OutPower

A Seat at the Table – Cody Ares Baynori

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

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As I began to settle in as a Victory Congressional Intern (VCI), it was impossible to feel as if I belonged in Washington D.C. I am a person who is defined by my identities: Latino, queer, disabled, and impoverished. There are constant reminders here of the establishment and my status within it. Statues and buildings named for oppressive figures, roads that are much better taken care of than the ones I grew up on, and people who simply do not look how I do. I do not feel stares piercing through my sexuality but I do feel them tearing into my skin. 

On the first day of VCI orientation, our cohort had a discussion on imposter syndrome and existing as a queer person in a non-queer environment. We learned that it was normal to feel out of place.  After all, many people feel as if they are something of a “fraud” no matter how successful they have been in the past. But my discomfort felt like so much more than imposter syndrome. Also, making use of what we learned in practice proved to be easier said than done. I never doubted my own accomplishments but still couldn’t shake the idea that I did not belong. It was an internal tension that I needed to resolve.

The next day, we were given a tour of the US Capitol Building. I stood in a building that was not crafted with my presence in mind and squeezed into an outfit that was designed to force conformity. The walls were decorated with portraits of celebrated tragedies; there was, however, a small dedication to the slave labor that led to the construction of the building. The whole ordeal was overwhelming to say the least. 

None of these feelings have been surprising for me. I have not seen enough people like myself working in government. Growing up, I didn’t see any at all. If you had asked me to imagine a Capitol Hill intern, I would have described someone with bleached teeth, tailored suits, and a little too much money in their pockets⁠—the kind of people who only socialize with the intent of expanding their network. The issue is not that my identity is not in line with theirs. I do not wish to be them. But what does it mean to have a seat at the table when the ongoing silent discussion is centered around how to ignore your very presence? Why should I work in the epicenter of oppression? These are the conflicting questions that have plagued me since I was admitted into this program.

Before leaving the tour, as the cohort prepared to brave the humidity in our restrictive clothes, I saw a familiar portrait that depicted Representative Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, NY standing in front of the Capitol. She had a striking presence against the white, marble background. I began to compose myself and recollect my thoughts. All of my apprehensions were valid.  But I understand that it is better for me to claim a spot that was once reserved for the “traditional” candidate. Chisholm set an important precedent with a disruptive message just by existing within the very halls of the House of Representatives. Although my identities stand out, even against a rainbow background, this is what makes my presence all the more important.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute has provided me with a coalition. We are not just queer individuals who have been placed to work on Capitol Hill; we understand that us and our presence means so much more than that. We are here with a mission to disrupt the status quo and advance our reach. I know that it is important for me to exist with my brown skin and beard, with my clothes that are thrifted and unsteamed, with stained teeth and a weak handshake, with an aversion to eye contact and bottles of prescribed psychiatric medication on my desk. Is this enough to make substantial change? I’m unsure, but it is certainly a step towards being seen.