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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Kevin Hauswirth, an advocate committed to diversity
by Tim Peacock
2019-10-15

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Since he was a child, Kevin Hauswirth knew he was destined to lead a life of advocacy. Speaking with Windy City Times, he recalled growing up around activists including one trip with his family to see the AIDS Memorial quilt in Notre Dame.

Since then Hauswirth ( a onetime Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree ) has gone on to build a career around that passion—a passion he described as a core part of his identity.

"My identity is inherently political whether I like or not," he explained. "The fact that I am gay is a political statement."

His advocacy first bloomed in efforts to promote LGBTQ rights at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After someone assaulted a fellow gay fraternity member, he founded an organization—Greek Allies—to promote equality and safety on campus. That effort brought national attention to his name including contributions to The Advocate and receipt of the Human Rights Campaign Chicago's College Student of the Year Award.

A few years later, Hauswirth became Chicago's first head of digital communications at the beginning of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration—an accolade that earned praise from the New York Times labeling him one of "The Mayor's Three Men, a reference to the "digital trio" who transformed Chicago's online infrastructure placing at least 200 data sets online including car towing, town hall meetings and snow plow locations.

His time there ( and the institutions he worked with thereafter ) helped mold the man that would eventually form Hauswirth/Co, a strategic communications firm that aims to "bring a smart, more pointed approach to building consumer advocacy and translate complex issues into energetic campaigns," according to the company's website.

Describing his firm's work and mission, Hauswirth told Windy City Times, "Clients call us because they have challenges they need to tackle or opportunities they really want to amplify, and are looking for the best pathway to engage folks and to bring people into their fold."

That can mean engaging different populations around specific topics like gun safety reform or combating mental health stigma.

"At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is tell stories to the right people that our clients are trying to be more engaged with," he added.

Part of that engagement ( and its success ) is Hauswirth's intentionally diverse team.

"I very much feel that great minds don't think alike," he explained.

Notably, more than half of his team are women ( even at the senior leadership level ), and a third identify as either LGBTQ or a person of color.

"When you work with folks who are very, very passionate about what they do, that is amplified when you have a team that is focused on causes that they feel emotionally connected to," Hauswirth said.

Recalling some of the more successful campaigns his team has tackled, Hauswirth said, "We worked on some of most historic women's reproductive rights legislation in the country. We helped Lambda Legal come up with a campaign to help support their critical work. We were the agency behind the final push to really make sure that the adult-use cannabis legislation was passed here in Illinois."

With a plethora of issues that warrant advocacy, firms like Hauswirth/Co have to pick and choose the causes they will promote. "I tend to gravitate toward the places where I think I can make the most impact in my little corner of the world, and work with people and organizations that share that fire and share that desire enough to drive me to where it doesn't feel like work," Hauswirth explained.

He added, "My grandma—when I was a kid—once told me that my activism was a really nice hobby. So I guess that's my extracurricular activity—that's what keeps me motivated. That's what keeps me fired up—and it has for years."

Viewing advocacy as both a passion and career isn't new for Hauswirth; he echoed this sentiment several years ago as he transitioned into his Emanuel administration role. He wrote then, "A diehard Chicagoan, I watch politics like my buddies watch sports … or, like other buddies, watch Project Runway."

Crain's Chicago Business included Hauswirth in a recent list of "Notable LGBTQ Executives," citing both his firm's work as well as his extracurricular' activities. In addition to mentioning his work with Hauswirth/Co, Crain's also pointed to his efforts to move the social justice needle through leadership on the boards of Equality Illinois and Adler University. The publication also noted his work with both the Hillary for America team promoting LGBTQ advocacy as well as the Obama for America LGBTQ advisory committee.

Offering insight into his views about advocacy, Hauswirth commented, "The thing about politics, is that it is very clear whether you win or lose. There is an election day, and that election day has consequences. And every day that you are not hustling and doing everything you can to get toward that election day, your opponent is. And that has real consequences for people."

He concluded, "I have always sort of been wired for activism out of necessity because of who I am and my early exposure to politics was really just to achieve equality that wasn't just going to be given to me."


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