We find a sense of community in Prescott in many ways; whether through music, art, or other avenues, individuals are often able to connect over shared interests. Among these many emerging environments and spaces, the LGBTQ+ community has slowly gained acceptance as well, and the comfort seems to be growing for us all. A prime example of the dedication to supporting and recognizing LGBTQ+ individuals is Molly Freibott, executive director of Prism Network.
Till recently known as the Greater Yavapai Coalition for Compassion, the organization is motivated to promote the general wellbeing of LGBTQ+ individuals in Northern Arizona by creating a network among nonprofit programs, providing resources and hosting events friendly to all identities. With all board members assist-certified, among its worlds of other helping-hand initiatives the organization is trained in mental-health first-aid and “safe talk,” to actively provide suicide-prevention services to those who struggle.
Molly exudes enthusiasm about volunteering for Prism. She told me that her position as executive director went into motion in 2019, following the coalition’s founding in 2017.
“We started it because there were a lot of great programs here and there, but no umbrella organization tying everything together. (Doing so) was our main objective. We were all volunteers and had no idea what we were doing” at that time, she laughs, explaining that transitioning to the new name in January of this year eases communication.
“We’re now pretty involved with many community organizations that have four-letter acronyms, so having the new name has been a little clearer.”
The network works with organizations including the Yavapai County Crisis Response Team, Communities Organizing for Aid and Disaster, the Community Health Improvement Program, the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, AARP, and more.
Prism works to protect and support individuals, starting first with acceptance. A focus is the Faith Bridge Program, in which Molly and other members initiate connections between faith leaders and their associate churches to provide inclusive atmospheres for people of all realms, with a focus on the gay community. The initiative often connects with the suicide-prevention programs.
“Kids will come out when they’re 17 or 18, and if they lose their family, they’re okay. If they lose their friends, they’re sometimes okay. But if their faith leader tells them God hates them, that’s when we lose them.”
In accordance with supporting all walks of life, Prism supports those affected by the pandemic.
“Through Covid we’ve really focused on getting involved with community decision-makers. We’re highly involved in shelter and emergency programs. We work closely with charity programs like the Coalition for Compassion and Justice, the Salvation Army, Prescott Area Shelter Services, and work to make sure that our homeless veterans have housing.”
Discussing the challenges of living unhoused in northern Arizona, Molly says that 40% are LGBTQ+. To help fight the cold and get people into shelters that sometimes overflow, leaving many without a warm place to sleep, Prism has also involved itself with Operation Deep Freeze, an effort to make temporary housing through the winter more easily accessible.
In addition to this work, the network has provided hand-delivered Covid boxes and other services through the pandemic.
“During Covid we were able to help people outside hospitals by taking quantitative measurements of how sick they were using digital oximeters and taking temperatures, and then tell the ER. We did over 300 boxes, each of which could cover two or three people, many of them from our community, and were able to connect with those people. Now we’re ready to move forward and connect all those people coming out of isolation with resources, and hopefully to some more fun and exciting things.”
As a LGBTQ+ individual myself, I notice that new opportunities are rising to be “more myself,” and am meeting more people in the community. Mark and Bethany Walters at Prescott Public House host continuous safe spaces and acceptance for all, creating community efforts such as paint night and seasonal celebratory events that work to improve community comfort by actively excluding discriminatory influences. The Raven Cafe is a safe place for all, and youth programs in schools and elsewhere seem to be taking more inclusive stances.
“We do have at least 14 organizations on a private list that are designated safe spaces, and businesses have been amazing. The partners we work with are inclusive and wonderful. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are present in even some private conservative schools in town. Everyone on the Interfaith Council, even if they aren’t inclusive themselves, accept us being there and being part of it.”
The GSA of Prescott started five years ago at Prescott High School, and originally took many hits due to prejudice. Early meeting often hosted fewer than five members, many of whom were on suicide watch.
“We had people following us to our cars, people tearing down the posters, even teachers saying they didn’t want a GSA. We once were sitting at our table and a few teachers approached and dress-coded all the students, although there hadn’t been any violations. They all had to go to the office. Now we’ve had up to 20 people in that GSA.”
The community seems to be more and more prominent, and I meet people like me more often on a daily basis. Prism hopes to continue to “draw a bridge” between LGBTQ+ people and those who have had tribulations with the subject, to improve the health of Northern Arizona and progress to being more wholly accepting.
“We had a lot of churches in the last four years that we had to pull off our green list when the political climate changed. We had to pull people out of faith organizations. Our suicide-prevention program was in really high demand. But I feel that we’re coming out of it. We have such a resilient and joyful community that has within these last years been looking for ways to connect, and I think that, no matter what, they will find them.”