Call for gay rights finds a home in Bisbee

Gay Pride Weekend
Photo by Larissa Teran/Arizona Sonora News

The notoriously progressive, quirky city of Bisbee has been ahead of its time for a while.

On June 4, 2013, Bisbee attempted to become the first city in the state to legalize civil unions. While Bisbee’s city council voted 5-2 to allow civil unions, its success did not come without a fight.

Less than a week after the vote, Attorney General Tom Horne threatened to sue the town  stating that the town acted outside its legal authority. After a month of banter, Horne agreed to work with Bisbee officials to rewrite their civil union ordinances to act in accordance within state law.

Photo by Larissa Teran/Tombstone Epitaph
Photo by Larissa Teran/Arizona Sonora News

Just over a year after Bisbee legalized its version civil unions, the U.S. District Court ruled Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. This result came after years of lawsuits, activism, and battles for the right to marry.

On a gray, dreary Super Bowl weekend, Bisbee celebrated the evolving status of  gay rights and hosted a winter Pridefest.

Many people believe much more work needs to be done in Arizona to ensure those rights continue to grow.

Supporters across the board realize that the success of same-sex marriage legalization did not come without a fight.

Bobbie VanderGriff, vice president of Tucson’s chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), knows that there is more work to be done.

In Arizona, employees can still be fired based solely on their sexual preference, as sexual orientation is not a protected class. “You could be under the radar and people not know you’re gay, said VanderGriff. “But then you decide to marry, it’s pretty much public, and you could lose your job.”

Employees are protected by race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, genetic information, and AIDS/HIV status. This does not cover sexual orientation, marriage status, or gender identity. The city of Phoenix, as well as other areas of the state, protects sexual orientation and gender identity, but the state as a whole falls behind.

State schools also prohibit the mention of homosexuality in public education health curriculum, according to VanderGriff. “The schools are a big problem,” said VanderGriff. “You can’t talk about gays as if they are ordinary, normal, good people.”

Sharon Travis, a member of the Sky Island Unitarian Universalist Church of Bisbee, is proud to be on this side of history. Sky Island served as a supporter of the festival.

“The day that marriage equality really came down, there were Unitarian ministers all over the state of Ariz.,” said Travis. “They were there at the courthouses holding up signs that said ‘I am ready to marry you.’”

The Christian denomination of Unitarian Universalism has been historically active in the fight for equal rights. Sky Island is home to around 80 congregation members of variant sexual orientations and gender identities.

Sky Island has hosted multiple celebratory and awareness events revolving around LGBTQ achievements and issues. The church served as a supporter of the festival. Their minister, Rev. Christiane Hyde, has performed three same-sex marriage ceremonies since the legalization, according to Travis. The most recent marriage occurred on the steps of the Sierra Vista courthouse.

The legalization of same-sex marriage has been a source of pride and joy for the Sky Island community.

“There’s nothing that gives us greater pleasure than to see that everybody has equal opportunities,” said Travis.

Travis acknowledged that in the future, the state legislature may attempt to stop equal rights, but the fight from Sky Island’s supportive community will not stop.

Keith Wyatt, co-owner of Whyld ASS Coffee Shop and Eatery & Suite ASS Bed And Breakfast – Bisbee’s only gay-owned, plant-based restaurant, has faced negative comments at his own business. “I had a guy come in one time and my husband said something about ‘me and my husband,’” said Wyatt. “The guy said ‘Gross, that’s disgusting.'” Wyatt asked him to leave.

There are occasional tourists that are taken aback when they visit Bisbee because of its obvious diversity. “We’re all a bunch of … weirdoes here, get used to it,” said Wyatt.

Jordan Allison and Larissa Teran are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at larissateran@email.arizona.edu/jordanallison@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.