Meeting Your Heroes – Ben Hong Starr

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

As the Victory Congressional Fellow, one of the opportunities that I have been presented with was the chance to attend two different LGBTQ Victory Institute leadership trainings over the last month: the Atlanta Candidate & Campaign Training and the El Paso Leadership Summit. These trainings are designed to prepare LGBTQ+ individuals for running for public office. While I may not have any intention of running for office, I was able to learn so much from these training sessions, and most importantly, from the stories of the people around me.

The Atlanta Candidate & Campaign Training was an intense 4 day experience – a deep dive into the ins and outs of campaigning as an openly LGBTQ+ candidate. In Atlanta, I met people running for office from all across the country and at all levels of government. As we were reminded a few times during the weekend, only a special type of person is willing to give up their weekend to spend it learning in windowless hotel conference rooms. We got to learn directly from experienced campaign experts and were placed in small groups to develop a mock campaign strategy of our own. My small group had five other people, including Jim Obergefell, an iconic LGBTQ+ activist and the plaintiff behind Obergefell v. Hodges, who is currently running for the Ohio state house.

The El Paso Leadership Summit was a one day “bite-size” version of the Candidate & Campaign Training. We went over some of the core tenants necessary for potential candidates. Unlike the Atlanta training which had people from all over the country, we had the opportunity to really hone in on the El Paso community. I learned so much about issues that El Paso faces as well as the activism that so many organizations are doing on the ground in El Paso and across Texas.

Both of the trainings were really informative and I truly learned a lot, but one of the best things about both of these events was the opportunity to hear from currently elected officials on their experiences. In El Paso, we had the opportunity to meet Texas State Representative Mary González, the Chair of the Texas LGBTQ Caucus. In Atlanta, there were so many openly LGBTQ+ officials that came to speak with us, including Georgia State Senator Kim Jackson, State Representative Park Cannon, and Atlanta City Council Members Liliana Bakhtiari, Alex Wan, and Keisha Waites. Hearing from the elected officials helped to bring to life all the things that we had learned about in our training sessions.

For me, the most impactful elected official was Georgia State Representative Sam Park who I met while I was in Atlanta. As a gay Asian boy growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, I never saw a future for myself in government. Representative Park was one of the first example of gay Asian representation I ever saw in the South, and has been a massively inspiring figure for me. During his conversation with us, he discussed how his identity as a gay Asian man allows him to empathize and connect with other historically marginalized communities and fight for them in the Georgia State Capitol. His insight inspired all of us to uplift the communities around us and continue to fight for equality and opportunity for all.

Representative Park is someone who I consider to be one of my heroes. His representation is powerful and inspired me to make the leap into government, leading me to where I am today – serving the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus as the Victory Congressional Fellow. I am so excited to cheer on all of the rest of my fellow trainees as they work to become elected officials, and heroes, for the LGBTQ+ community.