Forty-eight hours into the beginning of my summer internship, I am standing in the Capitol, warmly greeting Members of Congress as they walk through the doors of the House Ways and Means Committee conference room for a lunch event hosted by my office. Masked, but beaming, I invite each Member inside and chat with them briefly as they peruse food selections. Calm and collected on the outside, nervously overanalyzing my actions on the inside, I make my rounds welcoming Members and their staff to our first in-person event since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two hours later, the lunch has ended; however, the adrenaline from our first in-person event carries through the following weeks, becoming a whirlwind of action. Four hours later, I am assisting the Operations Team with its office reopening preparations. Three days later, I am assigned to projects spanning from research, to public relations, to Member office management. A week later, I am building connections between my office and critical advocacy groups. Finally, tonight I prepare for the adventures tomorrow brings: the third week of my internship with the House Democratic Caucus, the launch of a new congressional outreach project, and the official beginning of 2021’s hybrid summer “Hillternship” season.
Going into this experience, I was unsure what opportunities I could create for myself and my communities. As someone who grew up in Kansas as both a Latina and a member of the LGBTQ community, I had repeatedly been advised that I needed to hide at least one aspect of my intersectional identity to be successful in my career. In particular, one high school mentor told me that I could not be my authentic self and pursue my passions for human rights and political work. While I have deconstructed this mentality within my own self-perception (shoutout to Representative Sharice Davids for proving to my younger self that it is possible to simultaneously be a woman of color, a member of the LGBTQ community, and a successful politician), I entered my summer internship aware that much of the United States remains prejudiced against and hateful towards my identities. Less than three weeks ago, including the moment before I walked through the front door of my congressional office, I was uncertain what opportunities I would be afforded as someone who holds intersecting identities as well as what work, if any, I could pursue to represent and advocate for my communities.
Now that I am three weeks into my internship, I am relieved and excited to say that I have not only been accepted and welcomed within my congressional office but I have been encouraged to propose and pursue projects that are important for my communities. From developing connections with civil rights organizations to attending congressional hearings about issues that disproportionately affect people from my backgrounds, I have been provided the opportunity to thrive as my authentic self and create space at the congressional table for the needs of my communities. I am therefore thrilled to wholeheartedly and passionately embrace my internship, my office, and the Victory Institute’s work.
Reflecting on my own apprehension at the commencement of my internship and adding to the outpouring of support I have received so far, I want to emphasize a truth that we as VCI interns must always hold to be self-evident: our identities, our voices, and our perspectives are essential. We hold knowledge that is central to the liberation of LGBTQ folks, of Latinx folks, of individuals with intersectional identities. Although the “system” and foundations of Congress were quite literally never meant to house or represent us, we belong in both this physical and metaphorical space. This is our House, and we will not only rebound through our resilience but thrive.
Learning the System
by: Izzie Karohl
The first time I arrived in DC, one of just three Victory Congressional Interns to be completing a hybrid internship placement this summer, I stared up at the 102ft tall escalator and felt as though I was entering the Hunger Games. Downtown DC intimidated me too. Tall, uniformly limestone buildings lined every street in the federal triangle, bearing weighty inscriptions.
When I was walking to work one morning, a series of quotes on the Justice Department’s enormous facade caught my eye: “No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of the law,” “Where law ends, tyranny begins,” and “Law alone can give us freedom.”
I stopped walking. Did I read that right? “Law alone can give us freedom.” The idea that the law alone can give us freedom felt too simple to be true. I typed the quote into my phone, glancing up and down to make sure I didn’t collide with other pedestrians. Google delivered its origins: T. Hartley Alexander, American philosopher, 1934.
Yes, the law can make people more free, but it never does so alone. Our freedom depends on the integrity of those creating legislation and those enforcing it. Freedom depends on whom our society deems worthy of freedom: the United States has never inclusively defined the “us” in practice.
Flashing my badge at security and sending my backpack through the scanner, I continued to think of all the ways our laws have restricted or abridged the rights of its people. How racist and homophobic laws denied Black Americans the right to vote, same-sex couples the right to marry, and Native peoples’ the right to their land, culture, and customs.
The law can be an instrument of freedom but also one of oppression. The law is what we — its creators, its abiders, its disobeyers, its enforcers — make of it. The Victory Congressional Internship is an incredible opportunity to witness that first potential for others’ freedom.
Passing legislation has been such a mystery to me. This is likely because the entirety of what I know comes from School House Rock’s “I’m just a Bill” (great song by the way). My supervisors in Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s office have been so kind in explaining tactics I didn’t know existed, such as how voting to recommit a bill to its respective committee is a common stalling tactic.
All the jargon and formalities seem to complicate the legislative process; it feels counterintuitive to use archaic systems to give birth to new freedoms. On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that there are laws that have been created and passed which, on the whole, improved the lives of my neighbors, my friends, and my fellow citizens. In my role as a Congressional Intern, I can hopefully contribute in some small way to this cause. By doing thorough research about a policy’s potential impact or encouraging co-sponsorship on effective bills, I hope to ensure that policy really translates into economic and social freedom for those who have long been denied equal rights.
I can do this work because others have fought for LGBTQ+ young people like me to be in these spaces. I owe it to them, to Victory Institute, and to my amazing cohort of fellow interns to keep up the trend. By being here, we can come together in solidarity and fight for laws that free, rather than oppress, us all.
Reaching the Hill
by: Katerina Marroquin
“Breathe.” I kept telling myself that over and over as I sat down in front of my work computer waiting for the first intern meeting to start. Despite the physical absence of the office space, the intimidation of starting a new position and meeting a new team was very much present. Especially when the new team was working for a Senator in the U.S. Senate.
In my head, I understood this anxious feeling was nothing new for me. As the first person in my Latinx immigrant family to graduate from college, I am no stranger to the feelings of imposter syndrome, being the only Latina and/or queer person in the room, and the overwhelming sentiment that I must work twice as hard to keep up. Living in Washington, D.C. as a Georgetown University student for the past four years has prepared me tremendously for these moments of stress and the political awareness and rigor that would be expected of me at my office placement. I basically lived in the backyard of Capitol Hill, as my university sat only about 2 miles west from the National Mall, and I would often venture to the surrounding neighborhoods and always find myself passing by the monuments most weekends. It became a familiar place for me. However, life working in politics was an unfamiliar world to me. Many of my peers, professors, and mentors worked in governmental affairs, and yet, I devoted my undergraduate career to uplifting the narratives and movements that people of disenfranchised communities created to make a better society for all. I believed my place was working with communities that felt like the government was not on their side, through nonprofits organizations or research. I never knew that one day I would be working in a Congressional office, a space that seemed so unreachable at one point in time.
My reflection time was up when the intern coordinator for the Office of Senator Tammy Baldwin appeared on the screen with my two fellow interns. After quick introductions and a run-through of our orientation and training, we were off with our assignments for the week. I was surprised and content with how much I was learning through hands-on experience in a virtual internship in just a few days, ranging from how to sort and code IQ messages, networking on the Hill, to constituent outreach. Working for a Senator who strongly believes in community outreach is a blessing, as I know first-hand how important it is to work with community members and listen to their stories and works of activism.
My experiences in organizing and grassroots movements have granted me a dual perspective in my work as a Victory Congressional Intern, primarily when reading and coding the hundreds of messages from constituents across Wisconsin. During the times I called my home state Senators and Representatives to address the needs of immigrant rights, health equity, and educational equity nationwide, I always wondered about the process on the other side of the phone or computer screen. Would anyone read my message? Would anyone care what one single person said about a certain bill? Does anyone even understand what my fellow community members and I go through on a daily basis as a person of color, a child of immigrants, a queer person, a young adult living through times of social strife and protest?
It brings me some peace of mind that there are passionate people on both sides of the process, as I, along with my fellow Victory Institute interns, are taking up necessary space in these Congressional offices to continue the work and legacy of LGBTQ+ activists and leaders before us. After one week of working in the virtual office, I feel much more confident and ready to take on new assignments given to me thanks to the assistance and kindness shown to me by the staff and other interns in the office and the incredible team at Victory Institute. With their endless support, I know I can continue my mission of breaking down the obstacles to “unreachable” goals for future leaders and build the resilience and strength necessary to fight for justice and equity on the Hill and beyond.
The Virtual Black Sheep
by: Janise Waites
Happy Pride! The best thing about being bisexual is the fact that my favorite color is on the flag. The worst thing is, well, the bigotry. It’s been two weeks since starting my summer internship with VCI. I was a part of the Spring 2021 cohort and have enjoyed being with Victory and meeting new people for the past six months. My new mantra the last few weeks has been “I am overwhelming grateful for the life I have created for myself.”
As a rising senior, virtual internships are my forte. The past two weeks reminded me how skilled I am in setting up my equipment, creating a work-from-home routine, and asking the right questions on how to get started. I am grateful to be interning in such an organized office this summer, one where I know everyone’s schedules, and which staffers I am expected to work with throughout the internship.
Unfortunately, virtual internships are not the norm. A secret fear I have is not being qualified when I apply to opportunities in person. And if I am selected, then I’ll be a black sheep because I am sure everyone else had an in-person internship. This fear, however, is invalidated by two things. One, as long as I did a good job and learned something new, it doesn’t matter how I did my internship. And two, as I am Black, female, and bisexual, I am the epitome of the “black sheep.” My experiences have made me resilient, and as long as I believe I am resilient, I have nothing to fear.
What comforts me is knowing that there are 15 other people feeling the same way I do despite being equally amazing because we all were selected for the Victory Congressional Internship together. Yet, we all experience imposter syndrome, feeling as though we are not good enough for the offices, we are currently working in or for the VCI program we were handpicked to be a part of. It’s ironic to work so hard to achieve something and then believe you’re not good enough once you get it.
But when a fair amount of society tells you that you’re not good enough for anything because you’re Black, female, and bi, it is very hard to celebrate your wins. My goal for this internship is to celebrate my wins, while being in love with every one of my identities.
From Dream to Reality
by: Matthew Zheng
Having started my internship with Representative Adam Schiff a few weeks later than most due to my university being on the quarter system, I was incredibly excited to hit the ground running with my remote work as one of Rep. Schiff’s Legislative Interns. Unfortunately, as I immediately learned upon opening my House-issued computer this past week, I would be caught in the throes of countless technical difficulties. The computer, the internet, and the software used in Rep. Schiff’s all glitched and lagged for me, each requiring their own unique solutions. It was a certain test of patience, one I found myself chuckling at throughout the week. As I learned last year when I campaigned for the Nevada Democrats, politics is not always very glamorous. Sometimes, as it was my first week in this internship, it just means troubleshooting.
Nonetheless, I found many opportunities to be inspired and re-motivated for the work in my internship and with Victory Institute more broadly. For example, we met with the LGBTQ+ Congressional Staff Association, an affinity organization. My heart was so moved by the stories of high-ranking congressional staffers who were LGBTQ+, which they shared at a virtual meeting for an LGBTQ-affinity organization based on the Hill. As silly as I might seem, I was moved almost to tears by how much we stand on the shoulders of our queer predecessors, and how far the Hill has come (at least in some places) in accepting people like us. I am also supremely inspired by the individuals in my own Congressional office. The staffers who work for Representative Schiff are powerhouses. Each has such a dizzying array of specialties and skillsets that I found myself to be overwhelmingly lacking. Yet I did not feel a sense of despair, but rather a profound recommitment within myself to achieve the level of excellence which they each exemplified.
Some elements of my work have been challenging already. One is the strong emphasis on networking, which every single mentor and advisor has described as one of the most important aspects of working on The Hill. I am a somewhat quieter person when it comes to meeting new people, particularly in professional environments. It will be a meaningful challenge for me to overcome my nervousness in this arena and learn to dive confidently into the relationship-building which is essential to success here. Another challenge has been a feeling of estrangement from many of the people around me. Of course, at Victory Institute programming with my fellow Victory Congressional Interns, I am at home around my fellow LGBTQ+ people and feel affirmed in seeing my own embodiments reflected by my peers and superiors. But I noted immediately upon entering my internship that I am one of the only visibly non-white people on staff, as well as the only person who publicly uses they/them pronouns.
All in all, this first week has upended any fantasies or delusions I had about what work on the Hill will be like. I’m excited for what is to come, with all my fingers crossed that the technical difficulties have been permanently resolved. And I’m hopeful for the rest of this wonderful summer experience.
We Are All In This Together
by: Leilani Fletcher
These past three weeks have been a whirlwind of an experience. Since the first day of my internship with Representative Ritchie Torres’ office, I have been immersed within the legislative field. I have drafted resolutions and “dear colleague” letters and researched constituents’ legislative priorities. Yet, the most gratifying aspect has been taking a moment to reflect on the work. Who knew I would be engaging in this legislative work supporting marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ people, as a 20-year-old. Not me! It is truly the best feeling. However, although this internship has been incredible, my self-doubt still creeps in.
I have always struggled with imposter syndrome. I frequently find myself becoming overwhelmed by the irrational thoughts circulating in my brain. They tell me, “You’re not good enough,” “Why are you here,” “You do not deserve to be here.” These phrases appear in my head as I write emails, sit in meetings and engage in other tasks. Despite this difficult reality, my Victory mentors have reminded me that I am here to learn. I should not be an expert on these issues when my co-workers and supervisors have been in these spaces for years. Instead, this is an opportunity for me to grow as I enhance my interpersonal skills and expand my legislative knowledge. Reminding myself of these thoughts has been easier said than done. Nonetheless, each day I am challenging myself to be confident in my work and not question my judgment. I deserve to be here.
The other Victory Congressional Interns have helped me feel supported when these intrusive thoughts arise. Being in community with others who share my experience and are navigating this unusual virtual situation reminds me that these thoughts are more common than I realize. We all struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt in different ways. As a result, it is even more essential to talk with my fellow Victory interns instead of remaining in the echo chamber of my thoughts. They help me feel grounded and secure and remind me that, as the cast of High School Musical sings, we truly are “all in this together.”
With five weeks left of my internship, I am excited to build my self-confidence and deepen my relationships with the Victory interns. I am also looking forward to more Victory programming, where I can build relationships and hear about the work of influential leaders in D.C. Additionally, in Congressman Torres’ office, I plan to further understand the complexities of the legislative process and enhance my interpersonal and persuasive writing skills.
When Duty Calls
by: Aaron Aranza
“Brrrrrring, brrrrrring!” The electronic blare of the office phone pierced the morning silence, and I felt my jaw inadvertently clench. After one week of virtually interning for Representative Mondaire Jones, I had not yet acclimated to the frequent phone calls that interrupted my daily tasks. Having graduated from college only thirteen days earlier, I was eager to leave my mark by attaching myself to the most impressive-sounding projects that I could find. In comparison, I saw phone duty as tedious, unglamorous work that only distracted me from moving onto bigger things (of course, it didn’t help matters that my first week answering phones coincided with the release of a particularly inflammatory segment on Congressman Jones by Fox News — as a result, every other ring came from an angry caller outside of our district). As such, I saw phone duty as a nuisance and I resolved to pass the task to someone else at the first opportunity.
However, as one week turned into four, my attitude towards answering phones slowly shifted. After logging the case information for each constituent, I always kept them on the line in order to collect any helpful details that I might have missed. This additional review often led callers to spontaneously offer me the emotional context for their problems. As a result, I received an unexpectedly intimate glance into the personal lives of Congressman Jones’s constituents. One woman’s green card request turned into an explanation of her fragile family ties across the globe, while an entrepreneur’s inquiry about a business relief loan became a raw confession about his fears for the future.
In turn, these heart-to-hearts also revealed the high esteem in which constituents hold our office. At the end of our conversations, many callers took the time to gush over Congressman Jones’ work on Capitol Hill. Even over the phone, I could hear the warmth in their voices as they expressed their joy at having a tireless advocate for their issues. After finding themselves ignored or dismissed by everyone else, constituents see Congressman Jones as their last hope.
As an intern, it can be easy to dismiss certain assignments as mundane or inconsequential. Yet, after one month of daily conversations with the constituents of NY-17, I have found that the “smallest” tasks can actually be the most impactful ones. It is incredibly humbling to have strangers place their livelihoods in my hands and earning this trust has been one of the great honors of my lifetime. Working on Capitol Hill is not about the flashy proposals that you put your name on or the famous faces you see in the hallway. Instead, the real heart of the work has always been human connection.
Moving forward, I hope to continue centering the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard. Thanks to the Victory Congressional Internship, I am armed with a rich tradition of LGBTQ+ activism that teaches me how to effectively advocate for those in need. Duty was always calling me, but now I’m finally ready to pick up that call with a smile.
A Winning Hand
by: Nathan Terrell
As the cloud of Virginia Slim cigarette smoke diffused from across the table, my grandmother appeared with a winning hand of cards. She lowered her head and said to me, “Honey, wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first.” Quickly, with her barracuda eyes, outlined in blue eyeliner and accented with purple eyeshadow, she slammed the winning hand of cards onto the table and stared into my defeated soul. I was crushed. I so desperately wished that I could just beat my grandmother in a card game, and she knew it was my wish too. She also knew that I didn’t practice, which is why she said those words to me before delivering my lunch special of crow.
What sage words my grandmother shared with me. It was now clear that just wishing for something I wanted was going to get me nowhere. Hearing those simple words expanded my seven-year-old mind. It was at that moment that I understood that we control our own reality. Moreover, we determine what dreams come true.
I was determined to cultivate a solid foundation of card game skills. I practiced with my sisters any chance I got. I interviewed any adult that would speak to me about tips and tricks for playing card games. It was the practice of this lesson on dreams that granted me the skill of determination. This wisdom continues to protect me. It comforted me when I was being bullied by my high school peers. Today, it comforts me when I go for a run on-campus, and a fraternity boy screeches a gay slur towards me. We hold the power to determine the hand of cards that we play. As Elle Woods would say, “You’ve got all the right equipment. You just have to read the manual.”
It is my determination that allowed me to find the Victory community. I survived a rough start to my life. Being gay in Eastern Kentucky was no easy walk in the park. I will never forget the day when my fifteen-year-old heart was beaming with joy for the arrival of marriage equality. However, this was quickly diminished when my hometown County Clerk, Kim Davis, became a national symbol for denying same-sex marriage. I was reminded of the discrimination lurking around me. I faced exclusion at all levels, whether that was exclusion when trying to join athletics or when attempting to become president of a club, simply because I chose to be myself. By choosing to be me, a proud gay man, I simultaneously decided to defy the traditional norms of a small town in the Bible Belt. This choice was not accepted kindly by many. This exclusion has been suffocating, but it’s the determination to become a strong leader that provides me oxygen.
Instead of wishing the words of insecure jocks or an unlawful clerk away, I focus on the work I can do to make things better. The Victory Congressional Internship has allowed me to spread myself across this nation to connect with other queer leaders. This organization is propelling me forward. It provides me the agency to work towards the change I wish to see in my community.
Though, sometimes, when running away from the trauma of being excluded, we begin to lose track of ourselves and forget to ask the questions that our soul needs answered. I’m guilty of it. Yet, through a year-long, one-on-one mentorship with my mentor, Seth, I have been able to ask myself the hard questions that are needed for growth and to begin acting on those answers. But it is not just having someone guide you to the right questions that makes VCI mentorship so unique. It is that VCI mentors, like Seth, are there to help you navigate each step that you will take towards becoming your best self that makes the VCI program so special. They are there because they, too, share a passion for seeing change and developing the next generation of LGBT leaders.
Thanks to the Victory Institute, I now know that if a County Clerk defies my rights, then I can just run a campaign against them myself or support a fellow queer leader to run. I will come back and change my community, and I more than sure I can do that because of the foundation Victory has helped me build. I am the most hopeful I have ever been about my future.
But hold up and wait…speaking of foundations… let’s get back to the story about my grandmother. After building a foundation on card games and routinely practicing, I FINALLY defeated my grandmother on one fateful day. (Umm, Alexa, please play It’s My House by Diana Ross.) As I slammed my winning cards on the table and stood up with chest puffed up in the air, my grandmother said to me, “So, we do listen.” Humbled by the sarcasm of my beautiful grandmother, I sat down. I reflected on the lesson I had learned: determination can make your wishes come true.
If we listen to ourselves, then we win the war. We can have our own victories, we just have to have faith in ourselves and be determined. Victory has given me confidence in my determination, and I look forward to the victories to come. And hey, wouldn’t it be nice to see the Republican Minority Leader be replaced with a determined Democrat who happens to be a gay boy from Eastern Kentucky?
[Former] President of the Imposter Syndrom Club
by: Devin Green
“Is this your first congressional internship?” I saw the private Microsoft Teams message from Representative Angie Craig’s legislative correspondent come through and I immediately panicked. As President of the Imposter Syndrome Club, I immediately thought the gig was up. She knew I was an incompetent intern who could no longer be trusted as the go-to person for drafting constituent form letters, which had come to be one of my favorite tasks. After responding in the affirmative, she replied, “Wow! Your letters are great! Do you mind writing a couple more?” Immediately, my panic turned to glee as I happily took on more form letters.
As I’ve progressed through the last four weeks of my internship, I have had several moments like this. From drafting form letters for the legislative correspondent to assisting with casework for the constituent advocates, my internship has granted me numerous opportunities to silence my imposter syndrome after a job well done. I’ve often had people tell me that the one thing that will get in the way of my success is not society, it’s me and the ways that I’ve convinced myself of my imaginary incompetence. While this internship has undoubtedly given me an incredible network and set of hard skills to aid my future work in public policy, it has also given me a skill that I will continue to carry with me through all realms of life, from law school to the White House: confidence.
As I’ve returned drafts to the legislative correspondent, my emails have shifted from “Here are my drafts. Please let me know if you have any feedback or comments” to simply “Here you go!” I’ve learned how to trust that I have done quality work and trust her to give me feedback as necessary. This shift has brought a liberation that I never knew existed. Gone are the days that I wait in dread for comments every time I submit a document to a member of the legislative team. Here are the days where I learn to trust myself and trust the process.
Unfortunately, it looks like I may now have to change my title to “Former President of the Imposter Syndrome Club.” Fortunately, I get to make room for a more accurate and liberating title: “Congressional Intern.”
On the Offense
by: Isaac James
A record 30+ anti-LGBTQIA+ bills were introduced during the 87th Texas Legislative Session this past January to May. As an intern with the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus, I was on the front lines of defense against homophobic and transphobic legislators seeking to restrict the rights of queer and trans Texans, specifically transgender youth. My experience in the Texas House of Representatives stands in direct contrast to my experience working in the U.S. House of Representatives. Working for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay member of Congress and Co-Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, has introduced me to the power of being on the offense instead of the defense. After working during a session full of hate and bigotry in my home state, my work in Rep. Maloney’s office has been incredibly refreshing and empowering.
As a Victory Congressional Intern, I’ve been assigned to assist the staff member in Rep. Maloney’s office who oversees the LGBTQIA+ issues portfolio for the Congressman. I’ve had the opportunity to work on two bills authored by Rep. Maloney that seek positive, substantive change for LGBTQIA+ Americans across the country: the Prohibition of Medicaid Funding for Conversion Therapy Act and the LGBTQ Essential Data Act. It’s pretty astounding that federal funds still pay for conversion therapy across the country — the Prohibition of Medicaid Funding for Conversion Therapy Act would end this practice and ensure the federal government refuses to endorse harmful and damaging “therapy” programs that affect thousands of Americans. The LGBTQ Essential Data Act would ensure that the CDC collects accurate data on deadly hate crimes against queer and trans individuals, which disproportionately affect transgender women of color, to give policymakers more efficient tools to prevent future hate crimes.
I’ve been tasked with securing co-sponsorships for these bills, which helps add weight to their status in committees and on the floor, and communicating with other Congressional staff members assigned to oversee LGBTQ+ issues for their office. Before interning with Rep. Maloney, I was blissfully unaware of the gaps in national policies that allowed targeting and promoted erasure of LGBTQIA+ identities on the taxpayers’ dime. My work has exposed me to the need for further progress at the national level, especially given the rare unified Democratic control of government. I’ve learned valuable insight into the daily, behind-the-scenes work of the U.S. Congress rarely seen on cable news. Participating in this work makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself and something that will make the world a better place for countless people. It stands in stark contrast to my time with the Texas Legislature, where we had to fight tooth and nail to prevent harmful bills from taking away the rights of my friends and neighbors. I hope to continue working on the offense and I’m stoked for the day when LGBTQIA+ advocates can be on the offense in all 50 states.
It Really Does Get Better
by: Logan Melo
These past weeks have felt like a dream. I have absolutely loved interning with the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and I genuinely look forward to logging into my computer every single day. The team that oversees the Caucus (shout out to Shawn & Laura!) treats me like an equal and I am very appreciative of the tasks they have entrusted me with. I do not feel like “just an intern,” I feel as if I matter and that the work I am doing truly matters as well.
I recently helped compile a list of all of the transgender deaths in the United States in 2021 to date, along with the location that it occurred in, and the member of congress that represents that district. The purpose of this list is so representatives can hear about the transgender people who have been lost in their district and (hopefully) work to ensure that my people stop dying on their streets. I hope to achieve at least some justice for my transgender siblings and, at the very least, ensure that their names are not forgotten. This task is as painful and grim as it sounds but it is important and I am proud of myself for completing it.
I am also very proud of myself for how far that I have come in life, which is something that I never thought I would be able to say. Like most young queer kids, I didn’t think that I would make it this far in life and honestly did not believe that I would live long enough to see myself turn 21 and graduate college. Growing up in my uber-conservative Latino immigrant family and figuring out that I was transgender was hard; getting the courage to openly be myself and go through with my transition despite familial rejection was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. But…I did it! And I am still here standing loud, proud, and surrounded by love.
For the first time in my life, I feel prepared for what the future holds for me. In about a month, I am moving into an apartment four hours away from home and beginning a graduate program at the University of Vermont. I am filled with nothing but excitement for what the future holds and I truly feel ready for this next stage in my life. Whenever those familiar feelings of self-doubt start to develop, I remind myself that I have made it this far and that I no longer have anything to prove to anyone except myself. It really does get better and I am sooooo glad that I stuck around to see it through. I am finally comfortable within my own skin and happy with where life seems to be taking me. To all my transgender siblings out there, please consider sticking around with me. The world needs our shine and I promise that one day we will be able to truly change things for the better.
Anomalies and How to Embrace Them
by: Han Le
I spent the first month of my summer sitting on fire. The start date for my expected internship placement with a congressional member was far overdue, yet little information came my way. I refreshed, refreshed, refreshed my mailbox every hour only to be left even more anxious than before. Little did I know it was a blessing in disguise.
My summer is not going quite as I predicted earlier this year. Being on the opposite coast, spending the first half of the training sessions embarrassed every time I had to say “I don’t have a placement yet,” not being able to relate to any of the heartwarming hill experiences shared and celebrated by my peers – I found myself quite overwhelmed at times. It wasn’t until I found out I was going to be working with Center for American Progress did my old anxieties subside and new anxieties kicked in.
I realized I lacked expertise and experience compared to everyone else in my office. Impostor syndrome is not a novel topic to explore – we have discussed it in our weekly meeting time and time again: you have to put things into perspective, you must realize your worth, etc. I was equal parts inspired as I was intimidated by the volume and quality of the work being done by the team. I had so many doubts that sounded far too silly for me to vocalize, even to myself.
Yet I vocalized them anyways. During a particular check-in session with my supervisor, I found myself unable to contain feelings of unworthiness directed at myself – I didn’t word it quite like this, but enough that I got my point across. I let it be known that I was going to make mistakes, that I would have lots and lots of room to learn and grow, but nonetheless, I would persist. It was cathartic, and comforting, and relieving, just being able to share these constant worries of mine.
It’s a little strange how such a small act – asking for help and understanding – gave me such comfort and courage going forward. I realized no one was expecting me to be some brilliant genius with five years of policy experience. I was there to learn and they were going to teach me what I needed to learn. And so, I began approaching my work with anxious precaution but also an understanding that I could always reach out for help, no matter how mundane the problem. From how to write or what to write or who to contact, I no longer feel a dreadful invisible weight hanging over me every time I need to get clarification on any issue.
Digital to In-District: My 48 Hour Trip to NH-01
by: Zoe Walker
I’ve heard it said that all politics is local. Before working on Capitol Hill, I assumed this piece of conventional wisdom was outdated: in the post-Trump era, weren’t all politics irreparably nationalized? On the contrary, six weeks of interning in the office of Representative Chris Pappas has affirmed that the communities and constituents of New Hampshire’s first district remain the Congressman’s top priority.
This unyielding focus on making material improvements in the lives of New Hampshire residents has made me intimately aware of the virtual nature of my internship and reminded me that one of the things COVID-19 has denied many of us over the last year and a half is a sense of tangibility. On multiple occasions, while describing in a letter how H.R. 4150 would provide economic relief to the New Hampshire minor league baseball team, the Fisher Cats, or why PFAS chemical regulation is particularly important to local communities like Merrimack, I have wished for a tangible connection to the district that I’m writing about.
So, last weekend, I packed my suitcase and drove the eight hours from Philadelphia to Manchester, New Hampshire, with the intention to experience the place I’ve been visualizing for almost two months. Never has traveling filled me with such a sense of investment. I knew these town names! I knew the names of people who lived here! I had typed these zip codes into IQ during constituent calls countless times before and here it all was, in front of me.
With only 48 hours in the state, I was determined to see as much as I could. I visited the Fisher Cats stadium, home to the locally beloved baseball team I had researched the week before. A trip to a renowned diner allowed me to try my first “mudslide,” a classic New Hampshire milkshake that our Chief of Staff had raved about in meetings. The natural beauty of the state, from its grey and rocky coastline to the lush green environment of the lakes, left a deep impression and helped me understand the passion for conservation voiced by many constituents. It was only by seeing New Hampshire in person that I started to grasp how living here shaped peoples’ politics.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was running into the Congressman at his family’s restaurant. I nervously approached him and introduced myself as a Victory Intern. We had a brief conversation: he asked me questions about what my life held post-internship and I tried to find better words than “I don’t know.” After six weeks of being deeply invested in the Congressman’s success, for a few minutes he showed investment in mine. And then I got to do something previously unthinkable because of the pandemic: I got to shake the Congressman’s hand.
by: Yesenia Ruano
Okay, let’s be honest. I came into this internship knowing little to nothing about the ins and outs of the governmental processes that keep this country going. For the first few days, constituents trusted me to provide them with answers to questions I didn’t quite know the answers to yet. I riddled my intern coordinators’ slack channels with numerous notifications on the daily. How do I take down a constituent’s opinion? What’s the child tax credit? A constituent hasn’t had her garbage picked up for weeks. Who does she call?
Yes, I convinced myself within the first 24 hours that maybe I wasn’t fit for Capitol Hill, but during the next six weeks, I spent my days rescinding that conclusion I had made prematurely. The thing about being 21 and having a tendency of making premature conclusions about yourself and your competence, is that you’re probably always wrong. The co-sponsorship recommendation you write is suddenly returned with no edits. The constituent calls start getting more manageable. You start feeling confident enough to connect with staff members. The self-doubt starts to fade.
Now, I’m not saying that the imposter syndrome goes away and never comes back. As a queer Afro-Latinx, first-generation, and low-income student, that battle will stick with me as I take on new job and/or educational opportunities. But at the end of the day, we don’t partake in these opportunities because we already know how to do the job. That would be boring. We say yes because it’s a new experience that is bound to excite you, frustrate you, and encourage you. My face lights up each time my Congresswoman joins a staff call. I take a deep breath each time a constituent opinion clashes with my own intersectional identity. I receive a “thank you for your help” message from my intern coordinator and feel energized enough to do it all again the next day.
I am simply a 21-year-old congressional intern who has no clue what the rest of their life looks like. That’s okay. At the end of the day, my intern peers and supervisors are willing to answer my questions, catch my mistakes, and celebrate my progress.
A Long Time Coming
by: Alicia Buenaventura
Wifi issues, Microsoft Teams glitches, disabled screen sharing…
“Sorry y’all, we’re having some technical difficulties, the congresswoman should hop on momentarily,” said Anna, our intern coordinator.
With my camera on and my notes in front of me, I waited with anticipation for Congresswoman Gwen Moore to join our group call. I feel grateful because congressional interns don’t always get the opportunity to meet their representative. Over the last eight weeks, us four interns researched a bill we think Rep. Moore should sponsor. We compiled our argumentation into a PowerPoint and ran through it several times before today.
With time to spare, I reflect on how much has changed in the last year. Spring of 2020 I knew very little about LGBTQ politics and the ins and outs of the legislative process. Frankly, I didn’t particularly see myself in politics until VCI came across my email when I was looking for internships. While delays and cancellations over this last year sucked, a silver lining was having Victory in my life (virtually) for longer than just a summer.
Through Victory I got close with my mentors, worked on a few campaigns, met a lot of important political leaders, and even had the opportunity to work on Victory’s staff as a development intern in spring 2021. I’m grateful for the experiences and skills I’ve gained, but above all else, I built confidence. Through community building and taking advice from leaders like me, confronting my impostor syndrome is definitely my most valuable takeaway from Victory. I’m leaving this summer with a sense of belonging in political work, new wind in my sails and ignited passion for working in the Capitol. Now I’m headed to Georgetown in the fall to get my Master’s of Public Policy, something I never could have imagined doing just over a year ago.
*Congresswoman Moore has entered the meeting*
I straightened up in my chair, half expecting our representative to be formal and politician-y (whatever that means). But Congresswoman Gwen Moore was anything but. She was funny, animated, and cracking jokes. After one of my talking points, she unmuted to say “Amen!” After our presentation, Representative Moore expressed how proud she was of us and how much she admired the bill and wanted to cosponsor it. She was excited she got to meet us too and told the staffers they should throw a party for us before we leave. The interns virtually high-fived before we closed the call, feeling so accomplished after all our hard work.
As my internship comes to a close next week, our meeting was an amazing way to finish off my year working with Victory. I’m so excited for this next chapter in my life, moving to DC next week. Of course, I’m still nervous, but I know that I’ll always have Victory in my corner.
by: Joey Medina
In many ways, I was not ready for what this internship had in store. In the span of just two weeks, I graduated college, left my friends and the home we’d made together, and said goodbye to my family to live hours away in a new time zone for two months. I have heard so many past interns describe the excitement they felt as they began their journeys, and I felt and continue to feel that rush of excitement every time I enter my office. But I also felt fear. Fear of failure, fear of new surroundings, fear of being a young gay brown man in a setting that could easily make me feel like an imposter. This fear needs to be recognized to be overcome, and for any new interns, I need you to know: this fear is normal.
I still feel nervous as I continue to learn new things about my position and the district I am working for every day. But as time has gone by I have steadily adjusted, I have grown to see all those things that once struck fear into me as obstacles I can now easily overcome. I have been so privileged to find others like me here on the Hill who not only relate to my identities but also to that awkward and often unsatisfactory adjustment period that plagued me in the first few weeks of my internship. It was through these incredible mentors that I was reminded of how I got here in the first place, how I earned my position in this internship. I was reminded that I am a truly exceptional person and that I deserve to be here.
Working in my congressional office has been life-changing in such amazing ways. For starters, the office of Congresswoman Kathy Castor (FL-14) is staffed with some of the most amazing people you could ever meet. Individuals who understand how we can use our positions to advocate for the most marginalized members of society through uplifting not only the hardworking Kathy Castor but also the wonderful initiatives she introduces all the time. They welcomed me with open arms, and it is through them that I learned how much my voice and my passions matter on the Hill and how to use them in a way that helps others. Nykarlis, Rosario, Jhanavi, Britney, Zoe, Thomas, Megumi, Brooke, and Haley (and Jumble!), thank you. Whether it be showing me how to make it from Rayburn to Longworth, to making sure I understand what it means to be a Press intern for a Congressional office, you all helped me thrive. I know that I would not have grown into the more mature and capable person I am now if I hadn’t had you there supporting me.
It is normal to not immediately excel once you begin your Hill internship. It is understandable to have trouble adjusting, to feel emotional when you struggle in work and begin to doubt your place in this position. But I am lucky enough to be learning that this is exactly where I belong. And I hope other interns, current or prospective, understand that for themselves as well.