2009 V&A Award Recipients

Congratulations to our 2009 Voice & Action Award Receipients: Justin Hager (UW-Madison), Celso Perez (Boston College), and Shawna Scott (University of Georgia)!

Justin Hager
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Class of 2009
Major: History & Political Science  
Age: 22
Home: Madison, WI

“Receiving the National Voice and Action Award is one of the greatest honors of my life. It is an affirmation that my hard work and dedication to the LGBT rights movement has not gone un-noticed, thus fueling my drive and desire to continue the effort. More importantly however, the mere existence of this award gives me hope that change is being made and that young people are taking up the banner for LGBT Civil Rights. My hope as one of the first recipients of this award is that I might inspire others to continue the fight and achieve victories that will far overshadow my own..” ~ Justin Hager

Justin Hager is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin- Madison majoring in history and political science, expecting his Bachelor’s in May 2009.

Justin in his own words:
After five years, nine national events, dozens of local event, and hundreds of lives later, I am proud to apply for the Campus Pride Voice and Action National Leadership Award. It has been said that activism is not something a person chooses to do, but rather it is something that happens to you and becomes directly linked to your humanity. When thinking about the five years that have passed since coming out I have to believe that statement is true. What started more than five years ago as a tearful late-night argument with my mom over whether I could even have a future as a gay man, has since become the most integral part of my success as a student, as a leader, as an activist, and as a human being. Then I started this journey five years ago, my goal in life was to be a politician because I wanted power. Today my goal is to be a politician because I want to see change. Much of my early journey was far too typical, being a white, lower-class, Christian, male, conservative, from a rural Wisconsin town 200 miles north of anything who faced rejection upon coming out as gay. I was kicked out of a church I helped build, threatened and harassed at school, was removed from consideration for a $40,000 scholarship, and faced tough times with my born-again evangelical mother, all because I couldn’t live a lie. But, where my path diverges from the stories of so many others who came before me is in how I dealt with that rejection and dismissal.

Rather than going back in the closet, or becoming apathetic, or turning towards drugs and alcohol, as so many members of our community do, I decided it was time to get real and get busy creating the world I wanted to see. Five years later, I have successfully helped to lead six separate national actions and campaigns, more than 20 separate regional actions, events, and campaigns and have held leadership positions in more than a dozen separate social justice related organizations. I have traveled the country, spoken to crowds that have numbered in the thousands, and have even been arrested, all while fighting for the equality of LGBT people and other under-represented communities. All of this has been done while making Dean’s list at a major research institution and working an average an average of 20 hours per week including running my own business. What I have asked for in return is the opportunity to continue that fight, to maintain that dialogue, and be supported in that fight by the community around me.

Being recognized through the Voice and Action National Leadership Award is one opportunity for those requests to be honored. Not because of the money, the glory, or the recognition (although those things are appreciated) but rather because the support of my LGBT peers grants the legitimacy and strength of a united community behind a message of love, hope, peace, and action. One of the rewards for winning the Voice and Action Leadership Award is the opportunity to bring a national speaker to my campus. As a 5th year senior who has worked for, volunteered for, and served literally every LGBT organization, committee, and event on my campus, I cannot think of a more fitting reward for both myself and the community that has worked so hard to help me realize a part of my vision than to give one final gift, bring one final speaker and share one final story. I cannot think of a more fitting affirmation of the work I have done than the opportunity to continue that work on my campus, at MBLGTACC, and in my life in general.

In Justin’s words — What do you see as the role of a leader?
An important role of a leader is to help resolve conflict in a civil and productive manner that leads to valuable dialogue in order to ensure the groups longevity by ensuring its ability to evolve. This is where leaders are put under great pressure to be super-human because trying to be a leader and an organizer and ensuring that the needs of everyone around you are met can often lead to neglecting one-self. This leads to the most important and difficult role of a good leader, which is the ability to step back and allow others to lead. Whether it is as dramatic as seeking outside assistance to resolve conflict, or as important as needing to take a break, or as simple as recognizing the other people in the room with a vision and goals of their own and a desire to see that vision take flight, the single most important attribute of leader is their ability to inspire and then allow others to lead.

Campus Pride asked Justin to share the challenges he thinks Generation Q (LGBT and Ally Youth) will face or are currently facing in our movement to achieve fairness and equality.
The single greatest challenge facing the LGBTQA community however is our anger. We have every justifiable reason to be angry but if Gandhi, King, and even Dobson teach us only one thing it must be the recognition that anger and division creates more anger and division, love and peace creates more love and peace. When talking to a right wing Christian it is significantly more difficult for them to dismiss you if you are polite, calm, courteous, and loving, than it is if you are angry and attacking. There is nothing wrong with passion, but the line between passion and anger can be thin. That is not to say that being peaceful and calm is going to change someone’s mind immediately. But it is to say that being loving gives you a much better chance at engaging in a real conversation, at being recognized as a fellow human being who deserves respect, and at being recognized as someone who is morally and spiritually grounded and fulfilled.

Recommendations — What makes Justin a Leader?
Justin is the kind of young adult I hope to find in my line of work in directing the young adult activism for Soulforce; he deftly articulates discrimination and, instead of leaving it to be a battle for another day and another young person, he accepts the obligation to fight inequality himself. He is precisely the principled, morally astute person that I enjoy supporting and working with. Within hours of learning of the Right to Serve, he clearly saw that his voice was necessary. As someone who is a gay, conservative, Christian, and a man with a lifelong desire to serve his country, Justin selflessly took the risk in exposing and embracing his whole person by bringing friends, fellow students, and fraternity brothers to the action at the recruitment center. That is a boldness in authenticity that I admire and trust. I know Justin will not shy from the truth; rather, he will use it as a tool for change. ~ Haven Herrin, Soulforce Q Co-Director

Within minutes of meeting Justin Hager in late 2006, I knew I was in on a special relationship. It is not everyday that one meets “Caucasian Evangelical Republican fraternity-affiliated Midwesterners” who actively champion the cause of progressive social change. To this day, Justin challenges me to work beyond labels. He understands that a nurturing community is not created by-and-for people who share any one distinct characteristic. True communities thrive at the intersection of identities and his on-and-off campus involvement is an inspiring manifestation of commitment to diversity. ~ Alexey Bulokhov, Soulforce Q

Campus Pride is proud to recognize Justin Hager as one of the 2009 National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients. Congratulations!

Celso Javier Perez
Boston College
Class of 2009
Major: Biochemistry/Theology double major
Age: 22
Home: Santo Domingo, República Dominicana

“I’m very excited to be recognized by Campus Pride for my contributions to the Boston College community. It is very rewarding to have a national organization recognize one’s efforts and work. I’m both honored and humbled to be recognized among other three student leaders as recipients of the Voice & Action Award.” ~ Celso Javier Perez

Celso Perez is currently a senior at Boston College majoring in biochemistry and theology, expecting his Bachelor’s in Science in May 2009. Celso is specifically interested in the relationship between sexual morals and public health as it pertains to human rights and theological ethics.

At Boston College, he is part of the Presidential Scholars Program (PSP), a four year merit scholarship program that offers students an integrated academic experience by means of three summer programs as well as a weekly speaker series. Last year, he spent four weeks in France with the Presidential Scholars partaking in an intensive language and cultural immersion program. This past summer, Celso worked with the Program on International Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, thanks to a grant provided by the PSP.

In the summer of 2007, Celso traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to be a research assistant for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). There he identified relevant technical and policy resources for UNAIDS prevention website and summarized and classified key technical and policy documents for prevention website.

Currently, Celso is working on his undergraduate thesis. He will be writing on homosexuality and Catholic theological ethics. Specifically, he will be looking at Catholic social teaching on justice, human dignity, and the common good as a means for greater dialogue and understanding of homosexuality today.

In Celso’s words: What do you see as the role of a leader?
A leader’s role, broadly defined, is to engage others as to bring about a particular vision. More specifically, this role can be described as four basic responsibilities: to articulate or refine the mission of a group, to set goals to bring about this vision, to organize the group to meet these goals, and to oversee progress towards these goals. Additionally, a leader should provide cohesion, purpose, and drive in guiding other towards this vision. As the past U.S. electoral race indicated, perhaps one of the most sought after qualities in a leader is a sense of hope and possibility.

Campus Pride asked Celso to share the challenges he thinks Generation Q (LGBT and Ally Youth) will face or are currently facing in our movement to achieve fairness and equality.
I feel Generation Q faces in the U.S. at present are two. First, most of Christianity is still openly hostile to homosexuality, and at times fuels much of the hatred and lack of understanding for LGBT people. However, in U.S. history, religious movements have historically been the impetus behind many social movements: take the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and the movement against U.S. interventionism in Latin America in the 80s, just to name a few. Although religion is certainly not a requisite for social change, it is a powerful rallying cry and symbol which unites people in a common goal. Especially for prolonged struggles for rights of minority groups, such a symbol has been both a source of empathy with others and a source of support for those within the movement. Given the contemporary hostility of many religious traditions towards LGBT people, the LGBT movement has had to, and continues to struggle to find unifying themes and symbols for a protracted struggle for rights. Second, this struggle for a unifying identity in the LGBT movement is exacerbated by several factors including the range of people it represents (see just the acronym LGBT), the advent of post-modernity and people’s rejection of group identities, the number of competing interest groups in today’s pluralist society, and the relative novelty of the concept LGBT. Indeed, it seems that to people outside the movement, LGBT is simply a euphemism for sexual licentiousness. On both counts, it seems the major struggle facing the LGBT movement today is the lack of an identity that is easily packaged and sold.Being a leader there will times when the successes you are wanting to obtain will not always be reached. For this reason during the application process Campus Pride asked applicants to describe a time when you were unsuccessful at bringing about positive change and what you learned from this experience, below is Celso’s response.
One of our ongoing struggles at Boston College has been the inability to organize a ball for LGBT students. Although as a student organization we have regular social events, for historical reasons, certain administrators have repeatedly expressed reservations about having an LGBT student ball.

BC students first petitioned for an LGBT ball in the fall of 2005, but their proposal was rejected, due in part to a much publicized event at Brown University, which scared administrators into thinking that an LGBT dance at BC would degenerate into a night of public sexual revelry. In the spring of 2006, student leaders again petitioned for a ball, but due to hostile relationships with the administration at the time, it was once again cancelled. During my first term as president, I avoided the issue altogether, but this fall; we brought it up again, and are currently working with administrators towards a February date. We still don’t know if the event will take place.

From this experience I have learned two things: first, it is important to maintain good relationships with the administrators I work with in the university. Even though we don’t agree on many things, having established better relationships with certain administrators than previous generations has certainly made for a much smoother process. Second, harking back to an earlier point, breaking down stereotypes is often a process of repeated personal encounters. It has already happened twice that a particular administrator has expressed reservations about an event. However, upon attending said event, this person was surprised to find out things did not fare as she feared. In fact, she was quite pleased with the outcome both times.

The lessons that Celso learned from this experience is a lesson that takes some leaders years to learn and to fully understand. We can all learn something from Celso’s experience – caring about the relationships you develop with other and especially people who are in the position of make the decisions is key to creating positive change on campus and beyond.

Recommendations — What makes Celso a Leader?
It has been an honor over  the many student generations to have worked with a succession of committed and creative undergraduate leaders, many of whom have gone on to make a contribution to our community in a variety of professions. Celso Perez is however the first campus leader who we have felt deserves not just recognition within our university, but to be held up as a compelling model of a gay student activist particularly for other students who, like those at Boston college, are struggling to create a more inclusive and supportive campus environment on denominational college campuses that historically have been indifferent or hostile to their sexual minorities. It is a view I am happy to share with many of my fellow gay and lesbian faculty/staff colleagues. ~ John McDargh, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Theology

My colleagues and I agree that Celso’s ability to work with his fellow students, faculty members, advisors and senior administrators on various projects for students is a testament to his interpersonal skills and dedication as a servant leader. He is respected by his peers and all of the senior administrators he has worked with over his years at Boston College. ~ Mark J. Miceli, Assistant Dean of Student Development

Campus Pride is proud to recognize Celso Perez as one of the 2009 National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients. Congratulations!

Shawna Christine Scott
University of Georgia
Class of 2009
Major: Fine Arts: Ceramics
Age: 22
Home: Peachtree City, GA

“My first reaction on hearing that I was named as one of the recipients of the first-ever National Voice and Action Leadership Award was utter shock! I was stunned for about five minutes, and after that, I was emailing every person I knew to tell them the news! I was itching to call someone, but unfortunately I didn’t check my email until two in the morning, so I had to wait until the next day to talk to people in person. I was overwhelmed and humbled to be rewarded for helping LGBTQA people, instead of being admonished and persecuted by the people on my campus.” ~ Shawna Scott

Shawna Scott is currently a senior at University of Georgia, pursuing a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Ceramics in May 2009.

In her time at UGA, she has been involved all four years with the campus’ largest LGBTQA student organization, Lambda Alliance. In her role as a leader in Lambda Alliance, she has been involved with or directly lead the successful campaigns to add sexual orientation to the Non-Discrimination Anti-Harassment Policy, soft domestic partner benefits, create a streamlined and accessible bias-incident reporting system, and create a trans-inclusive organization. Shawna has traveled all over the country meeting the next generation of queer activists and learning from and working with them on initiatives and problems, as well as to lobby Senators for an inclusive ENDA and the Matthew Shepherd Act. She has reached out as a leader of her student organization to other people and organizations that share similar visions of a world without hate, bias, prejudice, and want.

At the same time, she does not want the momentum they have gained at UGA in the past four years to be lost when she leaves, and so she has taken great pains to provide other students with the knowledge and empowerment to be able to pick up the standard when she must move on. Shawna has always believed that no student is too young or unschooled to do something worthwhile and have great ideas, and that is the sense attitude she have always tried to bring to UGA’s campus community.

In Shawna’s words: What do you see as the role of a leader?
Any description or explication I could create can only define one facet of the heartbreaking, fulfilling, maddening, encouraging, life-altering truth that I have experienced as a leader. In what follows I attempt to capture a glimmer of that truth:

  • A leader is a chameleon—always changing their manner and their role to fit the current need, dynamically shifting and morphing from one position to the next with grace.
  • A leader is the one who knows all the esoteric rules (and laws and bureaucratic processes and policies…) that define what is and is not allowable according to society, and how to follow them all while still shaking up the system.
  • A leader will sacrifice. Sacrifice time, energy, ego and sometimes freedom and safety to make change in this world.
  • A leader is conscious that they are not the beginning or the end of this struggle, and plans and builds for the future while remembering the lessons of the past.
  • A leader makes mistakes—a lot of them. What makes their mistakes different from common ones is that they embrace their mistakes as opportunities to weed out the negative within themselves and are humbled by the chance to do so.
  • A leader can speak—to the media, to other activists, to administrators and gatekeepers, to allies, to partners in struggle, to those in need, to and for those who cannot speak for themselves—and also listen.
  • A leader can tease out the meaning behind the smiles and words of those who kill with kindness.
  • A leader knows how to pep others back up when spirits are flagging.
  • A leader is a target, a rallying point, and a force.

Campus Pride asked Shawna to share the challenges she thinks Generation Q (LGBT and Ally Youth) will face or are currently facing in our movement to achieve fairness and equality.
Currently the main challenges to Generation Q are building a cohesive movement, recognizing our social and historical context, and learning to work together without appropriating and exploiting the struggles and achievements of others. In recent news many people have given their opinions on Proposition 8 and marriage equality. There have been marches and protests and thousands of people have donated money, time, and mental health to promote the ideals of equal marriage rights. While I deeply respect the work that these activists are doing, I feel that it is the wrong focus. In my opinion, any action plan the queer community has should be based on those in our community who have the most pressing needs. In my humble opinion, the people who need the most protection and compassion right now are our transgender and transsexual brothers and sisters. Too often they have been lied to by this queer movement, betrayed, fired, and quite often killed. I looked around a room full of my friends the other day and realized that, statistically, at least one of them would probably be murdered because of their trans status in the next five to ten years. That, in my opinion, is the focus our activism should have taken.

This also brings me to the social and historical context. It is ironic to me that so many GLBT organizations are willing to divorce themselves from transgender people when, in reality, our trans members gave us our movement to begin with. From the screaming queens of the west coast to the Stonewall Riots in the East, our movement was begun by trans and gay people working together in solidarity. This is important context that often the younger generation is never told. We are never told about the great contributions to the Civil Rights movement of the sixties by an openly gay man, Bayard Rustin. We do not learn in school to be proud of a legacy of queerness, and that deprives us of our sense of place and location.

Being a leader there will times when the successes you are wanting to obtain will not always be reached. For this reason during the application process Campus Pride asked applicants to describe a time when you were unsuccessful at bringing about positive change and what you learned from this experience, below is Shawna’s response.
As an ally to the trans community, when I began Students Advocating Gender Awareness one of my main goals was to add gender identity and expression to UGA’s Non- Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy. As a gay activist, it had always seemed important to be included in policies like that. In this instance, though, I learned that my estimation of what another community needs is not an authoritative view. After trying several times to get people excited about and involved in this policy change, I finally started asking some of my trans friends what it is they would like to have and what it is they needed on campus.

I was shocked to find that many of them were far more concerned about other more everyday and mundane experiences than a musty old policy on a website somewhere, They told me horror stories of gendered bathrooms and of endless checkboxes on forms, not to mention legal diploma name changes and required first year on-campus housing with someone of their assigned sex, not their lived gender. It was then that I really realized that many times being an activist is not about taking action blindly for what you think is right, but instead sitting down and listening to the needs and desires of those you advocate for. While I didn’t end up spearheading the push to have gender identity and expression added to the policy, I did learn a valuable lesson about listening to the wants of those you represent, not just your perceived wants.

The lessons that Shawna learned from this experience is a lesson that takes some leaders years to learn and to fully understand. We can all learn something from Shawna’s experience – take the time to listen to those around you, you may just get a better understanding of the direction you need to take to achieve positive change on your campus and beyond.

Recommendations — What makes Shawna a Leader?
“I believe Shawna has used her voice to take action in so many ways. However, it is important to note that her voice has changed over time. Shawna is a strong and reflective student leader. She challenges others and herself. It has been a true gift to work with a student who knows exactly what to do, but challenges herself along the way. She demands excellence from herself and values feedback from others.

Shawna is a Renaissance woman. She is an activist, a student leader, a singer, artist, and so much more. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing person. It is for all these reasons and more that I write a letter of recommendation for Shawna Scott. I know she will continue to learn, lead and inspire others to do so.” ~ Michael Shutt, PhD. Director of LGBT Life & Asst. Dean for Campus Life

Campus Pride is proud to recognize Shawna Scott as one of the 2009 National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients. Congratulations!