December 25, 2017Blog

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
– Harvey Milk, 1930-1978

Finding Your place

We all have a place, seeing it isn’t easy, often it must find you.

Discovering Passion

You never know what your passion could be until you start doing it.

Embracing Yourself

When someone else tells you who you should be, your embracing them, not yourself.

Living Your Purpose

Purpose is about more than yourself, it’s about living life in happiness.

Be Yourself

Most of my life I had to be someone else.  I refuse to do that anymore. I refuse to give up fighting for equality, and I refuse to be silent.  My desire to continue the fight for equality and expose the injustices facing our community will only continue.

Early Years

During my years in high school, I was by all accounts a complete and total outcast.  Fast forward a few years, and I decided because I literally had nowhere else to go, to join the military.  During my time in the United States Air Force, rumors would fly, people would call me “faggot” right to my face and once again, I was an outcast.  Except for just a few fellow soldiers, I was bullied almost every single day.  Subsequently, my discharge was the result of homosexual admission (I eventually received an honorable discharge for those wondering).  After my release, I began abusing drugs and alcohol.  This was the result of so many years of bullying, marinization and the feeling of segregation from everything and everyone around me.  Eventually, I was able to overcome this tumultuous time in my life and decide enough was enough.  It was around the year 2010 that I had finally taken the stance to just be who I was regardless of what others thought.  I finally found myself and was a GAY man who accepted this empirical fact.  Although I’ve been able to reflect my identity to everyone around me, I still see, and experience being treated like a second-class citizen at times.  Even though such walls continue to erect, I always fight every single day to break them down.


An opportunity to represent a community that struggles with marginalization, discrimination and abuse is why, knowing this feeling, what it does to you, I joined the Phoenix Pride Board of Directors.  Being part of this, leveraging the unique stage provided, I continue to stand up, stand strong and fight every day for our members.  Phoenix, Arizona has become a thriving city with exponential growth and expanding LGBTQ members.  The personal benefits from this are less important than the ability to identify ways to advance LGBTQ rights.  I feel very strongly about transgender rights, so much that I expected to be relieved of my position with the Board of Directors for engaging a certain group we were told not to.  In my heart, if I know something is right, and it doesn’t break the law, I will follow that and be willing to sacrifice even the most cherished of opportunities to create a more inclusive community.  Selfless acts embolden others to do the same.  My heart and soul bleed the rainbow that represents us, and I want Phoenix Pride to continue being the beacon of hope, a safe place for others to feel the same way, no matter who they are or where they come from.

2017 Year in Review

January 11, 2017 is the day I was elected as a Board Director.  The following month I was appointed as the Chairman of the Education and Outreach Committee, a committee that was inactive for years.  During 2017, and under my direct leadership I was able to:

  • Launch a twice per year benchmark survey to discover more ways we can support the community
  • Conduct the review process and award seven $5,000 scholarships for local students to pursue higher education
  • Reform the grants program to make a bigger impact on the community
  • Launch a community blog
  • Win approval for a Rainbow Crosswalk to be installed prior to our next Pride Festival in 2018
  • Engage with three evangelical Christian pastors on how to create a more inclusive environment
  • Hold our first annual Artists Call
  • Make the board available to the community through board mixers
  • Conduct fundraisers, partake in the Equality Rally and pursue community outreach

Closing Remarks

Putting 2017 behind us and looking towards 2018, we here at Phoenix Pride have a very ambitious agenda for the community.  Our grants program will make a bigger impact than ever before, our scholarship fund will award more students with support than ever before and the board of directors will devise ways that we can be ready, willing and able to support our community in more ways than ever before.  As of December 21, 2017, I’ve been granted with the honor and privilege of being a Board Officer, Director at Large.  This is more than a title, it’s a profound amount of trust, responsibility and accountability to the community.  Even though I do realize the additional challenges that come from being an officer, I also realize that something happened earlier this year during my time on the board.  At first, I saw this opportunity in a personally beneficial lens, then something changed.  Serving on the board of directors no longer has anything to do with me, but the community, our family and being selfless rather than selfish.  I’m not sure how to explain it really, but I no longer feel this has any personal benefits at all.  Being part of something bigger than myself, this organization, has changed who I am, who I want to be and what it means to me serving on a non-profit board.  I’ve dedicated countless hours to our community this past year, contributed financial support and worked with some of the most incredible leaders of the LGBTQ community.  To their credit, they have patiently put up with my lack of experience on a board, the “learning curve,” ambition and high-energy to keep pushing one initiative after another.  I want to take a moment and thank from the bottom of my heart a few people from Phoenix Pride and the community who have made an enormous impact on me personally over this last year:

Mark Leeper

Justin Owen

Carlos Castaneda

Victor Avila

Clayton Scherf

Philip Sirois

Chavon Boston

Kristie Leshinskie

Mike Fornelli

Stacy Louis

Theresa Hernandez

Tyler Kinnie

Rosa Inchausti

Ginny Belousek

But most of all, I want to thank the community.  Without you, the work that I’m doing with Phoenix Pride wouldn’t be possible.  It’s because of the community that I’m able to find the passion, dedication and drive to keep pushing forward and supporting our remarkable and amazing LGBTQ family. 

Thank you, everyone, I hope everyone has a fabulous 2018 filled with new adventures and experiences that make a positive impact on you and the community for a very long time to come…

Just remember one thing:

“Hope will never be silent.”

– Harvey Milk, 1930-1978


Ryan A. Starzyk
Director at Large
Chairman, Education & Outreach Committee