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ASU alum strives for inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students

As a teen, Jay Franzen battled pressures of being gay; today, he lobbies for a license plate celebrating equality

January 12, 2024
Portrait of man with beard and painted nails making peace sign

Jay Franzen is using his two degrees from Arizona State University to advance equality for a population he knows well.

Franzen, a student services analyst at Paradise Valley Community College, is an officer of Equality Maricopa, a resource group that works for more inclusivity within the Maricopa County Community College District — one of the nation’s largest such districts.

The group of faculty and staff volunteers have proposed numerous policy changes to promote inclusivity and helped create what its members hope will be the state’s first LGBTQ+ license plate.

Franzen’s life today is quite different than his teenage years, when he dropped out of high school due to social pressures of being gay.

“Grade school was not a pleasant place for young queer folks during the 1980s and ‘90s,” Franzen said.

Shortly after dropping out, Franzen earned a general educational development (GED) certificate. Eventually he envisioned a future through higher education.

“In 2011 I returned to college; first at Glendale Community College and then on to ASU,” he said. “I am a first-generation, nontraditional, transfer student.” 

Franzen earned a Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy from ASU in May 2019, remaining at ASU to earn a Master of Public Administration in December 2020. Both degrees are from the School of Public Affairs, in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. He’s now thinking of pursuing a doctoral degree.

In his job at Paradise Valley Community College, he advises a cohort of more than 500 computer and information technology students.

He’s also co-advisor to the college’s PRIDE Club, an adjunct instructor for FYE (First Year Experience) 101 and 103 courses and president-elect of Equality Maricopa, which assists LGBTQ+ students.

“Equality Maricopa is a staff and faculty group of volunteers. We have advocated for a more inclusive community by helping to facilitate a districtwide preferred name change policy, an all-gender restroom policy and what we hope will be Arizona’s first LGBTQIA+ specialty auto license plate,” Franzen said.

House Bill 2298, which would establish a “community college equality special plate,” was introduced in the current session of the Arizona Legislature. Franzen appeared on local television morning news to promote the effort.

Through fundraising, Equality Maricopa collected a state-required $32,000 implementation fee. Upon legislative approval, the money will be refunded if at least $32,000 is earned from auto registrations with the plate, according to the bill.

In 2021 Franzen’s group started the PRISM Scholarship Fund, which serves LGBTQ+ students.

“We received over 90 applications in its inaugural round and were only able to award two scholarships,” he said.

Proceeds from the license plate would go to scholarships for LGBTQ+ students, according to the bill.

Read on to learn more about Franzen’s ASU and career journey.

Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Tell us a little about yourself today and your early years. Where are you from?

Answer: Today, I am happily married and proud dog father to six adorable fur babies. I am an accomplished cook and baker. I enjoy keeping up with technology, traveling and spending time with friends and family. I volunteer frequently with Equality Maricopa to ensure our LGBTQIA+ students have the resources they need to be successful in Maricopa Community Colleges.

I am originally from Montana. We moved to Phoenix when I was 5, back in 1979. I have lived in Arizona for most of my life.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: It was in Sociology 101; when we went over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It really resonated with me. I reflected on my own life and the mistakes that I made and how I could give back to society. I began to explore majors where I could continue the work (academic advising) that I was doing while achieving self-actualization. Public service and public policy fit with a majority of courses that I had already taken. 

Q: Think of a professor who taught you the most important lesson while at ASU. Who and what was it? Are you still in touch with that professor?

A: Akheil Singla, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs. He taught us to be accountable for your actions. Yes, we are in touch.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Don’t take things too seriously. There is always going to be someone smarter than you. Do your best and it will all work out.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Ask questions and find a study buddy or group.

Q: Who are your top three favorite music artists right now?     

A:  Lady Gaga, Selena, Dua Lipa.

Q: What is your life motto — in one sentence?

A:  The answer is always no, unless you ask.

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