Pride Means Power
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It’s the start of Pride Month, so we’re shaking up our usual format to talk about the big picture of what’s happening in Arizona, why we do what we do, and how you can get involved. And because it’s Pride Month, we’re going to extend a special invitation to join us as a monthly donor; make sure to choose your favorite sticker design so that we can mail it to you with a thank you letter!
What We’re Seeing in Arizona
We have a lot to celebrate this month, and even just one year ago, that was not a guarantee. Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, we had seen a record number of anti-trans bills introduced in the legislature, two of which were ultimately signed into law. Candidates for statewide office ran on explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ platforms, and the final vote margins were razor-thin, but in a few key races, we won. So this year, we’re able to celebrate the defeat of bills like SB 1001 — which would have prevented teachers from using the pronouns and names their trans and non-binary students request, unless they chose to out those students to their parents in order to obtain written permission — and plan ahead for ways we can use our political power to make proactive change for the LGBTQ+ community.
However, a concerning trend we have observed is that, following these historic victories, the general perception is that — despite escalating legislative, verbal, and physical violence against the trans community — things will be fine, and that if we continue to make electoral gains, LGBTQ+ rights and protections for bodily autonomy will be secure. We don’t think this is a safe assumption at all. At the hyper-local level, in school districts across the state, we are tracking a growing and dangerous trend of anti-trans extremism, instigated by governing board members and activist groups who are content to disrupt all regular business in their districts in order to diminish academic and social opportunities for trans students. Furthermore, as we have seen recently with some corporate allies, this kind of sustained harassment can bleed off support for our community very effectively, and this is already happening at the local level. In the Washington Elementary School District, board members capitulated to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, over the decision to end a voluntary contract with Arizona Christian University, another anti-LGBTQ+ institution. In the Mesa School District, board member Lara Salmon Ellingson resigned after facing extreme backlash for publicly supporting the district’s trans-inclusive policies.
Why We Do What We Do
Unchecked, the strategic advantage of the approach our opposition is taking means that we should not and cannot safely take even our state-level gains for granted. Rather, we need to be investing actively in neutralizing anti-trans extremism at the hyper-local level. Our opposition’s advantage stems in no small part from the reality that many people have very limited awareness, and often little to no knowledge of or experience with trans people — especially when it comes to trans kids — and as long as trans people remain an abstract idea to most people, we can easily be turned into a debate with disastrous consequences.
Existing strategies for civic engagement at the legislative level are unsuited to the task at hand; we cannot risk legitimizing an essentially illegitimate debate. “To oppose something is to maintain it,” from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is perfectly apt to the situation. “To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.” We believe that the path we need to take is very specific. If anti-trans extremism relies on abstraction, we must make our lives concrete, connecting directly with local community members and meeting them where they are, holding space for any messy emotions and preconceptions they might have about trans people. To inoculate local communities against anti-trans fear mongering, we want to use a research-tested tool called “deep canvassing” as the core strategy of a targeted and strategic campaign to depoliticize trans lives.
How You Can Get Involved
Deep canvassing requires a large-scale field campaign, and we can’t get there without direct support and community involvement. The most immediate way to help is by becoming a monthly donor here on Substack or on our website. We’ll also need help from volunteers to have the hard conversations we need to have with our neighbors. It’s intimidating, and it’s something that requires some training, so don’t worry, we won’t throw you into the deep end right away. If you sign up to volunteer today, you’ll be on a path to leadership, and you’ll be making a difference from day one.
Thanks for reading this far! Another great way you can support Equality Arizona is through our online store, and for the month of June we’re running a special promotion. With the discount code “eqazpride,” you can get 10% off any purchase, including t-shirts and mugs.