Gabe Javier: Sharing stories to help others share their own

Oct. 11, 2011

by Susannah Brooks

Since arriving in August, Gabe Javier, assistant dean of students and director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Campus Center, has hit the ground running. With new students and a new location for the center just around the corner, he looks forward to finding common ground with people from across the spectrum of campus life.

Inside UW–Madison: You’ve spent the last seven years at the University of Michigan. What’s your impression of UW–Madison?

Gabe Javier: Students here have a sense of their agency, the potential power they have by being civically engaged. They have great investment in their local, regional and national communities. They’re not afraid to have their voice heard. It’s really empowering to work with students who themselves feel empowered to move towards action.

Gabe Javier (left), director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Campus Center, works in his office in the Memorial Union.

Photo: Bryce Richter

I’m always uplifted seeing how students make a space come alive. It’s valuable to follow what students want: programming things they’ll get invested in. That makes the job easier.

Administratively, I think there’s a lot of support at all levels. Folks from across campus are invested in the life of the LGBT community. It’s been very positive. They want to collaborate, be in fellowship, be called upon.

iUW: Could some areas use extra attention? 

GJ: We’re hoping to have more of a presence in the residence halls, working with our partners in Housing to make discussions around hate, bias and respect more present in everyday conversations.

It’s also important to make inroads towards becoming a strong co-curricular partner. I hope we can build more bridges to the curricular side: being invited to do workshops in classrooms and with faculty and student groups.

iUW: What drew you to this area of student services?

GJ: I originally started in sexual violence prevention, getting my feet wet with social justice and identity issues.

At Michigan, part of my job involved crisis and case management. One day, I visited a student who had been hospitalized for depression. As we talked, I realized that he was Filipino, raised Catholic in the Midwest, in a fraternity. Those are identities I have. Part of me wondered, “Could that have been me?”

It reminds me how much work we still have to do. The most powerful thing we can do is share our stories with other people to help them understand where we’re coming from. I work out of an empowerment model: helping people to see how they can celebrate their identities, foster their resilience.

I didn’t think this was what I’d be doing when I envisioned my life as a “grownup,” but I’m very happy to be doing it.

iUW: Activism can take a lot of energy. Are there days when you want to step back?

GJ: I think about activism along a continuum. If we think of this huge canvas of social justice or equality, even coloring in the littlest part of it makes an impact on the whole. At times, we’re called to make big brushstrokes; at other times, we make fine pencil marks. Both are valuable.

Things you do every single day can change someone’s life; it’s not just about banging on tables or holding a picket sign. Everyday activism is incredibly powerful.

iUW: How do you break down barriers — within the LGBT community and between other groups?

GJ: Trust is built on experience. In the Division of Student Life, we hope to provide opportunities to share those experiences. How do we talk across difference? It’s about telling your story, giving people the opportunity to show their full selves.

It’s still really hard to do.

There’s a third space: the space that you inhabit, the space that I inhabit, and the space we can inhabit together. We need to know that there’s a space for both of us to share, and the ability to then go back to our own homes.

iUW: What do you say to people who wonder, “What does this have to do with me?”

GJ: Most people, at this point, know someone who is lesbian or gay. That’s one starting point: You’re probably in contact with someone and may not know it.

But when we talk about being an ally to someone, it’s not just about LGBT people or people of color. It includes reaching out to people with differing abilities, international students, veterans, even first-year students.

LGBT people will always be at the forefront of the LGBT equality movement, but allies are an incredibly important part of that machine. At some point, just based on numbers, we will need the support of our straight friends and family.

We want to reach out to populations that aren’t often thought of as allies: athletes who want to be allies, fraternities and sororities, people in ROTC programs who want to be allies. We want to make that easy for them.

The ways we are allies and good friends to people are universal. There’s a lot we can learn. That’s how I got my start.