UOAA board member Jett Johnson, MED ’10 instrumental in Washington and Oregon’s passing of gay marriage rights
By UO alumna Chelsea Fullmer ’14
After living in Florida, South Korea, California, Montana, and Las Vegas, Jett Johnson, MED ’10 finally stumbled upon Eugene, finding a new place to call home. With a father in the Air Force and constantly moving, Johnson first settled at the University of Nevada, earning his bachelor’s degree in humanities. Like many recent graduates, Johnson didn’t know where to go next. After toying with the idea of law school and being accepted into the Peace Corps, Johnson ended up declining the invitation, feeling a sense of confusion as to his future and who he was.
“How was I to inspire Macedonian school children when I myself felt uninspired?” Johnson said.
After some consideration and soul searching, Johnson remembered his senior internship experience working with students at a local high school, and feeling inspired by the students he worked with. From there, he decided to attend a small private school located in Lake Tahoe to pursue a master of arts in teaching. But even still, Johnson wasn’t in a place that fulfilled his aspirations or inspirations.
Through personal research, as well as recommendations from advisors, the University of Oregon continuously came up as having a top-notch education program. Currently, the College of Education ranks No. 13 among all graduate education programs, No. 6 in public graduate schools of education nationally, and has ranked No. 3 in the nation for its special education programs for 14 consecutive years. The UO ended up being everything Johnson was looking for.
“I wanted to be a part of a community of learners who believe education to be the cornerstone of our respective community,” Johnson said. “UOTeach offered a rigorous curriculum, a full year of student teaching, and a reputation that lives up to its ranking.”
Once in Eugene, Johnson became actively involved on- and off-campus through education and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community. Selected as the graduate student ambassador for the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, Johnson also volunteered with the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (formally known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) as well as Planned Parenthood of Southern Oregon.
Post-graduation, after being offered numerous jobs thanks to his diligent application process six months prior to commencement, Johnson took a position for the state’s chief policy organization for LGBTQ equality, Basic Rights Oregon. His largest task: opening the organization’s first fully operational field office outside of Portland. Besides opening the new office, Johnson was instrumental in finding volunteers and various supporters to strive for marriage equality, since Oregon defined marriage between one man and one woman in 2004 when Ballot Measure 36 banned same-sex marriage. That ban was overturned in Oregon on May 19, 2014, by federal judge, Michael McShane; a proud moment for Johnson.
“Laying the foundation and helping to pave that path to victory was an absolutely amazing experience, and I'm proud to say that love won in Oregon, and all couples now have the freedom to marry the person of their choosing regardless of gender,” Johnson said about his experience with Basic Rights Oregon prior to and following the recent ruling. “We've come so far, it almost seems antiquated and draconian that a state would dictate who can marry whom.”
While Johnson was not currently residing in Oregon at the time of the overturning, he was in the state of Washington when voters passed same-sex marriage laws in 2012. After working with the LGBTQ community in Oregon, Johnson moved up north to Seattle, Washington, to work for the Pride Foundation, striving for LGBTQ equality in the Pacific Northwest. Thus far, it’s been a positive experience and outcome.
Johnson with Ed Murray
“Getting to see the bill (Referendum 74) introduced by then-Senator Ed Murray in Washington Senate, to seeing it signed into law by then-Governor Gregoire is one of the highlights of my career working for the LGBTQ community,” Johnson said.
Besides serving the LGBTQ community, Johnson also serves the UOAA community as an alumni association life member and as a member of the Board of Directors. As a recent graduate, Johnson jumped quickly into the life of an active and involved alumnus.
“Being a part of the UOAA has gave me the chance to stay connected to my fellow ducks in so many ways; the least I can do is give back a fraction of what they’ve given me: a sense of community,” Johnson said.
And even though this Duck has moved frequently, it seems he found a place to call home in the UO community.