Gay Navajo man poised to join Ariz. Senate

by Shaun Knittel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 1, 2010

An openly gay Navajo man bested his opponents in a three-way primary race for an Arizona state Senate seat.

Jack Jackson, Jr., has had a long career of both public and tribal service. While serving in the Arizona House, he served on the Appropriations Committee and the Ways and Means Committee and worked to pass Senate Bill 1225-a measure to ban anti-gay workplace discrimination in Arizona.

Jackson also fought for rural and tribal concerns as a member of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, Water and Native American Affairs Committee. He served alongside his father, former state Sen. Jack C. Jackson, Sr., who represented the Navajo Nation in Phoenix for nearly 20 years.

"Our state faces some tough challenges," said Jackson. "Our budget is out of balance, our education system is being decimated and tribal communities are being hit especially hard. My father worked tirelessly for 20 years addressing similar issues. I can no longer sit idly by watching his legacy get dismantled. I am compelled to continue the fight for our community and our state."

Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala appointed Jackson to serve on President Clinton's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in April 2000. The Obama administration has selected him to once again serve on the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed Jackson as the executive director of the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs in 2005. He provided assistance to the state in fulfilling its responsibilities to its 22 Indian nations and tribes by making recommendations to the governor and the Legislature while at the agency.

Arizona is facing another tough budget cycle, and Jackson has proposed closing tax loopholes to reduce another looming deficit. He said he would support maintaining education funding and developing renewable energy in northern Arizona. And Jackson has endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard.

If voters elect Jackson to the Arizona Senate on Nov. 2, the state legislature would keep its five-member LGBT caucus, joining lesbian state Sen. Paula Aboud; gay state Sen. Robert Meza and bisexual state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is likely to join the state Senate after she won her primary race.

"In most places, minorities are underrepresented in government," said Denis Dison, vice president external affairs at Victory Fund. "That's especially true for LGBT people. Only about 500 or more than 500,000 elected officials in the U.S. are openly LGBT."

The Victory Fund endorsed Jackson's campaign. And Dison said: "Jack easily met all our endorsement criteria."

"LGBT people who are also racial or ethnic minorities tell a more accurate story about our community," he added. "It's part of our strength that we identify as a community, but I think we're even stronger when we realize we're also a subset of every other community, including the Navajo Nation."

For his part, Jackson he said he will work to bring equality to all Arizonans.

"Arizona can only flourish when the needs of all Arizonans are met at the most basic level," he said. "All Arizonans deserve the right to have access to roads, electricity and water. We also must expand access to telephone and internet services to allow for economic development and education in rural Arizona. It is the role of state government to provide equal access to all the citizens of our state. I will be a leader in that fight at the State Capitol."

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.