Hayden Golden graduated from UMF in 2012 and has worked on three campaigns to legalize same-sex marriage.
What did you major in at UMF?
I majored in English and History, with a focus in early America. I think a lot of folks would balk at the thought of such focus at a liberal arts university, but I pride myself on being a geek about the arcane stuff you won’t even need at trivia night at the bar. The ability to dig deep on a particular subject is essential in the work I do now. I might not employ the Antinomian Controversy in my day-to-day life, but as someone who works with faith communities quite often, I understand the intricacies of religious doctrine and the nuances needed to appeal to particular audiences.
I know lots of people, especially parents, who want to see a direct line between major and profession and income. That’s completely understandable, but let’s remember that Einstein’s obscure paper “On the Stimulated Emission of Radiation” became the basis for what we know as lasers. Lasers. Decades before anyone conceived of what a laser was or could do! In general, I think those in the liberal arts are held to a higher standard of “what value does that have?” and my entire life after UMF has been about finding connections between what I learned as an undergraduate and what I can do and must do (as well as what I have accomplished) to create a more socially-just world. Is there a clear line from “History of Decolonization” to changing the course of history for LGBT people? Maybe not, but I’ve been a good citizen, not the highest earner, and that holds the most value for me.
Highlight one Honors class you took.
My favorite question! Transit South: Imagining Latin and South America, taught by Drs. Aguilar, Dearden, Hepler, Kellett, and Messier. I don’t know that I can express the profoundly life-changing effects the class had on me, in particular the guidance from Drs. Aguilar and Hepler, who taught me the value of searching over researching. Gaelyn gave me a copy of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed which opened my eyes and my heart to a new way of learning and gave me the tools to speak something I had been feeling for a long time—that almost every problem in the world is deeply-rooted in the past and to truly address them, we are compelled to have a dialogue in which all voices are valued.
I think everything I experienced was unexpected in a way, but this class literally changed the way I think about the world. It became a philosophy class in which my worldview was constantly challenged and confronted by the realities of people and places I simply didn’t understand. It gave me pause and continues to influence the way that I interact with and teach other people.
What did you write your thesis on?
My thesis is entitled “‘An Armed Band of the Lord’: Rethinking Religion and the Pequot War.” For the past thirty to forty years, scholars have been writing about the clash between early Americans and indigenous people in the context of materialism and a lust for resources. It’s certainly a nice change of pace from earlier scholars who swooned for the Puritans and considered their actions in the context of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism. I don’t want to dilute colonialism—in fact, I want to elevate it because it has such an overwhelming effect on people’s lives. In my thesis, however, I argued that even as we acknowledge greed as a key factor in the conquest of the Americas, we can’t overlook the power of religion to incite violence, in this case, to burn between 400 and 700 people alive.
I think the best part of the thesis is that I didn’t go searching for a topic. I took a lot of classes in American history and lit, including three or four with Sabine Klein. She never pushes students toward what she’s studying, but she had a profound impact on my decision to dig deep into this largely-overlooked conflict. I might not agree with the things I wrote three years ago, but I know that my thesis is fun and an interesting read because I didn’t write it out of obligation, but out of a need to answer real questions.
Tell us about the same-sex marriage campaigns you worked on.
I’ve worked on three marriage campaigns, in Maine, Rhode Island, and Ohio. I started out in Maine having persuasion conversations (trying to get people to move from opposed to supportive). Because I was raised Catholic, I was often talking to people of faith and becoming part of their journey to understand and accept LGBT people. I also had the amazing opportunity to represent the campaign to media. NPR, MPBN, and The LA Times all followed me around as I knocked on doors and talked to Mainers about same-sex marriage. In Rhode Island, I led a team in the legislative fight to pass marriage. Our program generated 65% of the contacts to legislators and had 15,000 one-on-one conversations with Rhode Islanders in about four months.
In Ohio, I worked as a member of the communications team, helping broaden the coalition to include institutions of higher education, faith communities, and unions and elevated key voices in the media. Put another way, I helped our supporters find their voice and tell their story about why marriage equality is important to them.
Continuing to work in the LGBT movement has been amazing; working on a campaign for four months is the equivalent of a year’s worth of work anywhere else. Not only are we pushing anti-discrimination protections in five states (with more to come) and several municipalities, our movement has begun to have real conversations about racial and gender justice. Marriage equality and those who work in the movement take a lot of heat from more radical folks in our community, but as we move forward, we can continue to build power and momentum in our communities and bring in the more marginalized folks among us, including trans and queer people of color, who were previously underrepresented. To see that kind of change is a stark reminder that ours is a movement and it is growing. It’s not to say that we eschew the measurable goals of campaigns (certainly not!), but rather that we remain tethered to our higher principles in pursuit of a better world.
How did you become interested in social work and activism?
I’ve been working in the LGBT and Labor Movements and in that time, I’ve been practicing social work—not in its contemporary sense—but in a more traditional sense of trying to build and empower communities. Most of the time, I feel like I’m on a one-person mission to broaden the definition of social work and take away its professional allure, which is, sadly, tied to having a particular degree (an MSW). For me, it comes from a place of seeing many people who are social workers who do little to change the existing system that disenfranchises so many people and there are others who, for instance, are overnight workers at a shelter and live on the front lines of injustice and human suffering.
How did your experience at UMF help prepare you for your future?
Most importantly, I think that UMF taught me that everyone needs time to nourish their mind and soul and that such practices don’t exist outside of ‘the real world.’ ‘The real world’ is where we find nourishment and discover ourselves and others. I have the immense privilege of extended periods of time off between work and I get to read, cook, paint, and go to three hour yoga classes, where I get to search inside myself. Not everyone gets that, but I think we should all take time to discover what brings us joy, if not to better our way of life, then at least to make us interesting people.