Foreign Affairs and LGBTQ Lobbying – Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute.

The fourth week of my congressional internship on the Hill included a multitude of networking opportunities. I had the privilege of attending was titled “Q Street Pride Reception”, a networking event for LGBT lobbyists, public policy advocates, and those working for LGBT equality. I was able to meet with a colleague and my intern coordinator, both in my office, which gave me the unique opportunity of meeting people that they were involved with. Jordan, my colleague, and I had the pleasure of meeting David C. Stacy from the Human Rights Campaign. I learned a lot of information about his journey from his college career and his various places of employment leading up to his eventual title of Government Affairs Director at HRC, and was offered advice on possible career paths I could take as an International Affairs major. The following day, my cohort and I visited the National Center for Transgender Equality for a panel discussion led by Kory Masen. The members of NCTE were very personable and honest with all of the questions presented from my cohort, including questions about the difficulties surrounding lobbying under an organization that is very needed, but is also susceptible to outside threats to their identities. It is a common concern for me as to how I can navigate the political sphere without being accused of relying solely on “identity politics”, but Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, another member of the NCTE, had many insightful comments on how important it is to occupy spaces that were not designed for people who exist in several intersections of marginalization.

This week was certainly a great time to make meaningful connections and to learn about strategies to tackle policy work, as well as other career paths that my interests may lead me to.

The following week consisted of a particularly intriguing briefing titled “Human Trafficking within our Nonimmigrant Visa Program”. The first briefing was particularly different from the rest in regards to the panelists and speakers involved in the presentation of this briefing.  The attendance of Senators Ted Cruz and Richard Blumenthal implicitly displayed the bipartisan nature of the issue at hand. Both senators spoke about the horror of human trafficking and the lack of protection for individuals for foreign countries had against U.S. corporations who could exploit these potential employees in ways that evade the current laws surrounding work visas. The bill, titled the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, therefore seeks to address the holes in the legislation that regulates work visas as well as declassifying data surrounding those fall victim to human trafficking. The other attendees and I bore witness to story of Shandra Woworuntu, who is a human trafficking survivor and the found of Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program Inc. This was an eye-opening briefing that involved a lot of critical thinking on my part not only to comprehend what the bill wanted to accomplish, but the potential issues that could arise from the specific wording of the bill. My personal concern lied within the lack of input the victim may have in the situation that the government learns of the crimes of the corporation that recruited them; there were seemingly no reparations for the party that would need it the most. Despite this, it was interesting to feel as if I was directly interacting with a bill and provide feedback on a memo if necessary.

One of the most exciting site visits during this internship was when my cohort and I visited the Center for American Congress, led by Sharita Gruberg, who is the Associate Director and leads the LGBT Research & Communications Project. The majority of the employees who spoke to my cohort had worked on various campaigns and had expansive skills in regards to lobbying. Speaking to those who worked at CAP was delightful because of how much passion each employee had about the work they were involved in, whether it was on LGBT issues, health care, the environment, and other important policy issues. Because my interests lie within foreign policy, I asked about the efforts CAP had made in addressing the humanitarian crises in Flint, Michigan and Puerto Rico. They gave me a detailed response in the work they’ve done in the past, including lobbying the members in Congress that had specific ties to those events as well as on-sight storytelling efforts done in Puerto Rico. Their emphasis on collecting the stories of those impacted in various events within and outside the country struck me as a very genuine, yet effective way to lobby offices at the Capitol and gain the support of their constituents and other organizations who might have otherwise been inactive in pressing issues. The enthusiasm of the employees at CAP and their unique approaches towards lobbying allowed for a meaningful discussion and I am extremely grateful to their staff for the welcoming nature towards us at VCI.