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On the 10th day of giving, advocate for equal rights

December 22, 2012

As Arizona State University gears up to win the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 29, in San Francisco, the university is taking the opportunity to offer suggestions for 12 Days of Giving in order to make a big difference this season and celebrate the university’s outreach role in the community.

Day 11
Advocate for equal rights.

For Neil Giuliano, coming to Arizona State University started as a happy convenience and became the longest and most significant relationship of his life.

This self-described Italian-American Sun Devil started his journey at ASU in 1974 as a communications major. Over the course of the next three decades he wore the mantle of undergrad student, student employee, master’s student in higher education administration, grad student intern, staff member and faculty associate.

The following is an excerpt of a Q & A with Giuliano about his commitment to public service in advocating for LGBT rights. The piece originally appeared on ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences website.

How did your education prepare you for your career?

ASU provided the broad world understanding, awareness and experiences that helped me grow and also gave me specific tools to use as I headed out into the world. It was a strong platform for my teaching, speaking and creating strong working relationships with other people in activism, public service and elected office. I am grateful for such a tremendously rewarding experience and career at ASU. And yet life only got better once I stretched and sought new challenges and opportunities beyond ASU too.

You were the youngest mayor elected to office in Tempe, served four terms and became one of the few openly gay public servants in the U.S. Why were you drawn to public service and that position in particular?

Giving back was a part of my life growing up and remains embedded in my DNA. Serving as mayor allowed me to partner with others to make my community a better place, envision our destiny and future and make it a reality. There are many political roles of course, but being a mayor is unique: you sit at the end of the table, you set the tone and direction, you articulate a vision and empower others to help make it happen. My decade as mayor was a tremendous opportunity to serve and make a difference and we accomplished a lot together during that time.

You went on to become the President of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and then later to serve as the CEO for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. What were your goals as a leader for GLAAD?

At GLAAD, I worked to raise the visibility and volume of the national conversation about LGBT rights and continue advancing the culture toward full equality. Ensuring fair and accurate portrayals of gay people in the media and taking a strong stand against the anti-gay voices in society play a critical part in changing hearts and minds. And as we know, it's the cultural change that happens first and enables the political and legal changes.

What does your foundation do and what are your goals as CEO for this organization?

San Francisco AIDS Foundation is one of the oldest HIV/AIDS service organizations in the world. We provide testing, care, advocacy and a wide array of prevention programs and services for people living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS. We have 140 employees, an annual budget of $24M and work to reduce new HIV infections, ensure people are getting tested and ensure HIV positive people are receiving care. We've spent 30 years answering the call of the community where HIV/AIDS first reached an epidemic level in the U.S.

Which mentor(s) really impacted your life?

Betty Turner Asher, who was ASU vice president for student affairs when I was ASU student body president. She had a huge impact on the course of my life. She encouraged me to stay at ASU after I finished my master’s degree and then gave me the application for the Tempe Leadership program. Absent her influence, I probably would have sought a student affairs job at another university and my life would have taken an entirely different path. I learned a great deal from Betty.

So many people think that one person can't do anything, that one vote or voice can't make a difference. Your journey says otherwise. Is it safe to say that you believe in the power of one: the ability for one person to create meaningful change?

Absolutely one person can have tremendous influence and make a significant difference. I also believe that no one accomplishes anything truly significant without others being involved. One of my favorite movies is “The Power of One.” This powerful film ends with this quote: 
Changes can come from the power of many, but only when many come together to form that which is invincible ... the power of one.
That has always been my approach to leadership, activism and life.