OutPower

Ben Hong Starr: 2021-2022 Victory Congressional Fellow, Reflecting on first few months on Capitol Hill

Each Victory Congressional Fellow is asked to share their experiences on this blog. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute.

Getting to Know Capitol Hill 

There’s nothing quite like seeing the grandiose facade of the U.S. Capitol Building up against Washington, DC, skies to remind you of the monumental change that is possible through government and the everlasting journey towards achieving justice for all. It is also a reminder of the history of injustice that our country has come from. The structure was built with slave labor and sits on the ancestral land and home of the Manahoac and Monancan Tribes. While it is awe-inspiring, it is also a physical representation of some of the darkest moments in our country’s history. 

Our country has come a long way, but there are still so many injustices that persist. Walking past the Capitol Building is a daily reminder that there are still so many portions of the country’s population – including many groups within the LGBTQIA2S+ community – that are still fighting for justice. Our government is fully capable of combating systemic racism, tearing down white supremacy culture, preserving the environment for future generations, protecting and celebrating Black lives and Trans lives, ensuring healthcare for all Americans, and so much more. The opportunity I have had over the last few months as the Victory Congressional Fellow working directly on these issues with the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus has been an inspiring and rewarding experience.  

Although I have only been in the fellowship for a short period of time, I have hit the ground running. I immediately began familiarizing myself with the Caucus’s legislative priorities as well as all the other bills that the Caucus has a hand in supporting and advancing. I began working on research projects to complement these policy priorities, looking for ways to continue to build momentum and support. I have also started to get to know other staff members on the Hill. At the beginning of my fellowship, I was working primarily from home, limited to video call conversations. Over the next few weeks and with Congress’s return from the summer recess, I was able to start setting these up in person and continue getting know dozens of other staffers from districts from all around the country. These conversations helped me establish a network around me to guide me through the experience of acclimating to the Hill.

Just a few weeks into my fellowship, with Congress returning to session, one of the other full-time staff members with the Caucus got a new job off the Hill. This meant that I have started to take over some of her duties while the search for her replacement takes place. These additional tasks are both a bit overwhelming and very exciting. While it means that I now have a few more responsibilities, I am also getting to experience an even broader range of what it means to work on LGBTQ+ issues with the Equality Caucus. 

I still feel like I am getting used to this new environment, but there are so many experiences now under my belt. Through my work with the Equality Caucus, I have been able to: 

  • Outreach to offices to build support on a Caucus priority, The Safe Schools Improvement Act, which will help schools improve their anti-bullying and anti-harassment initiatives 
  • Circulate multiple letters on topics including highlighting LGBTQ+ issues in Afghanistan, supporting LGBTQ+ candidates for political appointments, and more 
  • Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by assisting with a briefing and Special Order Hour 
  • Run a month-long social media campaign in October for LGBTQ+ History Month recognizing an LGBTQ+ history-maker every day 
  • Assist with multiple congressional briefings on topics including HIV/AIDS disparities, Trans Detention by ICE, and more 
  • Coordinate the Caucus’s weekly newsletter highlighting caucus bills and important LGBTQ+ news and events 

The last two and a half months have been such a whirlwind. It has been so fulfilling to work on the Hill on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, fighting for equality for all. There is still so much work to be done, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue working on these issues. 

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