TJ Williams and Brad Hauger
By Jon Roth
TJ Williams and Brad Hauger first met in 2003 at an HRC Gala in Chicago. Brad was working an auction, and TJ had crashed the party. They spoke and felt an instant connection, but wouldn’t see each other until the following year at the Chicago Pride Parade. Brad says “TJ was there on a float, waving.” “I was sitting on my own throne on a float,” TJ adds. They took a walk along Lake Michigan, getting to know one another better, and parted ways. A year later, TJ had just returned from the United Church of Christ General Synod, where there had been much discussion on the topic of marriage equality. TJ was an active participant in those conversations, and came back to Chicago happy knowing that the UCC had ultimately endorsed the marriage of same-sex couples.
He called Brad and set up their first real date.
Over time their relationship grew deeper. They moved in together, and eventually joined the Riverside Church, a place of worship in Manhattan committed to serving people of all kinds, regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation. TJ began studying at the nearby New York Theological Seminary, and for him, Riverside was a perfect fit. Brad was more hesitant, but says that TJ helped “pull him back into the fold.” It didn’t hurt that Riverside includes a special ministry, Maranatha, dedicated to promoting equity for LGBTQ people.
In 2008, Brad decided to propose. TJ accepted and the two of them exchanged rings. “There was a lot going on then,” says TJ. “It was the start of the recession, the presidential election was coming up…” To the two of them, it seemed like a moment pregnant with opportunity.
They started planning the wedding before marriage equality was even legal in New York state. While the status of their upcoming union was uncertain, the location wasn’t. They would be married at Riverside. “I just thought to myself, this is a church I can’t get kicked out of,” TJ explains.
The wedding, held on Sunday, October 30, was both a celebration of their union, and the greater unity they hope to see between the LGBT and African American communities. The couple processed hand-in-hand – TJ beaming, Brad staying more stoic. After Reverend Dr. Arnold Thomas, the officiant for the ceremony, gave his opening remarks, three speakers went to the podium to discuss the importance of unity between communities as our country moves forward.