A Note from Victory Institute Congressional Fellow Midushi Pandey:
I remember standing on the steps of the Capitol, sweating in my black dress suit, ankles shaking in my brand new dress pumps, wide-eyed and petrified in one spot as I stared at the scene around me. There were Members of Congress grabbing poster-boards depicting the faces of 49 recently deceased people. Many of them were people I had only seen on TV or in the newspaper, and yet there I was, only a few steps away from tapping them on the shoulder and asking them for a selfie. There were also staffers huddled around, talking to one another and making sure their bosses were on time, clutching prepared remarks, and angling tripods to livestream the upcoming event. It was my second week as the Victory Fellow with the LGBT Equality Caucus, and we were preparing for the vigil in honor of the one month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
This past Tuesday May 2nd heralded the reintroduction of the Equality Act, which amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to comprehensively prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex. Sponsored by LGBT Equality Caucus CoChair Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Senator Jeff Merkley, the bill now has 241 members of Congress as cosponsors, including sole Republican and LGBT Caucus member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. The event took place in the Rayburn Room in the Capitol, and both Members of the House and Senate were present. In a time where the President has nominated and confirmed anti-LGBTQ Cabinet nominees, removed LGBTQ-specific questions from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, rescinded the Title IX guidance on transgender students, and the ongoing violence against LGBTQ people, reintroduction showed the LGBTQ community that there were still champions for LGBTQ equality in Congress.
Much has changed since that vigil: New President, new Congress, and new challenges. Yet, not everything has been doom and gloom. The LGBT Equality Caucus started the 115th Congress with 102 bipartisan Members, and we have grown to 109 Members now. The Equality Act now has almost every Democrat in the House of Representatives as an original cosponsor, whereas it ended the 114th Congress with 178 cosponsors. I’ve seen more Members reach out to me and the Executive Director Roddy to ask what they can do, speak out in times of good and bad, and show their support for their LGBTQ constituents.
Just as times have changed and not just for the worse, I have changed for the better since that first rally. Before, I stood in the midst of that rally, shy and nervous. During reintroduction of the Equality Act, I was less nervous, but no less excited. Staffers still buzzed about with tripods, but I was also buzzing about, and I joked and chatted with them rather than stand in the corner shyly. Yet, I was still in awe as I saw House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Members of the LGBT Caucus gathering to reintroduce landmark civil rights legislation. There’s nothing quite like being in the room when history is being made and knowing that after the one hour press conference ends, you get to go back to your desk and continue the work.
I only have a couple more months left during my time as the Fellow and the time has gone by quickly. It was this time a year ago that I found out that I had been chosen, and I had only an inkling of what a tremendous opportunity and privilege it would be. As my time wanes and the next Fellow prepares to begin their time, I look forward to the next chapter of my time on the Hill, the new challenges, and the new history-making events I will get to witness from behind the scenes.