BJ Bud’s Proud Legacy

Do you know who BJ Bud was? She was a hero in Phoenix at the height of the AIDS crisis. BJ was a woman who would help anyone, and she would do whatever it took to keep her people alive. This was at a time when gay men like me were dying everyday. We were dropping like flies and yet very few with the power to act would hear our pleas, take us seriously, or fight along side us.

When I worked as the Coordinator of the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center I was responsible for the care and operation of the BJ Bud Memorial Library, a monument to an incredible lesbian who fought for us when we could not fight for ourselves, and when others would not care so much as to listen to news reports of our decimation. The library is a monument created in her honor and in remembrance of her. This monument’s inception was catalyzed by the demolition of an historic gay bar: the 307 located in Downtown Phoenix on Roosevelt.

It’s true—gay bars have long been destinations that carry significant symbolic weight for our community. We existed well before the tragic events of the Orlando Pulse Massacre on June 12, 2016. Because of those tragic events, 53 people woke up the next day as victims of a hate crime, while 49 people never woke up at all. And once again, those of us lucky enough to live another day were reminded, there are still those out there who would wage war against a people only now learning to survive in the years following a plague. We’re still here.

BJ Bud’s library houses over 7000 items of LGBTQ media: fiction and nonfiction books, periodicals, zines, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and an archive of our local LGBTQ community’s history from BJ’s time through the present. Even today, with society’s progressively-shifted values, getting caught by your parents with LGBTQ media can prove to be a worst case scenario for many of our youth, a population still four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, according to the CDC.

When I served as Coordinator of the Center, two specific branches of my tribe utilized our services more than any other: our Trans community and our Gay male elders. True, there were days when I could be less than enthusiastic about my job at the Center, but it is the work I will always value and take pride in. Some of the men who I was proud to serve as they met every week for social support were the very same men BJ fought for. Because of her mission, people she saved outlived even BJ. I can’t think of anything else that more epitomizes the case of a job well done, of Mission: Accomplished.

BJ Bud was a hero I never met, but whose legacy makes me swell with pride every day to be a member of the LGBTQ Community.

Learn even more about the BJ Bud Memorial Library.

Netroots Nation 2015 Recap part 3

Last month, July 16 – 18, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Netroots Nation conference, which this year was held here in Phoenix. This is part 3 of 4 of my #NN15 recap. The other three parts of this series are available here:

Day 3

Day 3 of #NN15 was not as cram-packed with programming as the first two days. Some attendees were already catching flights home, disappointed to miss the upcoming Presidential Town Hall. I wasn’t able to get away from the office that morning, but between fielding emails and returning phone calls, I was able to beam into the Town Hall by switching between a handful of live Periscope streams. This allowed me to experience the event from the unique perspective of the front row activists from the Movement for Black Lives.

After the Black Lives Matter disruption of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders I posted a short observation about the apparent contradiction within the ideological positions of many out-spoken conference attendees. My general impression of Sanders’ reaction (or lack thereof) to the disruption was that “if this man will not address issues of race in America as a candidate, he will not lead on issues of race in America as President.”

Netroots Nation Day 3
Netroots Nation Day 3

Later that afternoon, I hopped on the train and made it back to the convention center for the last session of the conference, “Trans Organizers Are Winning the Internet.” The panel included a number of individuals currently on the forefront of queer and trans* organizing. (I got there early, and the room filled up as the panel continued.)

We heard from Jennicet Gutierrez, the undocumented trans activist who was silenced at the White House in June when she called for President Obama to stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention Centers. We heard from Elle Hearns, a regional coordinator for Black Lives Matter and GetEqual, who emphasized the importance of funding trans and QPOC leadership as a step toward creating spaces of safety and justice. The session closed with a dynamite Q & A about how organizers can continue to create spaces for Trans* and Queer folks online, even in today’s political climate that has yet to fully recognize the unique ways in which these members of our communities are policed, oppressed, and invisiblized.

Saturday was the last official day of Netroots Nation 2015, but there was one more thing to do before wrapping up the weekend: a scheduled tour of Sheriff Joe’s infamous Tent City county jail.

Netroots Nation 2015 Recap part 2

Last month, July 16 – 18, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Netroots Nation conference, which this year was held here in Phoenix. This is part 2 of 4 of my #NN15 recap. The other three parts of this series are available here:

Day 2

Netroots Nation Day 2
Netroots Nation Day 2

I took a deep breath as I stepped through the doors of the convention center Friday morning for Day 2 of Netroots Nation. I’d had only a few hours to process the outstanding sessions from Day 1, and already here I was about to embark on a new day of #NN15. Today though, the 2nd floor of the convention center was oddly calm. I soon learned that Netroots Karaoke and bar hopping the night before may have been to blame. Or perhaps everyone was taking the time to prepare themselves for Elizabeth Warren’s upcoming speech. Whatever the case, I was determined to make the most of this conference, which meant not missing a single session if I could help it. I made my way to the first session with just as much enthusiasm as Day 1.

“New Voices, New Visionaries: Toward a Migrant Justice Movement Led from the Queer and Trans* Frontlines” began with a discussion among four panelists and a moderator, each of whom brought a unique and valuable perspective to the conversation. We heard about the Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (AZ QUIP), and the Arcoiris Liberation Team. We heard the story of Yesenia Palencia, a lesbian woman who fled el Salvador for a better life in the US. Yesenia has been held in detention in Eloy for nearly a year, where she has faced trials not only for her immigration status, but because of her sexual orientation as well. In September 2013 Yesenia even faced sexual assault. If you have the means to do so, please consider donating to Yesenia’s crowdfunding campaign raising money for her bond so that she can be released from detention and reunited with her loved ones.Read More »

Netroots Nation 2015 Recap part 1

Two weeks ago, July 16 – 18, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Netroots Nation conference, which this year was held here in Phoenix. This is part 1 of 4 of my #NN15 recap. The other three parts of this series are available here:

Thank you

I want to first thank Emily’s List, and more locally Arizona List, for the generous sponsorship allowing me the opportunity to attend Netroots Nation. This was truly an experience I’ve grown from, and that I’ll genuinely cherish for years to come. I learned so much and I can’t wait to put that knowledge to use for the community here in Arizona.

I also want to thank Phoenix Pride for allowing me to take time away from the Center for events like Netroots for the purposes of professional development. Time and time again, this organization has shown they believe in me. First while I was in college when I became a Phoenix Pride Scholar, and again last year when I was hired as the Center Coordinator for the Phoenix Pride LGBT Center. Without them, my life would be very different, and I’m forever grateful.

Day 1

I arrived at the Phoenix Convention Center just after 8:30 in the morning. As the button from the conference SWAG bag stated, I was a “Netroots Nation First-Timer,” and thus I had no agenda and no idea what to expect. I made my way up the escalator and across the second floor, and I was struck by the number of fresh-faced millennials excitedly milling around. From the look of things, most of us were already well into our second cup of coffee, with no signs of slowing down. The place was buzzing with anticipation, and with guests like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren lined up, it was clear how much we were all looking forward to the weekend.

Netroots Nation Day 1: Netroots Newbie!
Netroots Nation Day 1: Netroots Newbie!

Read More »

It’s No Metaphor. Get Tested.

AIDS and its MetaphorsPublished in 1989 by Susan Sontag, the longtime partner of portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz (most recently known for her work with Vanity Fair and Caitlyn Jenner), AIDS and Its Metaphors changed my understanding of AIDS, in that it challenges the many unexamined ways in which we’ve come to talk about HIV and people living with AIDS.

I started organizing for the LGBTQ community when I was 17, and for many years I was convinced HIV and AIDS were the problem of a previous generation. It wasn’t until I enrolled at Arizona State University that I began to realize how wrong I was. A handful of acquaintances and even a friend or two would “catch the bug” each year, and some even left the state when word got out they were sick.

My best friend was diagnosed the summer after our junior year, and I’ll always remember the day he told me. I was devastated. He was stoic as a Greek sculpture, at least until I collapsed in his arms.

My understanding of the global AIDS crisis expanded tremendously while at ASU. I celebrated World AIDS Day on campus each year, and I began to see how communities outside my own were affected by this disease. I organized an AIDS film series and facilitated discussions with students about rebuilding these communities in spite of challenges to sexual health and autonomy across the globe. I worked to discover ways to move our communities forward when so many of our elders were no longer around to guide the youth they spent decades inspiring.

I now have the privilege of serving the LGBTQ community every day. These are my people. We are many tribes united by a common outlook: We live with Pride. It’s not our deadly sin, it’s our redeeming virtue.

Although the entirety of my time isn’t spent on HIV education or AIDS advocacy, I’m lucky to have the opportunities I do to continue serving the portion of this community who live and survive with HIV today.

Signed AIDS and Its MetaphorsFree testing, free condoms, free food, and free education. There’s a wealth of resources available today related to HIV/AIDS (if you know where to find them). So much has changed since Susan Sontag wrote AIDS and Its Metaphors. We’ve come a long way from the world of GRID the “gay cancer,” when so little was known about HIV and so much was feared.

I wasn’t there myself, but I’m honored to know many who were. I work each day with folks who lost loved ones to AIDS; heroes who have dedicated their lives to stopping the spread. My office is down the hall from the largest LGBT library in Arizona, named for a woman who risked everything to keep our people alive at the height of the epidemic here in Phoenix.

June is recognized as Pride month, and June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. Please: Get tested. It’s imperative that you know your status. You can’t plan for what’s next if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Visit to find the nearest place to get tested, and if you’re in Phoenix I can recommend a place or two.

One day we will make AIDS history.

World AIDS Day 2014

World AIDS Day 2014

This afternoon I made my way down to the Parson’s Center to view the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It’s hard to describe the effect the quilt can have on you, but when you see it for yourself you know. It left me speechless.

I was lucky to view the quilt during a quiet time at Parson’s and felt no need to rush through. Reading each panel is an experience I’ll cherish all my life.

Tonight was also the Phoenix AIDS Candlelight Vigil. The committee that put this event together is a panel of champions. Their hard work and meticulous planning paid off big time, as the event went off without a hitch.

From the impeccably ordered playlist to the energizing and heart-felt speeches, the message I took away from the Vigil was one of hope through community. Together, we will end AIDS.

See you next year.