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When Sam Holdren, the political organizer for LGBT community center Wingspan, was asked what he's doing these days, he replied "a lot," and then he launched into a tactical analysis of Arizona Senate Bill 1153. That legislation would narrow discrimination policies at the state's universities and colleges, allowing student organizations that exclude certain people to still receive public funding, if the organization's reasons for exclusion are rooted in religious, political or philosophical convictions. Holdren says the bill is aimed squarely at the gay community, who would be stripped of their nondiscrimination rights. SB 1153 has been assigned to conference committee after passing the Senate and House.

So how's the fight going against the bill?

The Legislature is really controlled by a lot of people in the anti-gay industry, and so it's passing. But people are questioning it.

The "anti-gay industry?" What's that?

It's basically the extreme right, and what they've been pushing. You know--the religious right, the extremists who are out there and are pushing legislation and bills and amendments that are serving to undermine the rights the gay and lesbian community have achieved.

I've never heard it referred to as an industry before.

But it is! It's a multi-billion-dollar industry. They're so rich and so wealthy, and they're spending so much money--they're outspending the LGBT community, for sure--on campaigns to really undermine these American values of freedom and equality.

How is the local and statewide LGBT community faring in its overall efforts to gain rights?

Well, as I mentioned before, we have a Legislature that's dominated by the anti-gay industry--I love that (phrase). (Laughs.) So we can't really get anything passed by the Legislature. They have bills that have been introduced that would provide employment nondiscrimination protections to gay and lesbian workers, but the Legislature blocks it every year. ... Something like 70 percent of Arizonans support the right of gay and lesbian people to work without being fired because of their identity. But the Legislature just ignores that fact. There's hate-crimes legislation that wouldn't just impact the gay and lesbian community; it impacts a lot of communities. Right now, Arizona has hate-crimes statutes that apply for felonies, but if you're the target of hate violence that doesn't reach the level of a felony, it doesn't get classified necessarily as a hate crime.

What about the petition to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage and other unions in Arizona?

I could go on and on about that. A majority of Arizonans, when they realize the negative impact that it has on Arizona and on our communities, don't support it. Unfortunately, the anti-gay industry dominates the message. It's very likely to get on the ballot. There are different strategies: Right now, the Center for Arizona Policy is sending information out saying they're short of their goal by 80,000 signatures. ... What we're also hearing, though, is that they've actually achieved the requirements for the state, and they're just still trying to get more signatures. It's a tactic: They're trying to deflate the efforts of people against the amendment to raise funds for the campaign and to get out there and mobilize the community. They're very powerful. They're very crafty, and they have a lot of resources.

You told me earlier about an activism group at Eon Youth Lounge. How's that progressing?

It's good. We have a weekly meeting where youth come. They have sort of taken on their own campaigns. It started out where I was giving a lot of education, sort of training them and whatnot, but now it's become really youth-led and youth-run. One of the campaigns they're working on is to target the ex-gay movement. They're educating themselves on it. They're doing research; they're finding out where the meetings are here in Tucson--just to learn about it and know what's going on. Then they'll figure out what sort of tactics or steps they want to take to address it.

In your estimation, why has the LGBT community become such a target of the political right?

It depends on what you're talking about with the right wing. If you're talking about the anti-gay industry, it's because they're really hateful. They really believe, I think, on some level that they're right. They're ignorant, and they just don't understand. But if you're talking about the right wing--the people who are getting re-elected and are going for elections and office--it's because they know it's something they can win with.

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