Written by Shahid Meighan
Having been immersed in the world of politics since high school, Jeanne Woodbury is no stranger to networking, community organizing, and speaking truth to power. Now, she puts those skills and talents to the test at Equality Arizona, a non-profit organization “focused on improving for LGBTQ+ Arizonans through better politics and policy.” Founded 30 years ago in the middle of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Equality Arizona has fought, challenged and successfully pared back several anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in the Arizona legislature. One of these now failed bills include Senate Bill 1045, which would have banned gender-affirming care for youth and would have required school employees to “out” trans kids.
For Jeanne, who identifies as a transgender woman, this type of work is as personal as it is professional.
“And [friends] asked me, well, you’re in this work, and you’re trans. How do you kind of put up with that? And I think, partly for me, and I think this is true for other queer and trans people in the work. Because it’s our profession, also, we feel that’s one of the ways we’re able to cope with it. I think we’re in there. We’re engaged. We’re doing the work. And that helps us as much as it helps everyone else,” Jeanne confided. While she now fights on the side of the LGBTQ+ community, Jeanne’s work in politics wasn’t always from a progressive lens.
“At the time, I was really involved in my church community, a very conservative scene. And that was what I got motivated to work on. And at a certain point, I started to realize, oh, wait, I’m queer. I’m trans. And then all the people around me started to realize, oh, wait, this person is queer and trans. Let’s maybe work with her a little bit less.”
While Jeanne had feelings of ostracization from this experience, she describes it as “for the best in the long run.” Not long after this realization and separation from her former friends and colleagues, she decided to spend some time to re-evaluate her politics and took a hiatus from politics.
“So that was a period of time where I didn’t work in politics. I said, let me figure this out for me.” During that hiatus, Jeanne spent her time traveling while also going to school. She received her Bachelor’s in Mathematics and completed one year of graduate studies at Northern Arizona University with plans to become a math teacher. However, she realized that teaching wasn’t what she ultimately wanted to do and that her passion was still in politics. In the spring of 2020, she joined Equality Arizona.
“It’s exciting for me. I don’t want to like, be cheesy, but it is like a startup community because every campaign is effectively a startup business, they have to spin up a whole new board and bring on new staff, and launch their campaign. And working in equality, Arizona, I get to work with so many different campaigns. Some of these people are seasoned politicians, and some of these people are newcomers. But it’s all very exciting for me.” When asked if she believed that Equality Arizona’s work has become more necessary and vital to queer people in Arizona, she stated that it’s “hard to quantify.” According to Jeanne, many LGBTQ+ allies disengaged with the work after the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.
“And a lot of people who were allies who were more loosely connected were just like, sweet. This issue is done, on to the next thing. And that’s just been so far from the truth. Since then, we’ve seen pretty much every year just an escalating attack from state legislatures, on all kinds of different rights for the community. A lot of those are focused on trans people, a lot of those are focused on kids in school, not necessarily just trans kids, but kids in general.”
While Jeanne foresees the upward battles that Equality Arizona will be taking on, she still has reason to hope for a better future for the LGBTQ+ population in Arizona.
“I think there are reasons to hope. And there are real things that are happening, that balance that out in some ways, but it’s going to get worse, and it’s going to get better at the same time.”
To learn more about Equality Arizona and how to get involved, visit their website at https://www.equalityarizona.org.