Trendsetter to Know: Elena Joy Thurston

Name: Elena Joy Thurston

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Age: 41

Title: Founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation and Inspirational Speaker

Kids: 4

City you live in: Queen Creek

A typical day in my life includes…   

I gave up on “typical” a long time ago! What a normal day to me includes 1-3 podcast and media interviews, exchanging emails with my book agent, writing articles, creating products for the Pride and Joy Foundation, practicing my next keynote talk, interspersed with driving a kid to horse lessons, teaching the teenager how to drive, and ordering Instacart because the fridge is empty. Again. 

I was born…

in Yuma, we moved to Litchfield Park while I was in preschool. My earliest memories are from growing up on the west side of the Valley. My family lived in Sedona through high school. The nearest high school was in Cottonwood, so I graduated from Mingus Union HS. Then I went off to Arizona State. 

My favorite thing about Arizona… 

well, I’m a fly fisher so I love Arizona’s diversity! I love that one day I can fish for bass and carp here in the Valley and the next day I can be chasing trout in the mountain streams. The day after that I can be in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a truly world class fishing destination. All in the same state!

I’m listening to… 

podcasts: Coming Out Pod, Reply All, Unlocking Us. Music: Dorothy, Hayley Kiyoko, Selena Gomez, the Kongoes, the list goes on and on.

My family…

includes my partner Kristen, my 17 year old son, his 18 year old best friend, my 16 year old son, my 12 year old daughter, and another 9 year old daughter. Plus my ex-husband and his partner and her four kids. We live in the same neighborhood so we’re neighbors too!

If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be… 

hmmmmm. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Or Shonda Rhimes. Can I have both?  That would be an AMAZING conversation. I pick both.

One thing I cannot live without… 

my fishing trips. I have a spot in the White Mountains I can go when life becomes overwhelming. I leave my house and blare the music through the desert. Two hours later, I’m in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. I can stand in the river and not see another soul and the only sound is the water and the wind in the tall trees. It is just paradise to me. 

When I was younger, I wanted to be…  A hotshot lawyer, and then President of the United States. 

I’m inspired by… 

Brene Brown. She’s an amazing researcher and writer. She can also deliver life-changing talks, and now we know she’s also a gifted interviewer. Not to mention, she’s a mom and a partner and frankly, an icon. She does it all with incredible vulnerability and authenticity.  She inspires me consistently.

The one person who motivates me is… 

Past Me and Future Me motivate me more than anything else. Past Me reminds me how far I’ve come which inspires future growth, and Future Me is constantly pointing out where I can kill it even more. 

If I could change anything in the world, it would be… 

I would change the fact that entire populations are marginalized. I would want everyone to know the true depth of their own value, which would lead them to recognize the value of every single other person. 

The perfect day would be… 

I dream of doing a fly-in fishing trip in Alaska. The perfect day would be waking up in a lodge in Alaska, climbing onto a plane and being dropped off for the day in the middle of nowhere. All I need is my rod, my girlfriend, my fly box, and a camera so I can remember the whole day. 

My first job was… 

making lattes at little coffee shop in Sedona, AZ before coffee was cool. I was 13 years old and thought I was the coolest teenager ever, serving espresso and lattes to the Sedona hippie crowd.

My favorite escape… 

meditation. For reals. It doesn’t require any planning or packing or driving with kids. Just fifteen minutes and my breath. 

My life… 

my life has completely changed in the last few years.  Just four years ago, I was a stay at home mom, a trophy wife, a devout member of a high demand religion, and living the quintessential white picket fence life in Gilbert. Today I am an out and proud lesbian, a survivor of conversion therapy, a TEDx speaker, and a well-known activist. My life is bigger and more joyous than I could have ever imagined.

I’m currently working on… 

I am launching my non-profit, the Pride and Joy Foundation. We are dedicated to building self-awareness and safety for LGBTQ families and their allies. We have an online community for discussion and support, as well as have products to develop self-awareness in a really accessible way. 

The night I came out to my four children was the scariest night of my life. I had raised them to believe that homosexuality was sinful, and here I had to let them know that I now directly conflicted with that.  Amazingly, my kids and I are still able to have a great relationship but what really helps is when we find other LGBTQ families. It helps them feel way more common. Living in the East Valley, we didn’t have a lot of families to look to. 

Then I realized we had all these straight parents who are striving to understand and connect with their LGBTQ children. They want to say all the right words, but they don’t know them.  At the same time, we have families that want to be strong allies. This is a new part of parenting and the way feels unsure but it definitely feels important. The foundation works to support all of these facets with tools to build self-awareness and community. 

Always… 

observe without judgement. 

Never… 

assume it’s about you. It’s almost never about you. 

Favorite Quote…  

“True happiness is the absence of the search for happiness.” – Peter Crone

Biggest Dream… 

a kid comes out to his Dad. His Dad goes to work the next day and tells his buddy. He’s distressed because he loves his kid and he knows it’s hard to be a gay man in America. How does he best support his child whom he loves so much? His buddy says, “Whatever you do, don’t try conversion therapy.  Don’t try to ‘fix’ him. You guys can do therapy, that’s probably a good idea. But that conversion stuff, it’ll kill him. Everyone knows that.”

In fact, maybe my dream is that all parents and spouses and religious leaders understand how conversion therapy damages our community and our loved ones. Because of that understanding, the entire industry of conversion therapy doesn’t exist. 

My Pet Peeve(s)… 

loose teeth. I really struggle those years with kids losing teeth all the time. I am really not a great Tooth Fairy. You know how they breathe fast and suck a loose tooth in and out? Yeah, that’s the stuff of nightmares for me.

More about Elena…

Elena Joy Thurston is an inspirational speaker and founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation. She grew up in a turbulent home, joined a conservative church as a teenager, put herself through college, married, birthed 4 beautiful children, and then…

Life 2.0 brought a divorce, getting kicked out of her church, a beautiful love story, and a successful new career! Her viral TEDx talk has paved the way for speaking engagements around the country. Audiences have included ABC, CBS and Fox news stations, the First Event in Boston, the Seacoast Wellness Series in New Hampshire, the THRIVE conference in Utah, as well as multiple print and online media stories, and podcasts.



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