Inclusion is good for business. That’s the vision – and the conviction – that Angela Hughey shares when she meets with Arizona business leaders as part of her life mission to continually expand the LGBTQ+ inclusive community in her state and the nation.
“We really can create a state that thrives when we're all given the same opportunity,” Hughey emphasizes.
As the Co-Founder and President of ONE Community, a member-based coalition of businesses, organizations, and individuals committed to advancing equity and inclusion in Arizona and the nation, Hughey has turned her vision for the future into her full-time work.
“Our job is to walk alongside elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, and teach them about why being inclusive and why being an LGBTQ+ inclusive state is not only the right thing to do, it's really good for the business of Arizona,” Hughey says.
Being an LGBTQ+ inclusive state is not only the right thing to do, it's really good for the business of Arizona.
In 2013, ONE Community launched a campaign called the “UNITY Pledge” to expand its impact and raise public awareness about the discrimination people who identify as LGBTQ+ face in the state and nation.
To date, more than 3,500 businesses and 20,000 Arizonans have taken the ONE Community UNITY Pledge, making it the largest equality pledge in the nation.
“On the first day, we had more than a hundred signers,” Hughey recalls, adding that signers include businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes.
And, Hughey highlights, there is still work to do. Members of the LGBTQ+ community still experience targeted assaults while out in public or feel generally unsafe in spaces many people take for granted. Hughey says one of those spaces is transportation.
People who identify as LGBTQ+ often face harassment or violence trying to go from place to place. A study conducted by the Gender Policy Report found that violence, harassment, and fear restricted mobility and freedom of movement for the gender minorities and transgender passengers interviewed.
“If you're LGBTQ+, sometimes you get in a rideshare and you don't feel safe,” Hughey explains, adding that fully autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s can offer a safe alternative because it treats every passenger the same and does not discriminate or judge.
Autonomous driving technology company Waymo has been in Arizona since 2016 and operates Waymo One, a fully autonomous ride-hailing service, in Metro Phoenix. Waymo has signed ONE Community’s UNITY Pledge, and ONE Community has also become a part of Waymo’s public education campaign, Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving.
Jimmy Thomason is a friend of Hughey’s and the executive director of Aunt Rita's Foundation, an organization serving the HIV community in Arizona. Thomason says that he’s had many experiences in ride-hailing vehicles where he’s felt unsafe holding hands with his husband or talking about his destination within earshot of an unsupportive driver.
“With an autonomous vehicle, you have none of those concerns,” Thomason says. “You get in the car, you know where you're going, and just enjoy the ride.”
Aunt Rita’s Foundation, which began fundraising as a bake sale in 1988, has grown to a force for HIV community support across Arizona, providing over $2.5 million in grant funding to organizations across the state.
Thomason says that, in an effort to overcome barriers related to transportation, Aunt Rita’s Foundation also offers free transportation to its programs for anybody who needs it.
Hughey says she could imagine how autonomous driving technology could one day support the unique transportation needs of nonprofits like Aunt Rita’s Foundation.
“So many of their client partners don't have access to vehicles,” Hughey underlines, adding that people should be able to get to their destinations safely no matter who they are, or what their HIV status is. “No one wants to be judged when they’re in a ride-share.”
Aunt Rita’s Foundation’s biggest program, Experienced Escapades, takes HIV positive clients to more than 50 events every month to help alleviate isolation and survivor’s guilt.
“We know isolation and survivor’s guilt are the two top issues for that population over 50 years old, which is half the HIV population,” Thomason emphasizes.
Waymo’s passenger philosophy is that all riders should feel welcome. Its autonomous driving technology is designed to stay constantly vigilant, obey road rules – such as those related to speed and signaling – and identify and respect other road users. Waymo also provides ride details, including the car’s route and destination, with passengers using audio cues and video.
“It’s that opportunity for all of us, no matter who we are, who we love, to just feel safe going from place A to place B,” Hughey says.
It’s that opportunity for all of us, no matter who we are, who we love, to just feel safe going from place A to place B.
Last month in Phoenix, Hughey hopped in an autonomously driven Waymo vehicle and stopped to pick Thomason up at his office and the two friends grabbed lunch at one of their favorite local restaurants, FEZ.
Hughey says she felt safe and unencumbered riding with Waymo – a vast difference from the pressure, anxiety, and uncertainty she says she feels in other ride-hailing vehicles.
“I felt very safe… and that pressure that kind of sits on your shoulder, it wasn't there,” Hughey says of her Waymo ride. “It was a very freeing ride for me.”
Thomason says he enjoyed being able to trust the autonomous driving technology to just take him and Hughey to their destination.
“The ride today was so smooth,” Thomason recalls. “I mean, it was so nice to just sit and have a conversation with my seatmate, who is a great friend, and not worry; the technology is just doing what it’s supposed to do.”
Hughey says autonomous driving technology represents one of the newest resources in a long string of innovative tools the LGBTQ+ community has leveraged to stay safe and live authentically.
“Back in the day, we would look online for some sort of a tag that told us that a restaurant or hotel was inclusive because safety has always been top of mind for LGBTQ+ people,” Hughey explains. “Safety and technology and innovation all go together when it comes to understanding the LGBTQ+ community and our path forward.”
Safety and technology and innovation all go together when it comes to understanding the LGBTQ+ community and our path forward.
Hughey says she believes the LGBTQ+ community will lead the way when it comes to adopting technology like Waymo’s.
“We have always been early adopters of technology in our history,” Hughey says. “It's what's kept us safe and the opportunity to participate and ride in an autonomous vehicle ensures our safety.”
Hughey says she looks forward to exploring what ONE Community and Waymo can achieve as partners in advancing mobility and inclusion.
“I think the partnership between Waymo and ONE Community is just barely touching the surface,” Hughey says, underscoring the myriad future opportunities for collaboration. “We're excited to be on the journey together and I think it's unlimited.”