Humans of NAU: Zane Jacobs

Zane Jacobs headshot

Zane Jacobs has known since he was a child that he wanted a career that helped people. That desire has driven him not only to his job as a senior administrative services assistant at the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) but also to his work with the Northern Arizona Pride Association, of which he is now president. Learn about how his identities intersect, what he’s proud of and how you can participate in Pride in the Pines, which takes place on Saturday. 

What brought you to NAU? 

As a Flagstaff local, I have always aspired to work at Northern Arizona University. When the opportunity arose to join the NAU family, I eagerly seized it. Working at NAU has allowed me to apply my expertise in event planning and nonprofit work to my role at ITEP. ITEP’s mission to “strengthen tribal capacity and sovereignty in environmental and natural resource management through culturally relevant education, research, partnerships and policy-based services” deeply resonates with me. As an Indigenous person, contributing to this department is incredibly meaningful and fulfilling.  

Tell me about a day in the life of your job. 

While my mornings might not start with rainbows and glitter, each day at my job is an adventure filled with purpose and passion. I either ride my bike to work, enjoying the fresh Flagstaff air, or use the ecoPASS that NAU provides, reflecting the university’s commitment to sustainability. Arriving at the Butler Office Building, I’m greeted by my ITEP team, who have become my second family. My day is a blend of dynamic activities: I diligently manage emails, coordinate travel for my teammates, collaborate closely with the NAU service team and meticulously plan the logistics for the various impactful conferences that ITEP hosts. Each task, no matter how routine, contributes to our mission of empowering tribal environmental professionals and strengthens my connection to our community and cause.  

How and why did you get involved in Flagstaff Pride? Zane Jacobs with a woman in traditional tribal regalia

I have been a proud member of the Pride family for 17 years, starting as a volunteer and gradually advancing to roles such as volunteer coordinator, board member, vice president and now president of the Northern Arizona Pride Association. Flagstaff Pride is an organization deeply committed to celebrating diversity, fostering inclusivity and honoring Indigenous communities. 

Under my leadership as president and with the collaborative efforts of the Flagstaff Pride Board of Directors, we have made significant strides in elevating Indigenous voices and cultures. My passion has always been to give back to BIPOC communities and amplify their voices in our mountain town. Flagstaff Pride has provided me with the platform to fulfill this passion and make a meaningful impact. The opportunity to lead and contribute to such a vibrant, inclusive and transformative organization has been truly inspiring and fulfilling. 

Do you have a favorite Pride Month tradition/memory/way to celebrate?  

Pride is about equality, inclusion and celebration, but we can’t forget why Pride Month exists. LGBTQ Pride Month traces its roots back to the 1969 Stonewall riots, which began on June 28, 1969, led by drag queens and trans people of color. The first Pride marches started the following year, on June 28, 1970, to commemorate the multi-day riots. These one-day celebrations eventually evolved into a full month of LGBTQ pride. It’s essential to share this history to recognize how far we’ve come and the continued strides we still need to make. 

One of my favorite Pride Month traditions is organizing our festival, Pride in the Pines. We started 28 years ago as a small picnic under a ramada at Fort Tuthill, with no more than 50 people. Today, we’ve grown into one of northern Arizona’s largest festivals, attracting thousands of attendees, and the overwhelming support from the community is heartwarming. I celebrate by watching our community come together in joy and solidarity. 

One of my most cherished memories was just last year when we hosted our first Flagstaff Pride Parade. This milestone was made possible by the hard work of our board and a grant that allowed us to organize the parade without charging for any entries. Watching the parade unfold was incredibly emotional for me. Seeing the entire community come together to celebrate inclusivity and acceptance was wonderful. I am thrilled about our second annual parade on June 15 and can’t wait to see the magic of our community coming together once again! 

Zane Jacobs at the Grand CanyonWhere do you see intersection between your identity as a gay man and a Native American man?  

As a gay Native American man, I experience a unique intersection of identities that shape my perspective and approach to life. Both aspects of my identity come with rich cultural histories and, unfortunately, histories of marginalization and resilience. This intersection allows me to draw strength from both communities and work toward fostering greater understanding and inclusivity. 

In my Native American heritage, community and connection to the land are fundamental values. These values resonate deeply with the LGBTQ+ community’s emphasis on support, acceptance and pride. As someone who embodies both identities, I feel a profound responsibility to honor and advocate for the rights and recognition of all marginalized groups. 

This intersection has also influenced my involvement with Flagstaff Pride and my work with ITEP. It enables me to bring a diverse perspective to my roles, advocating for inclusive spaces that celebrate all forms of identity. Whether through organizing Pride events that highlight Indigenous voices or promoting sustainable practices within Native communities, I strive to bridge these identities in meaningful ways. 

Ultimately, being both a gay and Native American man enriches my life with a tapestry of cultural pride, resilience and a commitment to social justice. It drives me to build bridges between communities, celebrate diversity, and work towards a more inclusive and equitable world for everyone. 

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.   

I grew up navigating two distinct worlds, each rich with its own traditions and values. On my mother’s Diné side, I was raised with the warmth of homemade fry bread and commodity cheese, deeply immersed in the cultural practices and close-knit community of my Diné heritage. In contrast, my father’s side offered a life of privilege, with drivers, housekeepers and lavish parties. Experiencing these two extremes has profoundly shaped who I am today. 

These contrasting experiences instilled in me a deep appreciation for the diversity of life and the importance of understanding and respecting different backgrounds. From my Diné roots, I learned the value of community, resilience and cultural pride. From my father’s side, I gained a perspective on privilege and the responsibilities that come with it. Together, these influences have taught me the importance of empathy, adaptability and the ability to bridge different worlds. 

Growing up with both sides has made me who I am today—a person who values cultural heritage and community while also understanding the nuances of privilege and opportunity. This duality drives my passion for creating inclusive spaces and advocating for social justice, as I strive to honor both aspects of my upbringing in everything I do.  

Zane Jacobs with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren and First Lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren.
Zane Jacobs with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren and First Lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  

When I was a child, I didn’t have a specific dream of becoming anyone or anything in particular. What I did know, with unwavering certainty, was that I was meant to help people. This calling has guided me throughout my life and has been the cornerstone of my journey. 

Most of my adult life has been dedicated to serving others through various nonprofit organizations. From supporting Jerry’s Kids Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Cancer Society to working locally with The Shadows Foundation and now Flagstaff Pride, my passion for making a positive impact has always been at the forefront. 

Each of these roles has allowed me to contribute to meaningful causes and support communities in need. My desire to help others has been a driving force, inspiring me to continuously seek ways to uplift and empower those around me. This commitment to service has shaped who I am today and fuels my ongoing dedication to creating a more inclusive and compassionate world. 

What have you been most proud of recently?  

Recently, I am incredibly proud of the achievements we’ve made with our board of directors, especially in preparation for this year’s Pride in the Pines festival. We are introducing two significant additions that reflect our commitment to inclusivity and community support. 

Firstly, we are excited to debut our first sober area, dedicated to those who seek a sober experience. This space will feature mocktails and provide support through Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, ensuring everyone can celebrate Pride in a way that feels right for them. 

Secondly, we are launching our first Indigenous Market, where Indigenous artists and vendors will have the opportunity to showcase and sell their unique goods. This initiative not only supports local Indigenous businesses but also highlights the rich cultural heritage of our community. 

These initiatives represent our ongoing efforts to create a more inclusive, supportive and diverse environment at Pride in the Pines. Seeing these plans come to fruition fills me with immense pride and excitement for the future.  

Zane Jacobs with Vice President Kamala HarrisWhat is your favorite way to spend a day off?      

My favorite way to spend a day off is surrounded by my family, particularly my nephews and niece. Being together fills my heart with joy and reminds me of the importance of cherishing these precious moments. 

Flagstaff offers endless opportunities for adventure and connection, and I love exploring all it has to offer. From hiking our sacred mountain to immersing ourselves in the vibrant art markets and festivals, every moment spent in this beautiful city is a treasure. 

But what truly makes these days off special is the sense of community that envelops us. Whether we’re socializing with neighbors, supporting local businesses or simply enjoying each other’s company, there’s a magic in the air that uplifts and inspires us. 

These days remind me of the beauty of life and the importance of embracing every moment with loved ones and our community. They rejuvenate my spirit and leave me feeling grateful for the abundance of joy and connection that surrounds me.  

What are three things on your bucket list?       

As someone deeply committed to giving back to the community, my bucket list reflects my passion for creating positive change and fostering inclusivity: 

  1. 1. Build a resource center for LGBTQIA2S+ community in Flagstaff: One of my dreams is to establish a dedicated resource center that serves as a safe haven and support hub for the LGBTQIA2S+ community in Flagstaff. This center would provide essential resources, support services and a welcoming space for individuals of all identities to thrive and flourish. 
  2. Bring a progressive rainbow crosswalk to downtown Flagstaff: I envision a vibrant and inclusive downtown Flagstaff adorned with a progressive rainbow crosswalk, symbolizing our city’s commitment to diversity and acceptance. This iconic landmark would not only enhance visibility but also serve as a powerful statement of solidarity and unity within our community.
  3. 3. Fulfill my promise to BIPOC communities: My ultimate goal is to fulfill my promise to the BIPOC communities of northern Arizona by championing equality, inclusion and visibility. I am dedicated to creating opportunities, advocating for justice and amplifying marginalized voices to ensure that every individual feels seen, heard and valued. 

These aspirations reflect my unwavering dedication to making a meaningful and lasting impact on the world around me. By pursuing these goals, I hope to inspire positive change, foster greater understanding and create a more inclusive and equitable future for all. 



NAU Communications