The Change Maker

by | Jul 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Kaleb Hawj is a first-generation born Hmong American. He is a transgender man who was raised in Madison. At the age of three, Kaleb was already familiar with the feeling of injustice. He recalls helping his grandmother navigate the south side of Madison and witnessed her being mistreated for not knowing English and mocked for being poor. He knew then that he wanted to change society.

A decade ago, Kaleb attended Freedom Inc.’s youth program, and began to understand how institutions marginalized poor LGBTQI+ people of color. It set a spark in him to attend every protest, community event, and leadership opportunity. Through Freedom Inc.’s leadership pathway, he was able to go from being a victim of violence to a survivor, to becoming an advocate for himself and others.

Today Kaleb is a prominent leader in the Hmong Queer Liberation work and is the Queer Justice Manager at Freedom Inc. where he builds Black and Southeast Asian Queer power by providing radial direct services and leadership development. With Kaleb’s extensive background in providing radical direct services to victims of violence, he has been able to train more than 100 service providers and community members to effectively work with Hmong LGBTQI+ victims of intimate partner and family violence.

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The most rewarding part of his work is creating change here in Wisconsin. Kaleb wants to make Wisconsin feel more like a home to Southeast Asian Queer folks. Within the state of Wisconsin, Kaleb continues to play an essential role in the development and training of culturally specific trans services, as well as helping to shape the climate of acceptance for Hmong trans victims. He has mentored and supported numerous queer Southeast Asian people of all ages and their families in finding confidence, affirming language, and community.

Kaleb’s influence and work goes beyond Wisconsin. In 2020, Kaleb was a member of the leadership planning committee for the LGBTQ Defund the Police summit, and in 2016 he  co-coordinated the US Hmong Queer Contingent to attend the Hmong Women’s Global Summit in Thailand. Kaleb understands that making the connections of local, national, and global work is essential for queer liberation to come to fruition.

Outside of work, Kaleb enjoys time with loved ones. He stays true to his values in the way that he has been able to build deep relationships with friends and family. Community building and healing is never just a 9–5 job for him, he practices it everywhere and loves the opportunity to grow himself and his network of friends, family, and comrades. Engaging with the community is what feels good for him. He believes that having a relationship with his people and the community is the key to building a better world.


2023 Pride in Color

The ChampionChris Allen is President and CEO of Diverse & Resilient where he continues his vision and advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and health equity.

The Change MakerKaleb Hawj is a prominent trans leader in the Hmong Queer Feminist Movement and is shaping the way the Hmong community protects, celebrates, and loves Hmong LGBTQI+ people.

The Community OrganizerJennifer Morales brings creativity and queer culture to rural life while making real change at the policy level for queer families nationwide.

The Role ModelSteph Tai is trying to help fight the fight against climate change.

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