At Tucson’s Heart: Sarah featured in the Tucson Weekly

At Tucson’s Heart: Meet six members of the LGBT community who make Southern Arizona a better place to live for all

“I wish there was more being done for the healing of our community”

Racism is one of those topics that can be difficult to bring up, because most people think of the KKK showing up in a front yard with a burning cross, rather than the systemic racism in society—which is often far more subtle than we realize.

That’s where Sarah Gonzales comes in. She holds anti-racism workshops for organizations and businesses to help people better understand racism and its damaging effects. When Gonzales isn’t doing those workshops, she works with area youth through Wingspan’s Eon Youth Lounge, the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam and the UA-affiliated Crossroads Collaborative.

“I think it all started back home in Oklahoma,” Gonzales says. “My dad would always make us talk about what was going on in school that day or in the community, or on the nightly news. He’d comment on issues, especially on race and racism, politics and all that stuff. They were weird like that, even during the summer. We’d get excited, being out of school, but then they’d make us do a report on the Gaza Strip.”

That’s part of the reason why she decided to work in social justice. In the first-grade, she remembers that all of her classmates were good kids. “But by the time I graduated, many of them had been incarcerated. I knew they were not bad people, but it made me wonder how that could have been different, in different circumstances.”

Gonzales came to Tucson to work on her master’s degree in education at the University of Arizona, left to work for a year at Duke University, and returned to work for the Tucson YWCA on anti-racism and youth programming. After she showed up to a Tucson Unified School District board meeting to support the beleaguered Mexican-American studies department, Gonzales was laid off.

Gonzales says it was rough, but that old cliché—when one door closes, another door opens—rang true: Shortly after her layoff, she got a call from a YWCA contact asking if she could put on an anti-racism workshop at their business. Those requests never stopped, and Gonzales was forced to make it formal by starting her own business, TruthSarita Consulting.

“It’s ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “I officially started in January. When I first got those calls, I’d tell them, ‘You know, I don’t work there anymore,’ but they said they didn’t care. They wanted it done, and they liked how I work.”

Working with youth, however, feeds her soul. Gonzales works with Eon, doing workshops on youth rights, sexuality and identity. She helps work with kids on Queer Monologues, an event of writing, poetry, performance and dance.

“For me, I wanted to work within the community to not only fight against the stereotypes of what people tell us who we are, but to say, ‘This is who we are. This is who I am,'” Gonzales says. “For youth, it’s empowering.”

During one of her workshops, a girl walked in for the first time not knowing what to expect. She soon walked out to call her mom to say, “I am gay,” and then walked right back in. Gonzales says she felt great to see a youth come into the room and know right away that this was where she needed to be.

When asked about her own story and how she identifies, Gonzales says she considers it to be private.

“I say I’m queer, but how do you navigate what that means to other people and what it means to you? To me, it’s intensely personal,” Gonzales says. “I am way more open with my youth. I want them to see someone successful. But I do believe that queerness is a perspective, a continuum, an ideology, even.”

What’s next for Gonzales? She looks back at what’s taken place with Mexican-American studies in TUSD and recognizes that the community supporting the program has experienced a lot of trauma.

“Work-wise, community-wise, it does take a toll. I wish there was more being done for that. I wish there was more being done for the healing of our community.”