Meet Our Candidates: Athena Salman for State Representative, LD 26

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

athena-salman-scaledLegislative District 26, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, is the home of Arizona State University, where Athena Salman got her start in student government. She now seeks a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, where she hopes to continue LD 26’s tradition of fighting for such important causes as education, reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, and immigrants’ rights.


“Sex education empowers young people to make informed decisions and leads to healthier communities.”


Some might say that Athena Salman was destined to dedicate her life to serving her community: Her mother named her after the Greek goddess because “the world needed more heroines.” Her activism began in childhood, blossomed in college when she organized fellow students to protest budget cuts to universities, and continues to this day. Her recent work has centered around increasing voter engagement among Latinos — campaigns that ultimately increased Latino voter registration by 500 percent — as well as empowering girls and young women through her involvement with Girl Scouts. Once in the House of Representatives, she will continue to fight for women’s rights, voting rights, and keeping education accessible to all Arizonans — “from cradle to career,” as she says on her website.

In LD 26, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona recommends casting your two votes for House of Representatives for Athena Salman and Isela Blanc, candidates dedicated to social justice and making Arizona a better place for everyone. Ms. Salman generously took the time to answer our questions on October 21, 2016.

Tell us a little about your background.

I am a native Arizonan and community leader. I have worked tirelessly to strengthen the fabric of our communities. This year, I was presented with Tempe’s MLK Diversity Award for my experience advocating for women, education, working families, and immigrants. In light of severe budget cuts to education I organized hundreds of students to protest and pass state legislation. I have worked on several successful campaigns to expand Latino voter engagement, served as a union shop steward, empowered women and girls through Girl Scouts, built community support for early childhood development through First Things First, and authored national health care and higher education policy. I graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State University with degrees in economics and political science. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Ian Danley for Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

ian-danleyPhoenix Union High School District is one of the most recent districts in Arizona to implement a comprehensive sex education policy, one that includes medically accurate, age-appropriate information on anatomy, reproduction, and biology; teaches students how to reduce risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs; and “empower[s] students to make informed decisions and create healthy relationships.” While these topics should form the basis of any sex education program, they are sadly lacking in most of Arizona’s classrooms, despite the demand for them.


“Helping our students learn and understand how to protect themselves, their relationships, their health, and their bodies is something we want for ALL of our students.”


Electing school board members who understand how important sex education is to students’ well-being is a crucial task for the savvy voter, and the parents and students of Phoenix Union are lucky that their district has forward-thinking folks at the helm — folks like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s endorsed candidates Ian Danley and Lela Alston. Unfortunately, school boards are constrained by state laws, which in Arizona represent the weakest link in even the most progressive sex education policies.

The state of Arizona has forbidden schools from portraying same-sex sexual behavior in a positive light since 1991. In October 2015, the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board issued a resolution expressing regret that their sex education policy, “while it is a significant step forward, is not truly inclusive.” And, despite their wish to be inclusive of all students, such as their LGBTQ kids, archaic state law has the district in a straitjacket. The school board has called this law “offensive” and “shaming,” and states that it “has no place in Arizona educational policy.”

Earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers attempted to repeal this law at the state level, but they were blocked by the Republican majority. The tension between the wishes of a local school board and state-mandated homophobia illustrates perfectly why it’s so important to vote the entire length of the ballot. Your state government makes educational policies that impact each district and each student. And, in Arizona, school boards have their hands tied by state-level legislation that prohibits them from offering their students the best curricula. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Lela Alston for Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

photo of Lela - headshot 4-2014 copyPhoenix Union High School District governing board candidate Lela Alston is back and at it again. A longtime school teacher and current member of the House of Representatives, Ms. Alston is running for reelection to the governing board of the Phoenix Union High School District. Ms. Alston’s impressive track record of public service reflects her commitment to Arizona’s children and families, for whom she is striving to build a better future. As a school board member, Ms. Alston will continue to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education programs, fight for adequate funding, and celebrate inclusivity and diversity.


“Our students will be healthier in their current lives and in their future lives if they have full knowledge of important subjects such as contraception and HIV/AIDS.”


Ms. Alston participated in our “Meet Our Candidates” series in 2012 and 2014 as a candidate for the House of Representatives, and on October 10, 2016, she graciously agreed to a telephone interview in which she discussed her candidacy for PUHSD school board.

Tell us a little about your background and why it’s important to you to be involved with education in your community.

I am a retired teacher from PUHSD, and I was asked to run by my colleagues when they felt the board was not supportive of students, faculty, and other employees. I have long been involved in the political world, and I have always had education, children, and families at the top of my agenda. I served in the state Senate from 1977 to 1995, and in 1994 I ran for State School Superintendent and lost to Lisa Graham Keegan. After that, I went back to teaching school full time. I retired 10 years ago, and eight years ago there was an opening on the school board for which I was asked to run. I am now running for my third term on the school board and I have in the meantime gone back to serving my legislative district in the state House. This year I will be starting my seventh year in the House, so I will be term-limited from the House after this next two years.

As a teacher I taught home-economics, and my master’s is in child development and human relations, so the issues of education, family, and children just kind of naturally fit with the issues I have championed all my adult life. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Michael Muscato for State Senator, LD 22

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

michaelmuscatoMichael Muscato was born and bred in Arizona, leaving the state briefly to play baseball, then moving to California, where he taught himself to be a recording engineer — a career that sent him around the globe supporting touring musicians and other entertainers. The year 2013 saw his homecoming to Peoria, where he raises his family in the community in which he grew up and now seeks to represent in the Arizona Senate.

Legislative District 22 includes Sun City West, Mountain Vista, Surprise, Peoria, and Lake Pleasant, and is currently represented in the state Senate by Judy Burges, who opposes comprehensive sex education, believes in severe restrictions on abortion, and would not include LGBTQ folks in nondiscrimination laws. Given that she doesn’t stand for the rights and health of her constituents — in the ability of children to learn about sexual health and healthy relationships, in the ability of women to control their bodies and fates, or in people’s right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — it’s time to replace Sen. Burges with someone who will stand for all of LD 22’s electorate.


“I actually care about people and fight for their interests and needs over those of corporations and special interests.”


In fact, it was his deep disappointment with Sen. Burges’ performance as a senator that compelled Mr. Muscato to run for the Arizona Senate. As he wrote in Your West Valley, “Nothing about her voting record on issues is in support of children, families, or small businesses. She has repeatedly voted against funding public education, continuously voted against KidsCare, and voted to cut TANFF for those most in need of help.”

Mr. Muscato generously took the time to answer our questions on October 10, 2016.

Tell us a little about your background.

I am a 32-year-old former minor league baseball player drafted by the New York Yankees. After finishing baseball I became a self-taught engineer and quickly became a director, crew chief, and systems engineer for some of the most famous entertainers in the world for their national and international tours and concerts. I am also a small business owner in LD 22, having started a CrossFit gym three years ago based on a passion of mine, which is fitness. I am the father of two little boys (Cooper, 21 months, and Canton, 2 months). I am happily married to my amazing wife, Alicia, and I could not be more proud to be in a position to represent my hometown this election. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About … Being the Parent of an LGBTQ Child

The following guest post comes to us from Planned Parenthood Arizona’s education staff. Contact them at education@ppaz.org.

father-and-son-thumbnailOctober is Let’s Talk month, when Planned Parenthood advocates for better parent-child communication around sexuality. Last year we wrote about why it’s so important for any parent to talk to their child about sexuality — early and often. Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and children who can talk to their parents about sexuality wait longer to have sex, and are more likely to use protection.

Planned Parenthood has great resources to help parents talk to their kids. Advocates for Youth also has a comprehensive guide to help parents through difficult conversations. Planned Parenthood also has resources for parents of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. You might also ask your friendly local librarian about one of these books recommended by PFLAG, a national organization for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people.


Demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education in your school district.


On November 2, Planned Parenthood will host an interactive workshop in Phoenix for parents of LGBTQ youth, where they can practice being an “askable” parent. Parents of LGBTQ kids may find it a little more difficult to be an “askable” adult. But it’s even more important because your children are at particular risk. LGBTQ youth face significant obstacles in their schools, in the world, and, sometimes, unfortunately, in their own homes. LGBTQ youth experience high rates of homelessness, depression/anxiety, and astronomically high rates of suicides — 3 times higher than straight youth. Study after study has shown that, in schools, LGBTQ youth face much higher levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats, and physical assault than their peers. Stopbullying.gov reports that bullied LGBTQ youth (or youth perceived as LGBTQ) are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

If your child is transgender, their risks are exponentially higher. Almost all transgender students report being harassed at school about their sexual orientation and/or gender. More than half of transgender students report being physically harassed (pushed, shoved) in school. And about a third report being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon). For more information on transgender discrimination in schools, please see Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, available online here. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Isela Blanc for State Representative, LD 26

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

isela-blanc-scaledIsela Blanc knows how important it is that our governments work for us by supporting the means for us to better ourselves. Her family came to Arizona from Mexico when she was 6 years old, and she was educated by Tempe’s public school systems, eventually becoming the first in her family to attend Arizona State University — all during years “while our state invested in education,” as she points out on her website. So, Ms. Blanc knows firsthand what’s at stake when lawmakers decide to let quality education slide further down their list of priorities.


“Women should not have to answer to anyone when making a decision related to their bodies or their health.”


Education is a major aspect of Ms. Blanc’s platform. She worries that Arizona is winning the “race to the bottom,” as $1 billion in cuts to education spending have resulted in fewer teachers, counselors, and school nurses; swelling classroom sizes; and shrinking after-school programs. As she tells us here, comprehensive sex education is just one part of a quality education, and she hopes to see it return to classrooms across the state.

Ms. Blanc seeks a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, on behalf of Legislative District 26, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. She generously took the time to answer our questions on October 1, 2016.

Tell us a little about your background.

I began as a volunteer serving on school site councils, participating in the PTA, and serving on a little league board. These opportunities drew me to education and my community. I managed early childhood programs through Tempe Community Council. I worked with First Things First to build awareness around the importance of the first five years. I have facilitated for various Arizona State University programs that focus on engaging families to provide them the tools and skills to support their child’s academic achievements. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Betts Putnam-Hidalgo for Tucson Unified School Board

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

betts-putnam-hidalgo-scaledBetts Putnam-Hidalgo, a lifelong social activist and a fixture at Tucson Unified School District Governing Board meetings, is running for the board for the third time. The at-large position is nonpartisan.

The retired landscaper studied at the University of Arizona and at New Mexico University. Her family, which includes several enormous dogs, lives in a historic downtown Tucson neighborhood.

In its 2014 endorsement of her, the Arizona Daily Star said that the system badly needed new leadership, and that Putnam-Hidalgo “best” understood “the complex issues facing TUSD. The board must make tough decisions to focus a district that has lost about 13,000 students in the last 12 years.” The paper noted that despite her loss two years earlier, Putnam-Hidalgo

still kept up her regular attendance at board meetings. She’s also been actively involved in school site councils, served as a community representative and taught English as a second language to parents.

She speaks with enthusiasm of participating in parent leadership training through Voices for Education as a starting point for her advocacy. Her positions include supporting an internal auditor, reducing kindergarten through third-grade class sizes to 18 and making schools a neighborhood hub for social services as well as education.

A board adversary on one issue may be an ally on the next, she says, indicating she will not vote with a bloc on the board [and] … she’d ensure the authority line clearly reflects that “the superintendent works for the board.”

These same points are in her platform today. In addition to increased honesty and transparency in the district, she is calling for an end to abusively high administrative costs and low classroom funding. She will not support enormous compensation packages for the superintendent or other administrators while TUSD teachers and staff are among the lowest paid across surrounding districts. She notes that with the current pay structure, “the further one is from the students, the more compensation one receives. This is backwards and dangerous.”


“When it comes to avoiding teen pregnancy and having healthy relationships, ignorance is dangerous.”


The native New Yorker came to Arizona in the 1970s and came to her interest in TUSD through her son, now 16. She was 45 when he was born, already stepmother to two boys.

“When we lived in New Mexico, before my own son was born, the military recruiters started to call for my stepsons. I could not get them to stop. That was when I knew there was activism to be done in the schools,” Putnam-Hidalgo told us in an August 26, 2016, phone interview, during which she answered the following questions.

TUSD recently voted to include comprehensive sexuality education in its classrooms. What would you like this new curriculum to look like?

I’m really excited about it being a whole lot more than just name-the-body-parts. From what I understood from a number of high school students, they want [information about] how emotions and sexual contact intersect … I had that at a private school in the eighth grade: how sexual activity was nothing to be ashamed of and should be fun. We made fun of the teacher at the time but I now realize she was a revolutionary! Continue reading