You know, you may have, you know, a kid that, you know, one year is super happy with testifying at a committee hearing and feels comfortable to do it and wants to do it and then the next year they're like I'm burnt out and I don't want to do this anymore. That's totally fine You know, I mean, you know, they I hope at the end of the day you know while working with this families that they feel — the most important thing to me is that they feel seen and heard and protected and you know, not taking for granted this person's whole life that they're really putting out in front of a lot of people.

Jeanne I find that with a lot of parents who get involved, often the people I've worked with, they have adult children or young adult children and now they've decided to get involved. Maybe their kid came out in college or something and that's why, or maybe they just waited. Working with families who have young kids who are out and they're all involved, it's different because the kid is in a more precarious position, I think. If you're off in college and your parents decide to be advocates around your identity, you might have some feelings about it, but it's not really gonna be disruptive to your life, necessarily.

Bridget Sure, sure.

Jeanne And I think disruptive is like an unfair word, maybe. But I do imagine that working with families and feeling like everyone's voice is heard can be pretty challenging, even in a family where everyone's super on board and happy, do you have any experience navigating that balance of the kids and the parents?

Bridget Yeah, I mean, I would say, the biggest thing that I've seen, and I think a lot of times, and you've seen this in the media, we've all seen this, where it's assumed that the parent is forcing their kid into doing this. I mean, that is, if I could say anything, that's the one biggest misrepresentation out there. I mean, because along with the great relationship I have with the parents, the child becomes a part of this process as well. Because a lot of the times, it has to do with them. And so I think navigating it is always going back to those tenets of making sure they're protected and safe, but also making sure they feel heard too. I mean, I've more than once gotten testimony from a 14-year-old advocate who says, can you just look at this for me and let me know if this is OK and tweak things here and there. But their voice coming through, I think, is the most important part. And that's not even something that I feel like has to go through mom and dad, right, because that — or whoever, whoever the parent or guardian is — because that relationship also exists between me and them. And trust exists there too, so that folks know, oh, yeah, email Bridget, and she'll let you know what you should say or not say or really focus on. So I think I definitely see — I don't see it as a whole one relationship. It's very kind of separate almost.

Jeanne That makes sense. And I mean, I was involved in some activism as a teen. And so when I see people who were like the age I was, like 15-year-olds coming in to testify — one, I wasn't testifying as a 15 year old. So that's pretty impressive. But beyond that, I realized, yeah, my parents weren't part of that. And for some of those kids coming in, I think they are just going in on their own. But in some cases, it's a very different experience and it's something I try to wrap my head around, like what that must be like to include your parents in it. My parents are fortunately supportive, but also, just like, if you're a kid, it's kind of mortifying to have your parents around. Right, and that's, it's just a lot. There’s the whole thing of just, okay, you have these kids who are in this precarious position, so you're looking for support, you build this network, but maybe now it's a network that's based on parental support needs. And that's great and that's important, but then are the kids having an active voice too? Or are the kids finding the community they need?

Bridget Right, right, yeah, and I would say, I can't think of an example of any parent who hasn't allowed them to speak their piece, right? I mean, to be —

Jeanne No, I can't either.

Bridget Yeah, yeah. And so I think that that also speaks to the misconception of, oh, the parents are making their kids do this. Like, the best part of last session for me was there was a hearing in the Senate and we packed the room and just seeing everyone step back from the podium and getting a high five from a community member, a hug from a community member, seeing the whole back wall full of folks who are like, this is so important to me. I am here when I could be at work, I could be at school, and this is how important it is. And we had some tough battles last year, but that is what keeps me going, is just seeing that and knowing that we all have each other's backs. And ultimately, at the end of the day, we're doing the right thing and are on the right side of history.

Jeanne It's something community can really coalesce around. Here's the seed of this thing we're all focused on. And now here's all these relationships that form around it.

Bridget Right, right. And it's been interesting to see, so we're part of a coalition of organizations that have basically something to do with the LGBTQ community, policy focused and mostly legislative focus. But we have a group of high schoolers who have recently become a part of it. And we had a meeting right before the holidays and they spoke up so much and I was so happy. And just hearing all their ideas about things that we're used to, like Lobby Day. Like, you know, every year we're like, oh, we'll have Lobby Day, and you know, we do X, Y, and Z to do Lobby Day.

Jeanne Right, here's the checklist.

Bridget Exactly, but they, I feel like, input some really great ideas that all of us in the room, all the adults in the room were like, oh yeah, that makes total sense. And so, it's so cool to see this younger generation, you know, coming on their own accord, right? Like, I mean, their parents might have dropped them off, I don't know, but it was just them three that came to this meeting on a Saturday evening, when they could be out hanging out, doing literally anything else, and they care that much. So I'm excited to see how that relationship grows too.

Jeanne I feel like young LGBT people are, in general, just really activated around these issues, maybe for obvious reasons, but I think there's reasons for anyone to be really activated politically, and in general, people aren't. So it is really notable to see people in that demographic.

Bridget And how immediately proud they are to be who they are. -

Jeanne Yeah.

Bridget Right, whereas I think in maybe our generations or generations before us, you had to be careful, right? For safety reasons or you had to do things behind the scenes or you had your community, but it wasn't so public, you know, and so —

Jeanne What was your experience like around that?

Bridget Around like finding community or?

Jeanne Yeah, around finding community, and did it feel like there was the opportunity to do the kinds of things that these kids are doing?

Bridget Yeah, I mean, I would say, I mean, and I didn't, for me personally, didn't come out until a little bit later in life. And so I wasn't necessarily looking for that, but looking for communities in other ways, like doing young Democrat stuff. And so I think it kind of still stands in the same way, but I just think that it's just nice to see them doing this without fear and without — and bringing in these new ideas. Like, you know, we're used to, you know, sending out an action alert or, you know, to our members or, you know, sending a tweet and those things. And for a while that was like the new thing, like activating legislators on Twitter, you know? And now it's TikTok and people are getting involved that way. I mean, these kids are like communicating. They're not texting each other. They're like sending messages in Snapchat, on TikTok and all of that. And so I think it's a different world. and in some ways a safer world, 'cause you can see into, via your phone, into the worlds of other kids who feel the exact same way as you. Whereas I know my generation, it was a lot of LiveJournal and MySpace and those kinds of things, so it was harder to find your community.

Jeanne My high school experience was during the whole Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street period. And so that was the moment for, oh, Facebook and Twitter are going to change the world for political organizing. And it lasted for like a year or like two years. And I don't even think that's really what's happening for these kids either, that it's like about social media. But on some level, they're able to see this bigger picture of how you can think about things and how you can talk about things.

Bridget Exactly. And be unapologetic about yourself and who you are. I just think that's so wonderful because I feel like kids, when they're supported and they have affirming homes, parents, friends, teachers, that all that happens is that you thrive, right? I mean, you find out who you are. Someone tells you it's OK to be who you are. And I think kids are finding that out earlier in their lives because they have that support from community. And so that's why it's hard to see these anti-trans bills, specifically like bathroom bills and the anti-trans sports bill, that just targets kids who want to be seen and heard and felt like they are a person and that it's okay to be who they are.

Jeanne Well, and that it's okay to be uncertain about who you are, right? That it's okay to like explore things and try things out.

Bridget Right, exactly.

Jeanne I feel like some of it just has to do with access to information. It's a lot easier to find nuanced conversations about being queer on the internet than it was 10 years ago.

Bridget That's true, that's very true.

Jeanne And 20 years ago, I don't know, it wasn't that easy to find. There were great online communities for trans people even specifically, but it was just less discoverable. And it was smaller and therefore more niche and it only represented some experiences and there'd be a lot of toxic arguments about whose experience was the one true valid experience. -

Bridget Right, yeah.

Jeanne And I think a lot of that is just always gonna exist, but there is space for people to go on TikTok and say, I actually just love the word genderqueer, and it's like a whole throwback all of a sudden.

Bridget Right.

Jeanne It's fantastic that people just have more viewpoints and more information and are able to just say, right, I don't have to fit into a mold, but here's all these different experiences I can know about.

Bridget Right, and our community is so layered, right? I mean, because I think when, you know — started talking about gay rights, marriage was the big issue and all of that. And you only sort of thought of lesbian couples or gay couples when you talk about marriage. You don't really think about the layers from there. And so I think it's been really nice to see those layers a little bit more and that you have people who find along the way that maybe they come out as gay, but then later in life are trans. Or they are actually bi.

Jeanne They find more words to express something that's truer to their experience.

Bridget Exactly, and so I just think that's so great to see. Is that it’s a journey, I mean all of us are gonna be on this journey for our whole lives. Things change all the time, people change all the time, and I think that the pillar is just staying true to yourself and having affirming people around you and taking care of those people. 'cause it would be hard to feel sad if you have all that support around you. So, yeah. -

Jeanne Yeah, that's true. Well, I think that'd be the best place to end, but I wanna ask one more question. -

Bridget Okay.

Jeanne Because you mentioned just transitioning past the marriage moment in gay politics and how so much of the conversation was around a gay couple or a lesbian couple and talking about the fact that the community is so much more diverse and has so many more experiences in it. I feel like that's the direction to go in terms of new organizing strategies, is, where are people who were left out of the conversation before? What are you seeing in terms of the shift from that era of politics to this era of politics?

Bridget Yeah, I mean, a lot more inclusion, a lot more awareness that intersectionality, if we're not doing this through an intersectional lens, like we will fail, right? I mean, we have, you know, going back to, you know, Marsha P. Johnson and, you know, going back to, you know, gay rights back then, you know, that was someone who just wanted to be seen for who she was, right? And even in that movement, a lot of folks were like, you'll have your turn. And that drives me crazy. -

Jeanne Well, she got booed off of a stage.

Bridget Exactly. And yes, exactly. Sylvia Rivera as well. And so it's just, you know, you feel cringy a little to know that that was the case. And you see it in movements all the time, the feminist movement and reproductive rights. And I think there's more of an accepting tone of we have to look through this through the lens of race, through the lens of class, community, everything, because of the layers, right? Because of the layers in our community. And so it has been really nice to have conversations, even with colleagues or with other organizations, where immediately the tone is set from the beginning that this is gonna be an intersectional conversation. And that if someone, if a group does feel left out, let's remedy this to make sure that seats are had at the table. And it can be tough sometimes when a lot of folks come together. Everyone has different priorities. We experience this all the time. And so being very careful with how we are working on things and just always coming back to, are we looking at this intersectionally? What communities are really struggling in this way and how can we bring light to that? If again, if that community is feeling comfortable with that because a lot of the shift I think is just more acceptance and more and showing these are our communities and they have lots of layers, but at the same time, like we're just trying to survive. like everybody else. And I think there's just been more public acceptance. But a part of that is more visibility into our worlds and into what it's like. Because none of these legislators who have introduced anti-drag bills have ever been to a drag show in their life, have never been to a drag story hour ever, and seen the positivity and the affirmation that happens there. And so that's the hardest part, is seeing folks who have no idea, no insight into who we are, or even attempting to, making these rules. And so I feel like it's sort of our responsibility to bring light and show that we're just like everybody else, and we just want to survive and thrive.

Jeanne And that connects perfectly to what we were talking about earlier with the fact that it's like 90 people. Like, they represent us because we voted for them but they're not actually representative 'cause they can't be, 'cause they're a tiny group of people. And all the people who work there all add up to such a tiny percentage of the population. And being able to connect with all of these other experiences and stories is so important because of course there's gonna be people who don't understand drag. And if it's one person who's in the legislature who doesn't understand drag, it feels like it's a much bigger thing. But it is just one person.

Bridget It really is.

Jeanne It is just a small group of people.

Bridget Right, a small group of people who saw one news story out of Texas, you know, where a child was at a drag show and then that is imprinted on them as something that is wrong. And they make policy decisions based off of that. I think that is, I think it's wrong. I think it's a little immoral to do things that way.

Jeanne But that context is really important.

Bridget Right, right. I mean, they may get two phone calls from constituents in their districts who saw the same piece in Texas, who said, do something about this. And if they feel inclined, they have the power to do something about it, even if two people in their district said, I think this is an issue.

Jeanne So good reason to get more voices —

Bridget Yes, exactly.

Jeanne — into the policy process.

Bridget Exactly.

Jeanne Well, thanks for talking with me today.

Bridget Of course.

Jeanne And all of the other times we talk.

Bridget Yes. Oh, my gosh. I love working with you. I'm excited for just the work we're gonna continue doing and —

Jeanne Yeah, me too.

Bridget Yeah, great.

Jeanne Some room for optimism.

Bridget Yeah, yeah. (laughing)

Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.
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