Midushi Pandey: Mr. President, I’m not going anywhere

[Note: the contents of this post are my personal views, not those of the LGBTQ Caucus, Victory Institute, or the Members of Congress with whom I work]

I’ll be frank: when I first accepted the Victory Fellowship last April, the image I had of the 45th President was a little different than current reality. I expected the second half of my fellowship to be consumed by the whirlwind of the Clinton administration’s first 100 days, where I would help push the Equality Act and other pieces of critical legislation through. I imagined the end of my fellowship to be heralded by my attending a White House Pride reception just like the photos of prior such events I had seen online. I spent my October recess plotting and planning for a new Congress and a new administration, with the imagined guarantee of further progress, further victories. I wrote scores of memos of new areas and issues that the Caucus could engage in and ways we could expand our reach. Election night, I spent at a bar with friends, eagerly awaiting more history, more joy.

The days after the election were like a haze, fraught with uncertainty and terror. Suddenly, those memos I had drafted about ways to engage the new administration were utterly useless. Furthermore, I had not prepared a plan to counter a potentially hostile administration and so I spent the lame duck session frantically collating potential worse case scenarios: attempts to roll back existing protections, promises to sign anti-LGBTQ legislation. Each scenario felt like a punch to the stomach.

The immediate aftermath of the election also posed a bit of a dilemma for my professional aspirations. Up until November 9th, 2016, I had seen myself as naturally staying on the Hill after my fellowship was over. I would try and get a job as a press aide or legislative aide with a Caucus member, then attend law school in a year or two. Immediately after the election, those plans suddenly came with a question mark. I began to wonder whether or not it would be good for my mental health for I -a queer woman of color, daughter of immigrants, and someone often profiled- to remain in D.C., let alone the Hill. The idea of battling an administration rooted in blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and violence was tiring to imagine. “Maybe I should just go to law school after this,” I would think to myself, and then I would feel guilty, as though I was being cowardly and abandoning other activists and advocates for my own selfish needs.

Since the early days after the election, the path forward has become clearer. The first weeks of the 115th Congress have been filled with preparing for confirmation hearings, and I’ve been pivoting from more policy-centered to more communications-centered. Rather than issue memos, I now write press releases, talking points, and social media posts centered around the virulently anti-LGBTQ nominees for some of the most important departments to the LGBTQ community. Most recently, I spent a day preparing for a potential anti-LGBTQ executive order, ensuring that Members of the LGBTQ Caucus had the tools they needed should it be signed. My job now is to raise hell whenever there is a whiff of trouble.

I have also come full circle regarding my professional dilemma. With time, I have come to appreciate even more the need for not only openly LGBTQ people, (and particularly LGBTQ people of color) to hold elected office, but also having LGBTQ people of color as staff.  I won’t lie: It’s been only a few weeks and I get exhausted at times. Yet, I still remain more fired up than ever before.

So, I’m sorry, Mr. President. I’m not going anywhere.