Nick Ray became the executive director of the statewide LGBT-rights organization Equality Arizona four months ago. He's led a Phoenix-based LGBT youth organization and worked as a senior policy analyst with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in New York City, but he's also called Tucson home, as a former volunteer and development director for Wingspan. Ray was recently in Tucson, doing what he described as some needed fence-mending. For more information, go to www.equalityarizona.org.
What are your priorities right now?
Figuring out how to do a better job of working with more diverse communities and addressing how the organization has been seen as a Maricopa County group. I am committed to addressing that. It is also seen as too white, too male and too gay, and (is) known for its big, expensive gala. ... There is a place for rich, white gay men in this movement, but there also has to be a place—and is a place—for those who are not rich, not white and not gay.
What is the history of Equality Arizona?
It's was founded in 1992, long before marriage or civil unions were even on the table. A lot of the focus at first was on the archaic sodomy laws, which were finally overturned by the Legislature. We've done a lot on the city level. We're going to be working with the incoming mayor of Phoenix. He's really an amazing ally.
In the past, the organization has been criticized for not being willing to take on the big fights.
I've heard that a lot ... that we need to be taking on more issues, and taking stands not only when we think there is some immediate political victory to be had. ... The focus in the coming months is going to be recognizing the fact that there are other issues that might not be strictly LGBT, but have a component to them ... and reaching out to other groups. I think about things like the safe-schools bill. We need to see a safe-schools bill pass that is LGBT-inclusive, because it is our community that is among those disproportionately impacted by bullying.
Any early victories?
We called out Superintendent (of Public Instruction John) Huppenthal on anti-gay comments he made here in Tucson, through an e-mail- blast campaign. For that, we got a letter of an apology, and we now have a chance to sit down with him and talk.
Some in the Chicano community thought you should also call him out on the "Hitler youth" comments he made about ethnic-studies students.
I told the P.R. guy for Huppenthal that, honestly, on a common-sense level, what would possess any politician to go down that road, even if you are thinking it? ... I understand (Huppenthal's office's) understanding is that if he tried to go back to explain, apologize or clarify, whatever he says is not going to matter—the negative aspects of it are out there. ... The analogy is horrible, just horrible, as a human being.
But for Equality Arizona, you did get a win.
Yes, absolutely. We're going to have a meeting with him. ... And, fingers crossed, we will have a constructive meeting. We want to talk to him about how to make schools safe for any LGBT kids getting bullied. ... I know there are some who will not support any LGBT or pro-LGBT piece of legislation, regardless of the legitimacy or evidence, because their homophobia is so ingrained. ... But I can't do this job if I believe every Republican is in that same boat.
What is one challenge in getting a safe-schools bill with LGBT-inclusive language passed?
Right now, they are saying, "We don't want to enumerate anything if we have to (include) incidents of LGBT bias." When someone is that determined to ignore reality, I know that I, alone, am not going to be able to persuade them. I know there are some legislators who will not meet with me or allow staff to meet with me. But if we start working on this now, maybe we can get this passed in 2012 or 2013.
Any other concerns?
We fear we will see a piece of legislation that will ban unmarried people from fostering and adopting. While the anti-LGBT forces are smart enough to realize they can't pass a specific bill banning gay people from adopting, they will say unmarried people. Thing is, there is so much evidence that this is just really bad policy. We will need to figure out who we are working with and build coalitions. My worry is that they will introduce it as a ballot initiative in 2012 to motivate their base to vote. ... But I don't understand politics motivated by putting people down rather than pulling them up.