By Mathew Ursua, Ka La editor
This article was published in the Ka La’s April/May 2014 printed edition.
He was disowned by his parents in the 90s, became a professional hairdresser in the 2000s, and found peace, love, and direction in the 2010s.
Kaleo Gagne’s life has been full of ups and downs, but now he says he’s poised to change the world in big ways.
The summer leading up to Gagne’s ascent to the presidency, he presided over the painting of a Gandhi quote on one of the walls in the student government office. It reads: Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Two years later, with his graduation approaching, the sign has become commonplace. It’s just a part of the landscape. Gagne passes it on his way to his office in the student government room.
But ask those close to Gagne, and they’ll tell you he lives by Gandhi’s command.
Ieva Bytautaite was Gagne’s communications director in his first year as president. “Kaleo truly cares about people,” Bytautaite said, “you don’t have to be his friend for him to open his heart and arms to you.”
Gagne was the college’s first openly gay student president. Gagne testified before the state legislature when they assembled for a special session to legalize gay marriage. Ryan Yamada was a senator in Gagne’s first year as president. “I believe we’re at a point where having a voice that advocates for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transexuals rights only helps. Kaleo is that voice,” Yamada said.
But Gagne is quick to say he’s about more than one issue. He said he wants to be a strong voice for education too. “Our children should have a public school system they’re proud of,” Gagne said.
Gagne isn’t hiding his history.
He came out of the closet on his 21st birthday after a turbulent youth in which he was disowned by his parents. He hasn’t seen them since. He was a drag show queen. He doesn’t wear dresses anymore, but he says he’s not ashamed of his past. Nowadays, Gagne has a more serious demeanor. Gagne was born in the days leading up to Christmas in 1973. Gagne said he wishes he could share his life with birth parents. But Gagne said that he loves them unconditionally. “They gave me life,” Gagne said.
Gagne’s capacity to forgive carries over into his political life. He said he treats everyone with dignity and kindness, even those legislators who were on the opposite side of the gay marriage debate.
Early this semester Gagne came under fire for sending club organizers an email that said he would cut funding if they continued to skip out on senate meetings and assemblies. Some accused him of overstepping his bounds and said that he was being belligerent.
Gagne defended his stance, saying the email was meant with “aloha.” Gagne set a precedent for student clubs. He asked all of them to show proof that they were benefitting students. He also told club organizers and members to participate in community service events.
Its offices are located on the ground floor of Building 2, just around the corner from the book store.