Paula Aboud: An Optimistic Voice of Reason

paula aboudI live in a very conservative state. It’s a fact. Despite living in a state full of households who hang Tea Party flags on their porch, I have hope. One of the reasons that I feel like Arizona isn’t a lost cause is because we have political representatives who defy the odds by speaking out in favor of women’s reproductive justice and equality for the queer community. Former State Senator Paula Aboud is a prime example of a rainbow-flag-flying feminist role model in the middle of a sea of red.

Paula Aboud was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She attended Tucson High School and earned a BA in English from the University of Arizona. After graduating from UA, Aboud taught English and coached volleyball and tennis coach at Rincon High School. Paula’s devotion to education and sports eventually motivated her to get involved in local politics, and she served in the Arizona Senate for six years.

Senator Aboud explains that her involvement in politics was not a conscious choice. She left teaching at Rincon High School and moved to Maine. Soon after relocating, a high school student was beaten up by his peers and thrown over a bridge. He died just because he was gay. This ignited Paula’s motivation to get involved with the gay community in Maine. The gay community decided to form a community organization that was dedicated to passing laws to protect the civil rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Although she wasn’t teaching anymore, Paula was still coaching sports. She realized that coaching and teaching provided an opportunity to make a difference for young people, but that she could make an even bigger difference by getting involved in local politics.

As a result, Senator Aboud’s primary focus during her political career has been on education, women’s rights, and LGBT equality. “I go where my heart takes me, and that’s where my heart is. My heart is with women because we are oppressed. I totally believe in equality, so my heart is with the gay community because there are so many inequalities there. My passion takes me anywhere there is injustice. That’s why I got into politics. I want to make a difference. It’s not just for a small group of people, but for all people. Women are at the forefront of my dedication, whether it’s domestic violence, women’s healthcare, or pay equity. I’m passionate about equality for the gay community, as well as nondiscrimination in the workplace.”

While Paula Aboud was a member of the Arizona state legislator, she had to be able to work across the aisle because Arizona is a predominantly conservative, Republican state. Aboud says that she learned how to negotiate with politicians while she was living in Maine. “Many politicians never thought that they would support gay rights, but they did. We looked for ways to make connections with them so that we could reach across the bridge that separated them from the gay community.”

“I entered the Arizona state senate in 2006. It wasn’t an ultra-conservative legislature at the time. We had a progressive, Democratic governor. Janet Napolitano vetoed the bad bills that the legislature brought forward. But we also had moderate Republicans in the legislature at the time. I bonded quickly with them and saw the possibilities for passing and stopping various bills by working together. Once President Obama appointed Governor Napolitano to be the head of the Department of Homeland security in 2009 and the state legislature became even more right wing, we lost the safety net of the governor’s ability to veto legislation. That doesn’t mean we didn’t stop looking for ways to reach across the aisle.”

“My sports background helped me form relationships with people with whom I normally wouldn’t want to interact. I found ways to connect with them to stop bad bills. There was also a cadre of five of us who identified as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and we had a very supportive alliance with each other.”

Senator Aboud has excellent advice for people who are thinking about entering the world of politics. “First of all, it’s important to work with organizations, whether they’re queer organizations or women’s rights groups, even neighborhood organizations, to begin to work with others. No one can do this all alone. You have to be able to work with others in order to begin. Learn from each other. Learn to be strategic. When you’re ready to run for office, people in the community know you. They will support you and they will work for you. The more groups that you can work with the better. They will advocate on your behalf when you run for office.”

“You also need to get involved with the party of your choice, whether it’s the Green Party or the Democratic Party. Be involved with them. Understand what their passions are and what they need. In order to gain a reputation, you have to have to teach yourself how to be a good schmoozer. I started my life as a very shy person, but when I got involved with the LGBT community organization in Maine, I totally turned that personality trait around. I learned how to connect with others, assert myself, and feel empowered.”

“Sometimes we let discouragement hold us back. That becomes a tool of the oppressor. If we let ourselves succumb to discouragement, we dis-empower ourselves and the oppressor doesn’t need to do anything because they’ve got us right where they want us. We need to continually challenge ourselves. I live with the possibility of hope. I used to be terribly downhearted, but politics fired me up. It inflamed me. It gave me a direction to funnel my desire to help people, despite how dreadful it is here politically in Arizona. There’s always a way to work with others.”

Senator Aboud compares her political career to her passion for sports. “When you’re on a team, you learn leadership and cooperation skills. You learn about strategy and discipline. It doesn’t matter why you get involved. When you’re involved with a group and you get discouraged, you’ve got people who will buoy you up and support you. It’s invaluable.”

The primary election season is upon us. I hope that we can take Senator Aboud’s advice and learn how to connect with our neighbors and friends so that we can find common ground on important social issues. Get involved and take action on issues that are important to you. If we don’t get involved with the community, we have no right to complain about the state of our state (or nation, for that matter). I hope you’ll find a flicker of hope after reading about Paula Aboud and her optimism about community activism.



  1. Paula is a true community leader who really cares about the people in Southern Arizona.

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