Focusing on positive social impact drives results. We are in the most significant economic shift in history and must adapt to a new approach for our communities. As a military veteran who served our country, business professional, candidate for public office, and non-profit board officer, these unique experiences helped shape my views around the urgent need for building back our communities.
Ryan’s story starts in Connecticut. Ryan was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1982. Both his parents were born in upstate New York and married before moving to Connecticut. His father is a Navy veteran, and his mother was a nursing assistant. Ryan’s parents never finished college and always struggled from job to job. They both worked tirelessly with what they had, sometimes relying on public assistance just to put food on the table. Growing up, Ryan moved around a lot; And with no medical or dental insurance, his parents had to pay out of pocket for any issues that would come up. This put additional strain on the monthly household budget. Ryan’s mom had to scrub floors late at night to pay for one of his medications. During middle and high school, Ryan would mow lawns around the neighborhood to make some extra cash. The neighbors eventually named the business for him “Lawns by Ryan.” He would mow lawns in addition to his summer job on construction sites with his father. Ryan’s parents instilled the need to work hard from an early age. So, he did.
Ryan’s parents worked hard to provide their children opportunities—Ryan and his two younger siblings—that they didn’t have. Ryan’s experience growing up led to his passion for helping others. But he had something to reveal about himself and eventually did while cooking dinner one night. Ryan always knew he was different. He ultimately came out of the closet when living with his uncle in New Jersey after graduating high school. Between cooking hamburgers and the pressure of his uncle hinting around the topic, he finally just said it for the first time out loud “yes, I am gay!” It was that moment that released him from a lifelong stigma; until he joined the armed forces.
His interest in public service led to him joining the military. Ryan joined the United States Air Force as a Security Forces Enlisted Airman in 2003. Right after leaving his training station, he was shipped off to Edwards AFB, CA. From here, Ryan was sent to Iraq twice, where he was decorated with the Air Force Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Award with Valor, Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and many more. When deployed, and despite being subjected to dozens of rocket attacks, Ryan provided armed responses to hostile situations involving small arms fire and rocket attacks against the installation. Ryan remained vigilant and steadfast while posted as perimeter observation sentry following a rocket attack, which led to a mass fire and detonation in the Munitions Storage Area. Despite four hours of repeated explosions and flying shrapnel, he ensured the integrity of the installation perimeter.
Ryan left active duty in April of 2007. He packed up his blue Mazda and headed to the east coast. Ryan always had an independent and adventurous spirit. He met his partner of over 13 years, Ivan, in August of 2007. They hit it off and built a life together that is still going today. Ivan is a Colombian immigrant who came to our country when he was very young. Ryan understands the struggles our immigrant community goes through and fully supports DACA. Eventually, they adopted Munchkin, a Shih Tzu and Chihuahua mixed female dog. She helped Ryan through a lot of difficult struggles. The love and care she provided helped guide him through his mental health issues. A few years after they brought Munchkin into their home, they adopted another dog, Zeus! He was a feisty little Chihuahua boy. He and Munchkin didn’t get along at first, but they became inseparable after a few months. While living on the east coast, Ryan worked in the hospitality industry as a sales and executive assistant, grocery store inventory associate, and process service administration for a small firm. After several years of bouncing around to different jobs, the Department of Veterans Affairs put Ryan in vocational rehabilitation. He obtained his Bachelors in Paralegal Studies from Nova Southeastern University. After achieving this goal in 2012, Ryan and his partner Ivan got on the road with the two dogs and moved to Phoenix, AZ!
Ryan arrived in Phoenix, AZ, in April 2012. It was the same weekend Phoenix Pride was hosting their annual festival. Little did he know at the time that Phoenix Pride would eventually become a big part of his life and motivation to run for public office. Ryan has lived in the same home since moving to Phoenix. He loves the area, community, and location. While working at a big four consulting firm, Ryan was the Chair of three diversity groups: Veterans, Abilities in Motion, and Pride. He brought them back to life after years of being stagnant and raised thousands of dollars for charitable causes such as Autism Speaks, Phoenix Pride, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Special Olympics.
Ryan went back to school at Arizona State University Law School to achieve his master’s in legal studies. He always had a passion for education and leaped upon arrival to Phoenix for a graduate degree. After finishing in 2014, he took a break before going back to achieve his Doctorate in Business. After several years of working in various positions, Ryan joined the Phoenix Pride board of directors in 2017. Ryan served as the Chair, Education & Outreach for several years. He was responsible for managing the scholarship and community grants programs, which have awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to deserving students and non-profit organizations. He reformed both programs to make them more inclusive and known to members of the community. Ryan currently serves as the Vice President and Chair, Board Development & Strategic Planning. He recruits, trains, and prepares the annual strategic plan for the board of directors. He also serves on the Global Advisory Council of InterPride, furthering the mission to support our LGBTQ+ community globally. Ryan owns a small business called BlueFire Group, focused on community economic development and social responsibility consulting. Ryan is active with his local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post-720. Ryan also serves on the National Small Business Association (NSBA) Leadership Council, focused on helping small businesses with policymaking on a federal level.
In 2020, Ryan set up a first-of-its-kind scholarship in collaboration with Phoenix Pride to support veterans’ education. The Dr. Ryan A. Starzyk Veteran Pride Scholarship will be awarded to Arizona military veteran or active duty service members. Our future depends on students having the resources to succeed in college, and this is Ryan’s way to make sure it happens for our nation’s heroes.
Ryan has been a steadfast defender of voting rights, education reform, economic stability, and a fighter for our veterans. He was one of the first candidates ever to endorse marijuana legalization, citing economic opportunity and the disproportionate impact of drug laws on minority communities. He is a leading champion for progressive values. Ryan regularly hosts live sessions to share his experiences with students and other leaders. His teaching seeks to instill a deep belief in democracy and politics’ capacity to make communities more robust, more prosperous, and equal. His life has been about always doing the work, still seeing the people, and always bringing it home. Ryan believes in the people of our community. He also believes it is his duty as a military veteran to continue fighting to enact progressive policies we all benefit from.