by Gloria Rebecca Gomez, Arizona Mirror
June 1, 2023
For the first time, pride flags are flying from Arizona’s executive tower.
On Thursday, the start of the official month-long celebration of LGBTQ communities across the country, Gov. Katie Hobbs decorated the Ninth Floor balcony with four pride flags. The Democrat, a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights, vowed in a statement to continue working to ensure equality for all Arizonans.
“I’m proud to stand tall for an Arizona that’s for everyone, including the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “To the LGBTQ+ Arizonans, we celebrate the light and energy you bring to our state, and I will continue to work alongside you until we have an Arizona where everyone, no matter who they are or who they love, has the safety, freedom and opportunity to truly live their authentic lives.”
Her outspoken support sharply contrasts the bevy of discriminatory bills passed by the Republican-majority legislature just steps away from her office.
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Under former Gov. Doug Ducey, GOP lawmakers barred trans girls from participating in school sports and took away the ability of trans minors to direct their own health care. But Hobbs this session has served as a bulwark against renewed vitriol, wielding her veto stamp to reject attempts to ban preferred pronouns in schools and prevent trans women from working in shelters.
And with a spate of discriminatory legislation still poised to land on her desk, she has continued to voice her opposition to laws that attack the rights of LGBTQ Arizonans.
Bridget Sharpe applauded the presence of pride flags at the state Capitol, and characterized them as an extension of Hobbs’ track record of support for the community. Sharpe is the director of the Arizona chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
“The Human Rights Campaign is grateful for Gov. Katie Hobbs’ public and vocal support for the LGBTQ+ community,” she said in an emailed statement. “From displaying pride flags to vetoing discriminatory legislation, she has been a crucial ally to LGBTQ+ Arizonans — particularly transgender youth.”
This isn’t the first time Hobbs has draped Capitol buildings in pride flags, but it’s the first time they’re guaranteed to stay up, said Jeremy Helfgot, spokesman for Phoenix Pride. In 2019, Hobbs placed a gay pride and a trans pride flag on the balcony of the historic state Capitol building, but they were quickly removed by legislative staff who cited violations of event and display rules. Helfgot, who at the time condemned the removal, estimated they remained up for less than two hours.
The difference between the 2019 incident, which he called a sobering reminder of bigotry, and Hobbs’ undeniable support is impactful, Helfgot said.
“We have a significant portion of our population in the state who are living in part or in whole in the proverbial closet,” he said. “So, to be seen in that way, to be acknowledged by a state government that has often been — and continues to be in some areas — very oppressive is a very powerful reminder that…people who are in positions of leadership do see the community and recognize and value the LGBTQ+ population.
“That kind of validation, especially in the face of so many attempts to invalidate individuals’ existence, is incredibly empowering. Symbols matter.”
Jeanne Woodbury, a lobbyist for Equality Arizona, a pro-LGBTQ advocacy group, said that, while putting up flags may seem like a small gesture, the repeated willingness of Hobbs to make public statements of support is encouraging for LGBTQ Arizonans. Doing so doesn’t come without political risk, she said.
In her first act as governor, Hobbs issued an executive order that directed the state’s department of administration to enforce non-discrimination laws in all hiring practices and expanded that directive to include LGBTQ rights. Republican lawmakers were outraged and threatened to take her to court over the order. So far, no legal action has materialized.
“This is something that sends a signal not just that we have the support of the governor, but that she is willing to take risks for us,” Woodbury said.
Hobbs wasn’t alone in marking the official start of LGBTQ pride month. In a stark contrast to past administrations, each of the three Democratic statewide officeholders celebrated the beginning of pride month.
“Every Arizonan should be empowered to take pride in their true selves,” tweeted Attorney General Kris Mayes, the state’s first openly gay AG.
“It’s more important than ever that our elected officials and state offices and agencies work to protect and promote the civil rights of LGBTQ+ Arizonans,” tweeted Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.
And the LGBTQ Caucus of the state legislature, headed by Democrats, celebrated the kickoff in a statement on Twitter, but also warned that the battle for equality continues, especially in the face of hostility from GOP politicians.
“Pride Month is a celebration of hard-won civil rights and the message that everyone is equal and deserving of full protection under the law,” said Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen. “We cannot let far-right politicians and hate groups further undermine that progress. Let this month be a reminder of how far we have come, but also how much work there still is to do to end attacks on the LGBTQ community.”
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