The first time I traveled to Washington, DC, I gazed at the Capitol in awe. This was the place where laws were made. This was the place where policy was put into action. This was the place where our elected officials were meant to serve the interests of the people and democracy itself. When I stared at the Capitol that humid day in June, I never expected that three years later I would be working inside that very building for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
My first day on Capitol Hill was both thrilling and overwhelming. I navigated through the maze of the Longworth House Building, almost getting lost on multiple occasions, but finally making it to my new professional home on the seventh floor.
The moment I arrived in that crowded legislative office, I immediately threw myself into the deep-end. I took on my own substantive policy portfolio – health care and foreign affairs – as the one and only Legislative Aide to the LGBT Equality Caucus.
I started scheduling introductory meetings with Caucus member staffers and external advocates. I dove into the Caucus’ legislative priorities, familiarizing myself with the bills we sponsored, the anti-LGBT regulations on our watchlist, and the positions we had taken on various Trump Administration policies.
There is no guidebook or manual on how Capitol Hill works. Because of the fast-paced and volatile environment, it can be a difficult place to assimilate, especially for those without prior Hill experience. There are resources available, like fellow staffers and the Congressional Research Service, that can help ease the transition. But more than anything, adjusting to the Hill takes resilience, initiative, and most importantly, a willingness to learn on the job. In adapting to work life on the Hill, I have had to utilize all those very qualities. Now, three months later, I finally feel like I have the hang of it.
So far, I have taken the lead on briefing the Caucus on and coordinating Caucus responses to efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act and its LGBTQ protections. I organized a widely-attended Congressional briefing on LGBTQ refugees in response to the Trump Administration’s 30,000 cap on incoming refugees. I also conducted extensive background research for an LGBTQ seniors bill of rights and even drafted the bill which we hope to introduce next Congress.
All my work with the Caucus these past three months culminated in a trip last weekend to Phoenix, Arizona for the Victory Institute Leadership Summit. There I spoke to local LGBTQ advocates, leaders, and prospective public officials about the LGBT Equality Caucus, federal LGBTQ policy priorities, and what I had been working on during the past 12 weeks. Speaking to and spending time with the Summit attendees reminded of me why I do this work. Standing there looking out at that diverse set of resolute and eager LGBTQ faces transported me back to that humid day in June gazing at the Capitol in awe. That full-bodied warming sensation of hope, inspiration, and empowerment rushed back all at once.
Now, when I stare at the Capitol and cynicism and frustration try to seep in, I picture those faces in Phoenix staring back at me. I take that awe and hope and hold it tight, always carrying it with me as I wander through the cavernous marble halls of the Capitol building.