Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals Lisa
0:00
-43:44

Arizona Equals Lisa

Local entrepreneur and political organizer Lisa Malachowsky joins the podcast for our last episode of 2022.

Today on the Arizona Equals Conversation, Jeanne interviews Lisa Malachowsky, a local entrepreneur and political organizer with a 20 year history in the computing industry. This episode covers a lot of ground, from technology history and workplace organizing to the struggle for marriage equality and the threat of rising antisemitism. We’ll be off next week enjoying the holidays, and will return with new stories in 2023.

If you have a story to share about being queer in Arizona, get in touch!

Links for Context

Full Episode Transcript

[00:00:00]

Jeanne

From Equality, Arizona. You're listening to the Arizona Equals conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the interim executive director of Equality Arizona and the host of this podcast. Today's episode is going to be our last for the year of 2022, but we'll be back next year with more stories about what it means to be queer in Arizona. Hosting this podcast has been one of the highlights of my year, and I'm excited to keep it going in 2023. But I need your help. If you have a story that you want to share or if you know someone and you think that their story needs to be heard, please get in touch. You can sign up through a form on our website, at equalityarizona.org/stories, or you can just email me. My address is jeanne@equalityarizona.org. We've got a lot of great plans for 2023, and with a new legislative session just around the corner, there's a lot of work to be done. If you're looking for a way to get involved, we have a few different volunteer teams that I'd love to invite you to join. You can find out more about those at equalityarizona.org/volunteer or in the most recent edition of our newsletter. And of course, the holidays are the traditional season forgiving so. If you want to support the work of Equality Arizona, please consider making a donation on our website, at equalityarizona.org/donate. Anything helps, and we're so grateful for all of your attention and support over the years. The conversation I got to have with Lisa Malachowsky for this episode was absolutely delightful, and I'm really glad she made the time to sit down with me. We take a lot of twist and turns, and I think it's worth just diving right into it. So let's roll the tape.

[00:02:10]

Lisa

Hi. My name is Lisa Malachowsky. My pronouns are she/her. I live in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix, and I've lived in Arizona since 2010.

[00:02:20]

Jeanne

Cool, thanks for joining the podcast. Oh, I cut you off.

[00:02:22]

Lisa

No, it's all right. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate the opportunity.

[00:02:26]

Jeanne

Yeah, it's really fun. We've been doing this podcast for a little over half the year, and it's been a really cool project to see how things have developed. And the first person I spoke to is also kind of like a Chandler, Ahwatukee area person. And we talked about how if you're in Ahwatukee and then you cross over the road into Chandler and it's like, oh, this is a different world.

[00:02:47]

Lisa

It seems to be, yeah.

[00:02:48]

Jeanne

Do you have that experience?

[00:02:50]

Lisa

Sometimes, but since I've lived here from 2010, I'd say that was more the case back then. Now the vibes are totally different. Ahwatukee has changed. It's not as Republican as it used to be, and Chandler's really changed. It's not as raw, I think I would say, as it used to be in 2010. There's a lot more build up downtown. The downtown has a different vibe. I call it Little Scottsdale sometimes and I just hope it doesn't turn into Scottsdale. But, yeah, I really enjoy the restaurants and just the hanging out. I mean, my wife and I are hoping we have more time to spend there. We've just been crazy for the last year coming out of COVID, everything's been just wildly busy.

[00:03:30]

Jeanne

Yeah. Were you here in Arizona for the whole COVID situation?

[00:03:34]

Lisa

Actually, I wasn't. We were living in North Carolina outside of Raleigh at the time, and Bev my wife's job came to an end. I'm trying to think, it was probably like a year into COVID, and then we decided we were going to move back here because we kept our house here. We have a beautiful Santa Fe style house that I never wanted to give up. I always wanted it to be home base because it felt like home to me, which I haven't really felt since I was a kid.

[00:04:02]

Jeanne

So you kept those roots in Arizona, even when you were in North Carolina.

[00:04:04]

Lisa

Right. I was hedging bets. I always felt we were going to move back to Arizona because I knew I wasn't gonna like North Carolina, and I didn't. I had a lot of personal problems and I had a lot of physical problems while we were living there. So I got connected to the community that I wanted to be connected to, but without that, I probably would have really struggled.

[00:04:23]

Jeanne

What's that community like in North Carolina?

[00:04:27]

Lisa

The community that I was involved with was really the Democrats of Wake County, so much so that I became the president of the Democrats of Wake County, mostly by attrition. Everybody kept leaving to get involved in other campaigns, so I was the only one who wasn't involved in a campaign, so I said I would stay. But where I was living was this town named Apex, and Apex used to be, in 2012 it was considered by US. News and World Report the best place to live in the country. I would say it's not. It was overgrown with housing, and it didn't keep up with the services associated with what people need to live there. So there weren't enough restaurants, there weren't enough grocery stores, there weren't enough places to get your car fixed. It just felt like it was in the middle of really bad growing pains, and I felt pretty isolated. I mean, I was in an environment where most of my neighbors were heterosexual and white and — actually, no, there was one African American family. Those were the only folks we really got to be very friendly with — and everybody kind of lived in their house and kind of if you weren't in the norm, people stayed kind of away from you, and it didn't feel overt, but you could tell there was a difference. And then I found community through the Democratic Party there, and I have some really good friends there. In fact, I met this wonderful, wonderful, wonderful African American transgender woman who I wish I could talk to every day, but she doesn't stay in touch with me. She's quite busy. But, yeah, I felt some very strong ties to the people that I met there.

[00:06:04]

Jeanne

You mentioned in 2010, Chandler had like this raw feeling. Is that similar to what you're talking about with the kind of housing boom, but lack of services in North Carolina, or kind of different?

[00:06:16]

Lisa

It feels different to me. It feels like Chandler, housing-wise and services-wise, planned things better and really thought through, and I don't know if this is the case or not, but it seems like they thought through what people were going to need to live there. So we moved to Arizona in 2010. My wife was working for Intel, and in those days, Intel used to say that for every Intel job that was created, there were five or six jobs created in the community. And I think Chandler really understood that and created all the services. I mean, granted, back then, in the beginning of our time here, they were very… much more conservative I think. It felt much more conservative than it does now.

[00:06:58]

Jeanne

In Chandler?

Lisa

Yeah.

Jeanne

And Ahwatukee, definitely.

[00:07:00]

Lisa

Yeah. In fact, this is kind of the running joke I used to have. I used to say that it was easier in Arizona, at least what my experience was back in 2010, to be gay than to be a Democrat. And I basically set out to be a part of changing that. I wanted it to be equally as free and able to be whatever you wanted to be.

[00:07:20]

Jeanne

Do you think, you know, in Chandler back then… I mean, it was only recently that we got, like, nondiscrimination protections in Chandler…

Lisa

Right, right.

Jeanne

But you say it's easier to be gay than to be a Democrat maybe. Do you feel like even back in 2010, there was, like, a good gay community that you could find in that area?

[00:07:37]

Lisa

No, not in the Chandler area. And for us, living in Ahwatukee even, most of my friends lived in Phoenix. Most of my friends lived farther away from us. Really only had one other couple, two women that lived in the vicinity where we lived in Ahwatukee. And then it took a while. We found a lot of other couples. But now there's, like, in our general vicinity in Ahwatukee, we know of at least six other gay couples. It's really nice, within 200 houses, to know, 200 houses or so, to know six other couples.

[00:08:10]

Jeanne

What you were describing about… Apex, right?

[00:08:13]

Lisa

Yeah, Apex.

[00:08:13]

Jeanne

What you were describing about Apex in terms of, like, people just live in their houses and they don't come out and talk to you.

[00:08:17]

Lisa

Bedroom community.

[00:08:18]

Jeanne

I mean, I felt the same way in Chandler when I was growing up. But it sounds like you've got a situation in your neighborhood in Ahwatukee where you actually have broken out of that, and you do have neighbors you talk to.

[00:08:31]

Lisa

Yeah, for various reasons. Both my wife and I ride motorcycles, and we have two close friends that ride motorcycles near us. And then through the Democratic Party in LD 12 I've made a lot of friends, and so we've gotten a lot of friends within the Democratic community through that. So yeah, we've broken out of it. Not saying it's the best, but it's better than it was back when we first moved here.

[00:08:56]

Jeanne

Yeah, that's cool. I mean, if you're doing like, local legislative district political work, then I mean are you like, knocking doors and getting to meet your neighbors that way?

[00:09:05]

Lisa

I haven't. So for the past election, I took a different tack. They really wanted me to do that, but then I got involved with the DCCC and they saw that I was an intelligent person and I could speak well on the phone and they wanted me to do some other things. So I was doing phone banking for the DCCC and then I got engaged with the Democratic Party to actually help with the observation. So I was downtown — well I was at two different polling places, for early voting and for day of election, and then I was downtown. In fact, I'll be downtown again tomorrow watching and observing for the Democratic Party that the process of the counting and the tabulation all works the way it's supposed to.

[00:09:43]

Jeanne

Oh, yeah. Well, this year I think people didn't really know what to expect, but people were expecting potential, like harassment or intimidation.

[00:09:51]

Lisa

Yeah.

[00:09:52]

Jeanne

Was it worse than you expected or better than you expected?

[00:09:55]

Lisa

It was better than I expected. I mean, I lived in North Carolina when you saw the scenes of what was going on at downtown, on TV, on CNN, with people with crazy guns and shouting and everything outside the tabulation center, and there was none of that. There were a few people demonstrating, but the police were there in an appropriate amount of force. The sheriff's department, because it's right in the sheriff's department where the tabulation center is. And I felt completely safe. I felt protected. In fact, I wrote a letter to the editor of the AZ Republic basically saying this was the most bipartisan thing I've experienced since I've lived in Arizona because I was working side by side with registered Republicans and everybody was cordial. Everybody worked together, everybody knew we had a common goal. So all of the crap that the media talks about, I experienced the opposite.

[00:10:52]

Jeanne

I was really impressed seeing that bipartisanship and just everyone who's involved in the process on that level of, like, professionalism being really willing to work together.

[00:11:01]

Lisa

Yeah, it was. In fact, I met some people that were so nice. I mean, I wish I had… we kind of didn't share contact information or anything, but there were a couple of people that we were talking about recipes and different things. It would have been nice to follow up with them afterwards, but didn't have the time or the personal inclination I guess.

[00:11:18]

Jeanne

I want to circle back because you mentioned that with some of your neighbors, you're all motorcyclists.

[00:11:25]

Lisa

Yeah.

[00:11:25]

Jeanne And that's connected to your business, right?

[00:11:27]

Lisa

Yes.

[00:11:28]

Jeanne Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into that work?

[00:11:30]

Lisa

Sure. So I've been riding a motorcycle since I was twelve, so that's over almost 50 years, I hate to say, and I've always enjoyed it. I worked in the motorcycle industry when I lived in California. I ran a motorcycle dealership in the Bay Area. I worked at Ride Now here in Chandler, and I'm lucky in that I did that work after I came out of the computer industry. So our standard of living is pretty high, and I'm saying we're privileged in that way. So I understand that. So I was able to look at this situation and say, well, why don't I turn this into a business for myself? My wife and I are near retirement. I want to travel, she wants to travel. Both of us love going places and meeting different people of different cultures. And we both scuba dive too, so that's a part of it I'll talk about. But I have been on motorcycle trips with the general touring companies that are available. If you just Google motorcycle touring, you'll find six or seven of them. There aren't very many, but what I found was that nobody specifically caters to the LGBTQ community, and there is a huge number of people in our community who ride. And I thought, well, I want to make a safe environment for us to ride and for us to experience the world. Because I can tell you my experience has been as I go to different cultures and see different places, my eyes open wider and my, my — what do I want to say? My quality of life, my machiavellian view of life, it's very broad. And I'm exposed to different people in different cultures, and I see things that I wouldn't normally see here in Arizona, and I think that makes everyone a better person. So my goal is really to create an environment where anyone in our community and anyone who's an ally can feel comfortable coming on a trip with me, and they know they'll be safe, and that I'll take care of them and I'll stick up for them if something happens. I mean, sometimes you get an accident or anything will happen. I'll be that person who shepherds them through whatever process, and we'll have fun in the process. So I'm building this company that nobody's really done before, and like I said, it's going to be motorcycling and scuba diving. And I'm keeping my finger on the pulse of where it's safe for people in our community to go, because that's important. There are countries I wouldn't visit right now, and we'll stay away from those until the situations change, even if they're beautiful, for the reasons that we want to ride or scuba dive there. But I want to take people where it's safe and where they'll be embraced and have a good time.

[00:14:02]

Jeanne

And I think those are considerations other companies might not be making.

[00:14:04]

Lisa

They don't. And in fact, it's interesting because I'm a member of this travel consortium called the Gifted Travel Network, and they're recently getting into the idea of diversity and inclusion, and they asked me to help. They asked me to say, well, what are the basic things that our travel agents should be concerned about when they deal with LGBTQ clients? And I'm like, okay, I'll help you. And there are actually several companies who specialize in this. In fact, I can't remember the name of the one. I sat in on a webinar the other day, and I was listening to what they were saying, and it was so basic to me, but to somebody who's uninitiated in our community, it might open their eyes and say, oh, I never thought of that. It's like, oh, you might not have the bed configuration that works because they make assumptions, you know, really simple things that we don't think about but are not in the forefront of somebody who's heterosexual out there making a travel arrangement.

[00:14:57]

Jeanne

Yeah, I find that that's the case with a lot of DEI work. When you're doing it, you don't even necessarily think about, like, oh, they've never thought about this at all. And I think part of that comes down to cultural assumptions and…

Lisa

So many.

Jeanne

…microcultures and everything. Do you find that there's, like, a distinct microculture around LGBT motorcyclists?

[00:15:20]

Lisa

I don't know if I can say that yet. But I know that people like to think that there's… I mean, everybody thinks of Dykes on Bikes when they think of motorcyclists, but motorcyclists run the gamut of everybody. It's a broad spectrum of who rides. I mean, when you think about dykes on bikes, for example, you think about leather, you think about cruiser bikes. You think about the things that you see in the San Francisco Gay Parade. But I ride a European motorcycle. I don't even wear leather. The only leather I wear is boots. So it's like there are so many things that are different than what the common media will show, and we're just like other people. We do all the things the way we like to do them, and it runs a huge spectrum of possibilities.

[00:16:04]

Jeanne

So it's not monolithic at all.

[00:16:05]

Lisa

No, not at all. Not at all. But the piece of the motorcycle population that I'm looking for is people that want to travel and do motorcycling. That isn't everybody. Not everybody will want to get on their motorcycle and go to a foreign country or rent a motor— Really, what you're doing is renting a motorcycle in a foreign country and seeing that country. Not everybody who rides is going to want to do that, so… maybe they will. I mean, it would be my goal to get everybody to do that because it's such an eye opening experience, and I would want that for everybody. But there are people who just want to ride in the dirt in the desert in Arizona. Those people aren't going to necessarily want to go to France and go through the wine country and see all the hills. So, it's really a wide spectrum of people.

[00:16:52]

Jeanne

I'm curious then you mentioned like, San Fran Pride Parade, and you had a business in the Bay Area? Or…

[00:17:04]

Lisa

I ran a motorcycle dealership for someone else, for a family.

[00:17:10]

Jeanne

And were you in the Bay Area?

Lisa

San Jose.

Jeanne

Were you there for a long time before you came here?

[00:17:16]

Lisa

I lived in the Bay Area for 20 years; different places in the Bay Area. So I ran the dealership in San Jose after I got out of the computer industry. I worked in the computer industry since 1984, when I graduated college.

[00:17:31]

Jeanne

Oh, cool.

[00:17:32]

Jeanne

And did you have like, a specific kind of work? Because, I mean, I think that's a pretty exciting period in, like, computing and technology, starting in 1984.

[00:17:42]

Lisa

It was. My wife's still doing the the back end of what we used to do. In fact, I met her in the computer industry. But what I started doing was working on IBM Mainframes, which nobody knows about anymore, where I sat in a locked room with a computer that was the size of a football field and ran tests on it and then had to tell no one about what I was doing because it was super secret. But I forgot what your question exactly was.

[00:18:09]

Jeanne

How did that evolve over the time you were in the industry?

[00:18:10]

Lisa

Oh, how did that evolve? Well, the computers got smaller and smaller, and my involvement with the computer industry changed. I used to be a technician and a tester, so really an engineer. And when the people that I was working with in the Bay Area — so I worked at IBM in upstate New York, and then I moved to California — and when the people I was working with at the company I went to work at in California realized that I had half a brain and could talk, they wanted me to become a manager. So very quickly, I got out of being the most technical engineer I could possibly be to being a manager because I was good at talking to people. And I managed organizations that did engineering support. So things, I don't even know if there's a sense of this anymore, but used to be software release management, publications, testing, all that kind of stuff that supports a software engineering company or a hardware engineering group or whatever. So I did that for years and years and years.

[00:19:10]

Jeanne

I think that that moment of, like, IBM, upstate New York, that culture which goes back farther than a lot of, like, Silicon Valley stuff, making that move, did you feel like those are two different worlds?

[00:19:23]

Lisa

They were. So I was very closeted when I worked at IBM, and I wore the skirt and the suit and went to work and didn't talk about my partner that I lived with. And I hated that. I hated having two lives, and I didn't want to do it anymore. And I tried to get IBM to transfer me to California because I kept thinking, well, California is going to be more open minded and things will be different, and we'll be able to have our lives the way we want to. So I just forced the issue. IBM wouldn't transfer me. I put in for a transfer, and I guess I was so important to them, they said, no, you have to stay here in Poughkeepsie. And I said, no, I don't. And I found another job, you know, from Poughkeepsie, even back in the late 80s, when the Internet wasn't exactly what it is today, I found a job in California and I moved. So I said, you know, bye bye IBM. You don't want to do for me what I feel like I want to do for myself? Well, I'm going to find it. So I made the move, and the first thing we experienced was a little bit of discrimination, in that the company would relocate me. They paid for my relocation. But when I told them that we were selling a house in upstate New York to move, they only payed my part of the closing costs, not my partner's part of the closing costs. So I had a little bit of a challenge even in those days. And then when I started working at the first company I was working at in the Silicon Valley, I was very instrumental in getting a gay employees group started. So this would have been 1989, 1990, at a company named Amdahl, which is one of the… Gene Amdahl was one of the fathers of computing, and his company was a direct competitor of IBM, and it's now owned by Fujitsu, what's left of it, but the remnants of it still exist. But yeah, those are interesting days.

[00:21:16]

Jeanne

Did you find, like, that people were open enough when you were trying to organize that group that you could find people to join it?

[00:21:23]

Lisa

We had a small group, so Amdahl had, I think, maybe in Silicon Valley, maybe 10,000 employees. I don't remember exactly how many, but they were worldwide, so I don't know how many were in the Bay Area. We had a small group of about five of us who were working towards this, who felt strongly enough and who were not afraid to go to the CEO and say, hey, we got to do this. This is the time. And it was one of the first ERGs, so this was breaking the barriers at the time.

[00:21:54]

Jeanne

What were some of the fears people might have had?

[00:21:57]

Lisa

Well, everyone was afraid that if they spoke up and said they were gay, they were going to lose their job. There was no nondiscrimination clauses in those days. But I said screw it. This is too important. I'm tired of being in the closet. I want to be who I am, and I deserve to be who I am. So I was very strongly involved in making sure that we got that.

[00:22:20]

Jeanne

And then when you pushed through that barrier and you set that up, when you eventually… I mean, did you stay at that company, or did you find new work afterward?

[00:22:30]

Lisa

I stayed at Amdahl for seven years, but then I kept… in my mind, and actually, my college advisor told me that I would never survive at a big company. She knew me really well. She said, you don't fit in in big companies. You're not going to do it. And so I, I wasn't thinking about what she said to me, but I knew that I wanted to work at a smaller and smaller company. So I went to work at a company of 400 people after that. And then I went to a company of two people where I was employee number two. And then eventually, I gave up. I went to work for Delta dental for a while. I mean, I was all over the place. I made a bunch of moves in my 20 year career within the computing industry, and some of them were good and some of them weren't.

[00:23:11]

Jeanne

And did you find that, like, not just being out, but being like an organizer in your workplace, did that cause any problems trying to find work?

[00:23:20]

Lisa

No, not for me. I know it did for other people, but not for me.

[00:23:26]

Jeanne

I imagine that having that long of a time in California and the Bay Area — and it was such a shift from upstate New York, I imagine — then deciding, okay, we're going to pack up, we're going to move to Arizona. Did that feel like a sacrifice?

[00:23:44]

Lisa

Oh it was a huge… there was a lot of trepidation about it. So Intel did the right thing, and I will credit Intel till the cows come home. When Bev, my wife, said to them, look, we don't want to move to Arizona. We're afraid to move to Arizona. We've been not concerned for our safety and our lives and being who we want to be. How am I going to be sure that my family will be comfortable in Arizona? So what Intel did was hooked us up with another employee and her spouse at the time, and they hosted us here in Phoenix, and we spent two days with them, learning a little bit from them about what the environment was, and it made me feel a lot better about moving here. And I don't think we… the only homophobic thing we had happen to us was when we actually wanted to have a wedding here. We actually got married by — both my wife and I are Jewish, and you probably know that because we were at the event you were at yesterday

Jeanne

Yeah, we were at the NCJW…

Lisa

NCJW of Arizona.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Lisa

So we were looking for a venue. We were married by a rabbi in 2011, so we moved here in 2010, and we were married in 2011, and in 2011, we were looking for a venue to have our wedding, and I don't remember where it was, but there was a place in Mesa who would not marry us. And so, you know, we quickly said, this is, you know, that was the only experience we ever had. But every place else embraced us and said, yeah, we can do whatever you want. So there were some issues in those days even, and that was the time when everybody was working on, oh, gosh, what were the hot buttons here in Arizona? There was… I can't even remember.

[00:25:24]

Jeanne

So we had prop 102 right around that time.

[00:25:26]

Lisa

Prop 102, right. It was right after that. Yeah.

[00:25:29]

Jeanne

And so the culture I mean, there's a lot of hostility towards gay marriage at that point in Arizona. That's what I remember.

[00:25:35]

Lisa

Yeah.

[00:25:36]

Jeanne

And it wasn't state recognized at that point.

[00:25:40]

Lisa

Right, right.

[00:25:40]

Jeanne

Did that play into the experience of trying to find someone to perform the ceremony?

[00:25:45]

Lisa

No, no, what we did because… so we really had that wedding… We knew what was going on with the legal situation with marriage. Basically, we wanted that wedding in 2011 to show our families to that we were serious about our relationship and to really have a celebration before all of our parents passed away. Bev had already lost her mom earlier, but her dad was still around, and my parents were both still around and brothers and sisters of both of us and other friends, but we wanted a celebration for all of those folks more than anything. And my parents had never had one of their children married. My sister is also a lesbian, so they didn't get to celebrate for either of their children, so I wanted something for them before they passed away. And so we were able to… we had a huge wedding. Bev flew in her rabbi that she had used at another place. She lived in Minnesota at one point, and she flew in her friend Stacey, who's a rabbi, and she did the ceremony for us. We had been talking to her over Skype at the time, doing all the things you do before a wedding when you're talking to a rabbi. So Stacey came in and married us, and our parents and our friends and our family got to experience a big Jewish wedding for us in 2011. And then we went back to New York for my 30th… yeah, it would have been my 30th reunion. I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We went to my reunion, and New York had passed marriage equality and they didn't have any residence requirement. So we went and got a State of New York marriage license in Poughkeepsie, New York, at my reunion, and the rabbi from Vassar married us there. So that was fun.

[00:27:32]

Jeanne

That's really cool. And it sounds like your family is really supportive, and it was exciting for them and important for them, too. Did you ever have problems with, like, familial acceptance?

[00:27:43]

Lisa

Oh for sure. So my situation you would think wouldn't be a problem. But my sister is five years older than me, and she came out before I did, and I knew my mother was going to have trouble with it, so I didn't tell her for the longest time. And my father even advised me not to tell her because it would just be devastating for her, because I remember, and I wrote about it. My coming out story's published in a book of, an anthology of coming out stories at Vassar called The Wolf Girls at Vassar. But I remember when I was 13, my mom had just found out that my sister was gay. And I remember we had an L-shaped cabinet set in the kitchen, and she denied this after I told her about it later in life. But I remember her leaning in the corner and saying to me, if I ever find out both my daughters are gay, I'll just kill myself.

[00:28:34]

Jeanne

Oh my God.

[00:28:35]

Lisa

So something like that. If your parent tells you, you don't forget that.

[00:28:38]

Jeanne No.

[00:28:39]

Lisa

So I didn't forget it. So it took me a long time to tell my mother, and in fact, my sister told her. So it was a little bit of a difficult time then, but after she… I had had two long term relationships before Bev, and so she got used to it. And then when I finally decided I was going to get married with Bev, she loved Bev. In fact, I think she loved Bev more than me.

[00:29:07]

Jeanne

That's really wonderful. I had the opposite experience where I came out before my older sister, and that was weird for me on a very different level, where I was like, gosh, I wish you had done this first so you could have cleared the way a little bit.

[00:29:21]

Lisa

Yeah, well, I was hoping that would be the case for me, but it wasn't.

[00:29:24]

Jeanne

It was almost the opposite actually.

[00:29:25]

Lisa

Yeah, it was weird. It was weird. And my sister was pretty notorious in our hometown because we grew up in a small town and everybody knew that she was gay.

[00:29:35]

Jeanne

Was this in New York? Did you grow up in New York?

[00:29:36]

Lisa

Yeah, in upstate New York. We grew up in the Catskills in a little town called Liberty, New York, which is in the heart of the what we called the Borscht Belt Catskills at that point, where all the people used to go from New York City to escape the city and hang out in the country.

[00:29:51]

Jeanne

And the Catskills, that's like actual upstate New York. I have a lot of family in western New York, like, by the Finger Lakes, and I love everything outside of the city in New York. It's so beautiful.

[00:30:00]

Lisa

It's beautiful. It's an interesting place to be from at the time because it was really a tourist area in the early 19th century for New York City. But the time when I was a kid, it had gone through its heyday and was coming down, and there wasn't a lot of industry there, so everybody said it was a good place to be from, but there weren't very many jobs there, so everybody left the area. In fact, I think I only have one friend from my high school class of 150 people who still lives there.

[00:30:29]

Jeanne

So when did you first get political? You mentioned, like, the workplace organizing. Did that precede political organizing?

[00:30:37]

Lisa Yeah.

[00:30:37]

Jeanne Or was it just part of the whole thing?

[00:30:38]

Lisa Yeah, so I got political when we moved to Arizona. So it goes along with, you know, saying that it was easier to be gay here than it was to be Democrat. And my first foray was to get involved with my legislative district locally, LD 18 at the time. And I met a bunch of really cool people, and I really liked hanging out with them and talking about democracy. My mom had always been involved in voting as a kid and used to complain about things when she didn't like the way the politics worked in the country. In fact, everybody knew in the 1968 election that she didn't vote for Nixon, that she was the only person in our hometown that voted for the Communist on the ballot. You know, we're supposed to have a secret ballot, but everybody knew that my mom voted for the Communist. I think his name was Gus Hall or something. Anyway, but I told myself that if I ever got to the point where I didn't like what was happening, I wasn't just going to complain, I was going to be part of the solution. So when we moved here and I saw how difficult it was to express my feelings about democracy, I decided that I was going to get involved. And in hindsight, I think, let's see, the very first election I got involved with was Greg Stanton running for mayor here in Phoenix. And I met him right away. I knew he was a good guy, and I just said, yeah, I'm going to knock doors and make phone calls for him. And so I started doing that stuff, and then I found out about this group called Emerge, which trained women, democratic women, to run for office. So I got involved in emerge. I took the Emerge program and graduated, I think I graduated in 2012. And then I enjoyed it so much I went on the board of Emerge.

[00:32:19]

Jeanne

Was your intention when you went through Emerge to potentially run for office or just to learn those skills?

[00:32:25]

Lisa

To learn and to support. I didn't think I wanted to run for office, and I'm still debating on whether or not I ever want to run for office, although I've made some statements lately that I might consider it now. But I went through the Emerge program. I really want to support people. I mean, you know, we had a house party for Katie Hobbs, who's also an Emerge graduate, and I just felt very strongly about making sure that she got into the governorship because we need people like her. We need more women and more people with good ideas to be able to express them and we need to get people like Andy Biggs and everybody else like him out of the way because they're preventing progress in our country, in my opinion.

[00:33:07]

Jeanne

Well, and it seems like you have a really local focus when it comes to organizing, but not necessarily like a specific level or area that you're interested in, but just the holistic picture.

[00:33:18]

Lisa

I kind of want to understand what goes on here in Arizona and be local because I think all politics is local and I think we've seen that. I saw it firsthand by how you look at the down ballot elections and how people… there's so much fall off. People vote for the top level and then if they don't know anything about the bottom level, they either go straight party based on their party affiliation or they don't vote at all. And that is a disservice to all of us because these positions — school board, water resources, county recorder, all of those kinds of positions — are so important to the day to day operations and things that we do, whether we're in a big company or we're entrepreneurs like myself, all of that affects us and our kids. So that to me is the most important thing that anybody can do in politics. And they say, actually, I can't remember who said it, but somebody said that being a PC, a precinct committee person, is really the most important thing. And I don't disagree with that statement. And I am a PC.

[00:34:23]

Jeanne

What is that like? What are the responsibilities of that? Can you explain the role of the precinct committee person?

[00:34:30]

Lisa

I don't think anybody can really explain it. It's more like networking. And for me it's getting to know a few of my neighbors and trying to maybe talk about the things that we believe and the things that we want to see happen in our neighborhoods. I think technically the precinct committee person is the lowest level and you are kind of an elected official. You have to be nominated and have ten votes in order to get the position in most precincts. But it's the person who reaches out to their neighbors and says, hey, do you know what's going on? Do you know what the issues are? Do you know who to vote for? Can I help you understand that? And of course, you either give your Democratic bent or you give your Republican bent because there's PCs on both sides. And I think this is the one position in the party that is like the backbone of each party. And so you vote on who gets to run the party in the county level and then if you're elected to the state, you get to help decide who is in the party positions at a state level. So it's really the person who kind of is behind the scenes making all the nuts and bolts fit together.

[00:35:43]

Jeanne

I'm curious. You're talking about the importance of voting down ballot, the importance of doing this like low level but really important political work. Is that something that you've just always been kind of zeroed in on because of the political tradition with your mom and everything? Or is it something you had to learn at some point?

[00:35:59]

Lisa

I learned it through Emerge. When I first got involved in just generally trying to understand what was going on in the elections, I think I worked on Obama's campaign at the low levels, making calls and stuff. When we were in North Carolina, I worked on Elizabeth Warren's campaign for the primary. So I did a lot of work at that level too, just trying to do what I could individually. But when we moved back here to Arizona in 2020, I started really focusing on making sure that everything in the state has… my voice is heard in the state and I don't want to shut up anymore. I want my voice heard. I don't want to be somebody who isn't part of the solution. And that's why I felt really strongly that Katie need to win. Katie Hobbs needed to win as governor and I felt really strongly all the down ballot positions. We had a little party at my house after the election to celebrate the election. And Mitsy Epstein, who's now our state senator, was at my house. And Patricia Contreras, who's our state representative for LD 12, they both were at my house. And also Bridget Bellavigna, I can never pronounce her name, last name, Bellavigna I think it is. She's our constable. I had some elected officials at my house and I just wanted to thank them for the work they're going to do and they have done on behalf of me and my neighbors. That's the hard work that needs to get done. And doing all of that is kind of an unthanked job. But it's really important. It's really important.

[00:37:34]

Jeanne

When I think about how the area you live in and Arizona as a whole has changed from the time you moved here to now, I think a lot of it comes down to political organizing and also the tech industry, like Intel and big companies like that bringing in different kinds of jobs. And you're kind of at the nexus of both of those things. Do you feel like there's more to the story than that?

[00:38:00]

Lisa

I think that Intel could have done a lot more than they did back in the beginnings of the first years that we were here. 2010, 2011, et cetera. I don't really know. I think the tech industry brought people here because it was a good place to live and it was cheap 10, 15 years ago and it brought a diverse set of people and so the state couldn't continue being as conservative as it was and I think it's still conservative. I mean, if you look at the numbers of who's registered in Maricopa County, it boggles my mind how the Democrats can win anyway, and I'm glad, but it boggles my mind because the Democrats are in the minority, there's more Republicans and there's more unaffiliated people in Maricopa County. So, Maricopa County really is kind of in a microcosm, although there's… what is this, the fifth largest county in the country or something\?

[00:38:52]

Jeanne

Something like that.

[00:38:53]

Lisa

Something like that. It is where politics is going, I think.

[00:38:58]

Jeanne

I mean, we're constantly in the news every time there's an election now.

[00:39:01]

Lisa

Right. But it's because things are so close, they can go either way. And then you have somebody like Kyrsten Sinema who decides to throw a monkey wrench in the whole thing and say, I'm independent now.

[00:39:10]

Jeanne

Well, I've seen in Arizona it's not just like a more blue shift. Conservatism in Arizona has also really changed within the Republican Party and between people who register as Republicans and register as Independents, and there's a lot of flux that I think…

[00:39:29]

Lisa

Yeah, well, I'm just hoping we can get some of the extremism out. And, you know, I don't necessarily believe that there needs to be extremism on either end of the political spectrum, but I do believe that that extremism is bad for democracy, especially people like Andy Biggs, who really don't want people like us to exist, right?

[00:39:47]

Jeanne

Yeah. I think it's really troubling to see people in elected office say the kinds of things and do the kinds of things that Andy Biggs has done, and honestly, there's a whole little group of them, who are like that.

[00:40:00]

Lisa

Sure, I'm just picking on him because his name comes to the top of my mind, but I hit the tick marks on a number of different levels. I'm a New Yorker by birth. I'm Jewish. I'm a lesbian. My wife and I feared for our safety here in the last year. If things didn't go the way they did, we might not be here. We might be moving to Israel.

[00:40:22]

Jeanne

And I feel like, I mean I didn't get a chance to ask you about this yet, but I really considered, okay, is it going to be safe for me as a queer person in Arizona? But in terms of actual hate crimes and hate speech, I think the biggest rise is probably directed towards Jewish people in America right now.

Lisa

I would agree.

Jeanne

Are you seeing that and are you feeling that?

[00:40:43]

Lisa

I don't see it personally, individually. I see it in the media. I feel it with people like Kanye West or whatever he calls himself now and Trump normalizing the idea of sitting down at the table with known antisemites, that scares the living bejeezus out of me. So I hope this movement goes in the opposite direction, and that we stop giving those kinds of ideas the light of day. I don't believe that hatred of a person is ever valid because they're a different religion or hatred of — hatred of any person is not valid, period. So forget about religious differences or color differences or thought differences. Hatred has to be obliterated in this world, and we're obviously a long way from that, but I need to do my part. And we basically drew our red line, my wife and I. We basically said, are we going to make a decision? Because both of us have families that perished in the Holocaust, right? Bev is directly a child of the Holocaust. Her mother was born in Berlin and her family escaped before the doors were shut and Hitler obliterated 6 million Jews. And they were lucky. In my family, some people were lost and some people came earlier. But we wondered, because we never got the chance to ask, why did they make the decisions they made? And we thought we stood on the precipice of the same thing here. Do we need to make this same decision? Luckily, we don't have any young kids, so what we decided was, no, this is our country, God damn it. We are staying, fighting, becoming revolutionaries if we need to, taking up arms if we need to, whatever is required. But I'm not leaving my country. This is my country.

[00:42:35]

Jeanne

Yeah. Well, I think that's a good place to wrap up. Thanks for doing this with me.

[00:42:41]

Lisa

Oh! You're welcome. Thank you. We went in a couple of different directions.

[00:42:45]

Jeanne

Well I love getting to talk about the tech industry, especially like, the path you have is one of the coolest ones.

[00:42:51]

Lisa

Well, maybe you should interview Bev. I mean, you should sit down with her. Her career is quite interesting to talk about if you want to focus on that.

[00:43:01]

Jeanne

I'm really grateful to Lisa for being my guest on the podcast this week. If you'd like to be a guest on a future episode of the podcast, you can sign up on our website. And if you're looking for information about any of the different things we talked about, you can find a lot of links in the show notes for this episode. If you haven't already subscribed to the podcast, just hit follow in the podcast player of your choice, whether that's Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anything else. Personally, I like to use Overcast and we can really benefit from reviews, so if you leave a review, I'd be super grateful. Thanks so much for listening and enjoy your holidays. I'll talk to you again next year.

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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