In October 2008, Angela Hughey was in San Diego standing at the altar with the woman she had been in love with for the past 15 years. It was a moment she had sought for a long time. To be treated equally and have the same rights someone born straight could enjoy.
The day after her wedding, before their honeymoon, Hughey bought the domain for an organization she had in mind. It was an organization that would pursue equal protections for LGBTQ people and slowly but surely replace ignorance with empathy to anyone willing to sit down and enjoy a coffee with her.
It was then that the nonprofit One Community was born.
Hughey said she decided early on to approach the issue not just from a social justice standpoint, but a pro-business one as well. She said at the time that it was common for business leaders to separate themselves from perceived social justice issues, often arguing that social justice activism such as LGBTQ equality wasn’t something for the business community to weigh in on.
It took some time for Hughey to convince others that the two issues weren’t divorced from each other. Protecting LGBTQ people was the right thing to do from both a cultural and business standpoint.
“Every issue is interconnected,” Hughey told The Arizona Republic. “We’re all human beings, right? And so anti-LGBTQ policy may be meant to harm and discriminate against LGBTQ Arizonans or LGBTQ Americans, but it does harm to the entire region and to the entire nation. And so we need to take the time, I think, to connect those dots and to again give people the opportunity to come into a place of just really actionable allyship.”
Janine Skinner, community engagement director for One Community, told The Republic that she first learned of the organization after one of her children began working for Hughey while in grad school.
Skinner said One Community’s work impressed her, while Hughey’s tenacity and drive to approach anyone — no matter where they were on the political spectrum — helped convince her to join.
Skinner said that willingness to reach across the aisle has been been monumental toward making progress.
“You think about all the big national organizations and they’re 100% Democratic leaning,” Skinner said. “They just don’t really leave space for Republicans, the faith community and people in the middle to join hands — and that’s what we’re all about.”
Nonprofit created pledge for businesses to protect LGBTQ employees
In 2013, Hughey and her team created a “Unity Pledge” calling for non-discriminatory LGBTQ protections and practices in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. One Community announced the pledge alongside then-Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton who signed the pledge himself.
Since its creation, over 3,400 businesses and over 21,000 individuals have signed the pledge, according to One Community’s website.
“When you have a diverse and inclusive team, people bring their best and brightest ideas,” Hughey said. “They stay longer, they’re healthier and you truly create a more sustainable ecosystem for the business or organization.”
Hughey said one of One Community’s biggest challenges was fighting the passage of Senate Bill 1062 in 2014, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service based on religion, which many saw as an attack on LGBTQ people.
The bill quickly made its way through the Republican-controlled legislature and landed on then-Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk in less than six weeks.
Hughey said the bill reminded her of SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement to stop, detain and arrest someone if there was “reasonable suspicion” they were undocumented.
Hughey said SB 1070 left her at a crossroads — would she leave Arizona for a state whose government more closely aligned with her own values, or would she stay and work to make the state friendlier to those of all backgrounds?
She decided on the latter.
“We have a responsibility to participate in the process and to educate people about the harms these things are going to do,” Hughey said. “Because while 1070 was meant to harm Hispanic people and SB 1062 was meant to discriminate against LGBTQ people — when you harm any Arizonan you harm all Arizonans.”
Hughey and her colleagues scrambled to mount a campaign against SB 1062. Hughey contacted the owner of a FastSigns location and after working with him and several other friends and colleagues, had scrawled their campaign’s message on a post-it note: “Open For Business To Everyone.”
Hundreds of signs were made and passed out to people and business owners across the state who had signed the pledge in an effort to sway Brewer’s decision against signing the bill.
“It was beautiful, really, in so many ways,” Hughey said. “And it was an opportunity for everyday Arizonans to participate in the process, right? To voice their opinion about a bill that really could have caused so much harm.”
On Feb. 26 — two days after SB 1062 landed on her desk — Brewer vetoed the bill.
In a letter addressed to then-state Senate President Andy Biggs, Brewer began by saying she values religious freedom from government intervention and passed legislation allowing businesses affiliated with religion to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage and abortion-inducing drugs in their medical insurance plans.
However, Brewer went on to say SB 1062 failed to address specific concerns within the business community and that some lawmakers who originally supported the bill have since reconsidered their votes.
Brewer then cited the response she heard from Arizona’s business community as one of the reasons behind the veto.
“The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences,” the letter reads. “The legislation seeks to protect businesses, yet the business community overwhelmingly opposes the proposed law.”
SB 1062’s death was a watershed moment for LGBTQ rights and One Community. But for Hughey, there is always more work to be done.
Bill would make non-discrimination protections law
As it stands, LGBTQ protections remain a patchwork of city ordinances and pledges from companies and individuals in Arizona. Hughey said she could drive through Arizona with her wife and any protections they had could vanish depending on what city they were in.
“When we leave Phoenix and enter into a municipality that doesn’t have LGBTQ-inclusive policies in place, that means we don’t have the same protections in employment, in housing or in public accommodations,” Hughey said. “Public accommodations is restaurants and hotels. It’s also a doctor’s office — it’s a hospital.”
Over the years, Hughey gained a knack for fostering conversations with people who opposed her views, facing their concerns head-on while doing her best to not whatever condemnations they had too personally. Hughey said ignorance was one of the greatest obstacles to progress, and that many people will alter their perspective if ignorance is exposed to reality.
Hughey said her current focus is on House Bill 2802, which is titled “The Equality and Fairness for All Arizonans Act.” Hughey said the act would provide non-discrimination protections relating to housing, employment and public accommodations to LGBTQ people statewide.
The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, and Rep. Amish Shah, a Democrat. However, it does not appear lawmakers have assigned the bill to any committees as of Wednesday.
No matter what the future holds, Hughey is confident that cultivating and embracing an open dialogue with anyone is tantamount to blazing a path forward.
“We all come into whatever the conversation is based on our own personal journeys and our own personal lived experiences,” Hughey said. “And if we can just meet people where they’re at and start with the things that we agree with one another on, then I think that the opportunity is really limitless.”
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