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Activists bring equality message to cities across Arizona

HERO walkers Liliana Montoya, Summer Schaudt and Meg Sneed (the walk founder) pose outside one of the many town halls they’ve visited over the last few days on their mission to walk 101 miles across Arizona and bring attention to the need for equal rights for people of all genders and sexual orientations.

KINGMAN - The Phoenix-based Human and Equal Rights Organizers are walking one mile for each year Arizona has not offered equal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning Arizonans - a total of 101 miles this month - and bringing their message to the state's 15 county seats.

"We're going to every city to start a conversation about equality with elected officials, law enforcement and the public," said HERO spokeswoman Kelley Dupps.

"Our vision is an Arizona free of all discrimination and equality for all people."

HERO has held a walk every year since 2006, Dupps said. Over the course of those seven years, 62 people have walked 591 miles in support of the group's mission, including the four walking this year.

The four walkers plan to reach Kingman around 2:30 p.m. Thursday after walking 19 miles in Yavapai County in honor of the 19 firefighters who were killed in the Yarnell Fire, Dupps said.

The group will hold its LGBTQ 101 training at 2:30 p.m. at the Kingman Parks and Recreation Center, 3333 N. Harrison St. The training includes information about the history of LGBTQ movement, laws currently on the books that discriminate or protect members of the community and issues facing the community.

The group will then walk half a mile starting at 4 p.m. from 217 E. Andy Devine Ave. to Trinity Episcopal Church, 425 E. Spring St. They will also hold a meeting at the church at 6 p.m.

The Equality Walk started in Phoenix on July 17 and, after visiting all 15 county seats, it will end in Phoenix on July 27. The walkers drive from location to location overnight before stopping to walk the requisite number of miles to meet their goal. They also hold informational meetings for local law enforcement groups, the public and elected officials.

On Monday, the group had reached the halfway mark for their goal in Globe, Dupps said. "People see us walking and say 'What are you doing?' It's the perfect opportunity to talk to people," Dupps said.

The group has had a few people shout at the walkers during their journey and a downpour in Nogales drenched them, but overall people have been very supportive, she said.

"We've had one here and there that have shouted something at us, but I try to make it positive. We're not going to engage with folks like that," Dupps said. "It's always a challenge, but it's a real great opportunity to speak with people. It's harder to hate if you've had the chance to meet and talk with someone."

The group is also collecting signatures in support of an initiative proposed by the organization Arizona in Support of Equal Marriage that will change the Arizona Constitution. Arizona is one of 28 states that defines marriage as "a union of one man and one woman."

If passed, the initiative would change that definition to "a union of two persons."

The initiative also carries a freedom of religion clause that states that religious organizations, associations or societies will not be required to recognize, participate or solemnize any marriage that violates their right to the free exercise of their religion.

In order to get the issue on the ballot, Arizona in Support of Equal Marriage will need to gather more than 259,000 valid signatures before July 3, 2014. So far, HERO has managed to gather a few hundred signatures.

"But we're about much more than marriage equality," Dupps said.

The group also fights for equal access to jobs, adoption, benefits and protection from bullying and harassment. According to the HERO website, 29 states in the U.S. allow people to be fired from their jobs based on their sexual orientation and 34 states allow you to be fired based on your gender identity.

Twenty-two states allow gay couples to adopt children and 18 states and Washington D.C. prohibit the harassment of someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Arizona allows single LGBTQ parents to adopt but gives preference to married couples. Arizona also has no clear law prohibiting harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

More information on HERO can be found at www.herophoenix.org.

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