Meet Justin Hager, the UW–Madison senior who’s combining faith and activism.
Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?
I was raised in Superior, WI but being a senior at UW–Madison I now consider Madison my home. My parents are the most important thing in my life. They taught me how to truly love all people and instilled in me a love for justice and equality. Most importantly, they’ve always supported me in everything I’ve wanted to do—like opening my own DJ’ing company or starting a Gay-Straight Alliance in a rural Wisconsin high-school.
How did you get involved in Social Justice Activism?
In high school I was kicked out of my church for being gay, so I decided to start a GSA. Then in college I was asked by my friend Derek to participate in the Soulforce “Right to Serve Campaign” protesting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
What is Soulforce?
Soulforce (www.Soulforce.org) is a national organization committed to creating freedom for LGBT people from religious and political oppression through nonviolent resistance. Soulforce puts on a number of campaigns and events to combat religious violence including the Equality Ride, a two month cross country journey of young adults visiting college campuses that openly discriminate against LGBT students.
What was the experience like on the Equality Ride?
The Equality Ride (www.EqualityRide.com) was a life-changing experience. The conversations I had were amazing because I was really able to connect on a personal level with people who had never known an openly gay person. Sometimes it was scary. We would receive death threats, be shut out of schools, get arrested or the bus would get spray painted. Yet, opening people’s eyes to the love and passion I have as a gay man of faith was amazing. Love is a powerful tool, one I believe is not used enough by many activists.
What was it like getting arrested?
It’s difficult and empowering. I hoped that I wouldn’t be arrested, especially when all I wanted to do was have a conversation. Ultimately, the message of hope, love and reconciliation was too important to be silenced.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
This November I’ll be serving as the co-chair for the first ever national LGBT Fraternity and Sorority Conference (www.lambda10.org) and am working to create a new “Soulforce Students” student organization for LGBT students of faith. In two years I hope to attend law school and would ultimately like to enter politics, creating change from within the system. Until then, I will continue to be a “big gay DJ” to those in need of loud music, flashing lights, and dancing.