Chicago couple turns summer New York wedding into a cross-country pilgrimage

Wed. May 12, 2010 12:00 AM by Amy Wooten

brad hauger and tj williams

Chicago, IL - Most grooms-to-be stress over guest lists, in-laws and what appetizers to serve leading up to their big day. But one Chicago gay couple is planning a cross-country pilgrimage leading up to their New York wedding.

TJ Williams and Brad Hauger , who met at a 2003 Human Rights Campaign gala in Chicago, are transforming their August wedding into a multi-city journey in hopes of educating people and building bridges. The event, titled the Pilgrimage to Riverside, is scheduled for Aug. 25-28.

The couple first got the idea after choosing to hold their ceremony at New York's Riverside Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous anti-war speech in 1967. They were also inspired by an interfaith event they attended.

"Because we decide on such a historic place, we wanted to be good stewards," Williams said.

After launching the pilgrimage in Chicago, the couple will make stops in Atlanta, Philadelphia, D.C. and New York. At each stop, events featuring both local and national civil rights leaders—from straight ally clergy to gay activists—will be held. By involving civil rights leaders, the couple hopes to build bridges between the LGBT community and the civil rights community—particularly African Americans. The pilgrimage will culminate in their Aug. 28 wedding in New York.

"We thought this would be really good because people will be willing to talk about how social justice is related to marriage equality," Williams said, adding that the community, due to pressure from the Religious Right and others, have allowed people to separate marriage equality from the fight for social justice. "But the struggle for LGBT equality is a civil rights struggle," he said.

Also, by involving both local and national civil rights leaders, Williams and Hauger hope to encourage the LGBT community to honor and use of the voices of yesterday while fighting for marriage equality.

Williams revealed that while many people have voiced their support of the event, at least one unnamed LGBT group called the pilgrimage "showy" and questioned why Williams and Hauger should be the face of such a public journey.

"My response is ‘Because we asked,'" Williams said. "We understand this is not about us—it is about a community."

The planning stage of the pilgrimage has been a bit overwhelming, Williams said. The couple hopes to raise an estimated $25,000 needed for the journey. A large bulk of the money will go towards transportation costs.

Although planning for the event is stressful, Williams and Hauger hope to accomplish much on their journey to their Aug. 28 wedding, which just happens to also be the 45-year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech from the Lincoln Memorial.

"Brad said, ‘We can't do this quietly,'" Williams said. "This is about connecting the LGBT struggle with the civil rights struggle."

To learn more about the couple's journey, or to donate funds via Pay Pal, visit