- Age: 28
- Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
- Alma Mater: J.D. University of California Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, CA
- Alma Mater: Communications Director for California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto
Justin co-chairs the National OUT and Greek conference in 2008, participated in Camp Pride in 2009, and has represented Campus Pride at conferences across the country in the past five years. Now, he works for California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto. We asked Justin to reflect on his experiences with Campus Pride and how they’ve affected his life and work since. Below are his responses.
When did you first become involved with Campus Pride and what do you recall about your experience?
My very first experience with Campus Pride was reading Shane Windmeyer’s book Out on Fraternity Row. The stories in the book spoke to me in a very personal way and I knew immediately that Shane was an individual I wanted to meet and Campus Pride was an organization I wanted to be involved in.
Several weeks later I had the opportunity to meet Shane at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Creating Change Conference. Shane instantly recognized my enthusiasm and passion for LGBT equality and social justice and in a act of faith that I have never seen repeated he asked me to become involved, right then and there. The trust he demonstrated in me, and the empowerment I felt as a young person was palpable, and it has defined much of my philosophy towards youth engagement moving forward.
Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with Campus Pride.
Campus Pride provided me with the single most powerful and transformative moment of my life thus far. Shane and the Campus Pride team nominated me to attend the first ever LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House in June of 2011. As I stood under the seal of the President of the United States in the main gallery I suddenly knew the privilege I had to have a supportive family and incredible sources of support like Campus Pride. As a first-generation child born to uneducated, low-income parents, and raised in rural Northern Wisconsin, I never believed it could have been possible to be standing in the White House, being recognized for my contributions to the struggle for LGBT equality. Yet with the support (and occasional symbolic slap) of Campus Pride and its incredible volunteers, I had achieved dreams I never thought possible. The strive to achieve those dreams continues today because of the lessons Campus Pride taught me.
Describe what you are doing today with your professional life and how Campus Pride helped to prepare you?
Today I hold a Juris Doctor from the University of California Hastings College of the Law and serve as the Press Secretary and Communications Director for California Assemblyman Mike Gatto. I am responsible for all written word coming out of the Assemblyman’s office, and given his role as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and former Assistant Speaker Pro-Tempore, the volume of written communication is immense. I am also responsible for representing him at numerous events and at numerous organizational meetings.
From a skills perspective, Campus Pride equipped me with many of the tools needed to succeed in my job, whether it was the training they and GLAAD provided on how to effectively communicate with the media and press or the event organizing and public speaking skills that I learned through my role in the National Out and Greek Conference, many of the daily skills I use originated or were enhanced by my experiences with Campus Pride.
More important to me however is the confidence that Campus Pride has given me as leader and advocate. Much of my job focuses on relationship building and being able to effectively communicate with both confidence and professionalism, and without fear or reluctance. Campus Pride has given me the confidence I need to command the attention of a room of dignitaries, and to not only provide a positive impression of my boss, but also of me as an individual. Ultimately making me a better advocate for all marginalized communities.
How did Campus Pride impact you and your individual growth as a leader?
The most important impact Campus Pride had on my growth as a leader was in teaching me what it means to actually be a leader. Prior to my encounters with Campus Pride, I believed that being a leader meant being at the center of all things, and being in charge of a movement. Campus Pride taught me that a true leader not only inspires people to follow, but also inspires people to go out and be leaders themselves. For me, this has led to a new approach to leadership that focuses more on education and empowerment than on simply being the loudest or most convincing voice in the room. I currently volunteer at a youth center helping at-risk youth to find their voice, and use that voice to create positive change in their own communities. Without Campus Pride I wouldn’t have the skills or the understanding to accomplish that goal.
What value do you feel Campus Pride brings to LGBTQ and Ally young adult leaders?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Empowerment. Many organizations host events FOR youth, many organizations host workshops to educate youth, many organizations believe in a cause that supports youth. Campus Pride is the only LGBTQ organization that equips youth with the tools they need and the confidence to believe that they can organize and host events themselves, lead workshops to educate themselves and their peers, and lead other youth in the fight for youth. Campus Pride empowers young adult leaders to believe that their voice matters.
How does Campus Pride still provide enrichment to your life today and what you do professionally?
As I previously mentioned, Campus Pride informs my work with at-risk high school students regularly. The skills I learned with Campus Pride also continue to inform my professional life on a daily basis, to the extent that I actually keep a page of notes from one of the workshops I attended with Campus Pride framed on the wall next to my desk, as a reminder of the many voices that often occupy the same space and deserve to be heard.
What advice do you have for those involved in Campus Pride or for those who want to become more involved?
If you have an idea for how to create change on your campus or in your community, never be afraid to ask Campus Pride for support in terms of training and guidance. Similarly, if Campus Pride is working on a project that you want to be involved in, never be afraid to ask how you can get involved. As an organization that truly believes in empowering youth, they will find ways for you to make valuable contributions that also help you grow as a leader.
What’s next for you in your personal and, or professional goals?
I’m unsure what direction my life will take me next. But thanks to Campus Pride, I know that I will equipped with the skills, tools, confidence, and support to accomplish anything.
Possibilities that I’m considering right now include running for political office myself, or travelling to states / countries where violations of LGBT rights are occurring and working to help organize local leaders within those communities ton realize change and justice.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.