OUT on the Hill 2019

Welcome to the blog for the 2019 Victory Congressional Interns

Week 1: Interns Arrive to Washington!

#803 and Blistered
By: Elí Alejo

“It takes a village to raise a child” – African Proverb

Week one of the internship is done! We deserve to pat ourselves on the back. I am taking up space in the political system that has worked to exclude me due to my radicalized and/or marginalized identity. Be proud because you made it for those who could not make it, for those who came before you and for those who will come after you. You have successfully made a home out of nothing but a community of your peers and yourself.

Before coming to DC, I never had a chosen family larger than three people. I have never felt more welcomed and held than I have with my intern cohort, who I already call family. If you, like me, have never experienced the feeling of “home” you now know that you will find it with your cohort. There’s comfort, understanding, and, most importantly, love. This family will understand the intersections of your identity, and if they don’t already, trust me, they will be more than willing to learn. Our dorms, #803, #804, and #805 are never seen as separate homes, but rather, different areas of our home, much like your living room, kitchen, etc. It never feels like we are in separate spaces – we’re always together.

Victory Institute becomes your second home. Sarah, Mario, and the rest of Victory Institute become family. You see family at Victory, with their big smiles and excitement to meet you. As a trans nonbinary Latinx queer, these opportunities are very limited, and once you walk through the doors of Victory Institute, and then later, onto the Hill, all you can do is repeat to yourself, “I did it, I made it. I made and did it for my mother, my siblings, my transcestors, and most importantly, myself.”

Mutual aid and solidarity are found in every corner, there’s light that reaches even the darkest points. This is not to say we haven’t had moments that have become difficult as we have begun to talk about race, class, gender abundance, and politics. But remember this: you will listen; be prepared to learn and grow.

Those first day anxieties or worries? Everyone shares them and chances are, you might stay up until midnight the night before orientation with your family to talk about them. Talk, talk, talk until you cannot say anymore, let it out and you will be held. In our circles, we always remind each other, “You are in a safe space,” meaning all of you is welcomed. Trust when I say all of you: your traumas, your tears, your smiles, your growth, the list can go on. I feel my growth and I am excited for who I will become after this summer, but I can already feel the sadness of knowing I will have to leave DC, not because of the city, but because of the family I have made already.

VCIs on Capitol Hill

The 5 mile walk on the second day of orientation left me blistered, but hopeful for the future. We are the faces of tomorrow. My blisters have now become a memory of the talks we had through the tunnels underneath Capitol Hill, discussing our future of making equitable change for the folx we will one day serve. It reminds me of how proud I am of everyone in my family. We made it – we defied all the obstacles to get to where we are. We’re here, we’re Queer, and we’re not leaving. Thank you, week one, for showing me love and resilience. I’m ready for the rest of summer, no matter how difficult it may be, because I have my family with me.

This is Ours
by: Leanne Ho

At three in the morning, I sat cross-legged on the polished marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, mozzarella sticks in my lap, and looked out across the water. Distant police sirens interrupted the chirped conversations of birds and the murmured discussions of my fellow Victory Congressional Interns. Along the horizon, beyond the clean lines of the Washington Monument, the Capitol Rotunda carried the weight of the dark sky with all the majesty of a Roman cathedral. The view looked like it belonged on a postcard, but here it was, right in front of me. I still couldn’t believe that I was spending the summer in DC.

One of my favorite documentaries at the moment is Knock Down the House, which follows four women who challenge powerful incumbents in Congress. In one of its most touching scenes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recounts a childhood memory: her father brought her to DC, and in the midst of these beautiful monuments, surrounded by centuries of history, he told her, “You know, this all belongs to us. This is our government. It belongs to us. So, all of this stuff is yours.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. To be completely honest, I didn’t expect to find myself on the Hill this summer, much less interning with Senator Dianne Feinstein. I’m not a political science major. I’ve never volunteered on a campaign. I want to go to medical school, not law school. But I’ve always had an interest in government, from rainy days singing along to Schoolhouse Rock to late nights cramming AP US History. As a future physician and a concerned advocate for immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, I can’t ignore the impact of legislation on health and well-being. From funding HIV research to implementing the Affordable Care Act, the US government is and always has been a key player in public health.

I applied for the Victory Congressional Internship because I wanted a better understanding of policy-making. Whether I work with patients or with constituents, I wanted to experience the inner workings of government, not only for my career and educational development, but also for my personal growth as an informed citizen.

This all belongs to us. This is our government. And I’m planning to make the most of it.

Validating Community
by: Gus Stephens

Although my plane arrived at midnight and I Ubered straight to the dorms the night before my internship started, I was still struck by how beautiful DC was from the few glimpses I saw of it during my first visit to the city. The jet-lag and little sleep could not hinder my excitement to begin my Victory Congressional Internship (VCI) and meet the VCI cohort the following day.

On that first day of the internship, I was particularly excited when I found out that we would take a tour of the Capitol building. Even though every US History textbook has pictures of it, there’s nothing like seeing it in person and getting lost in the beauty and history that compose the building. My feelings of wonder and excitement became even more heightened when I saw Speaker Pelosi’s Leadership and Congressional offices and was reminded by my peers and coordinators that I would be reporting to work in both of her offices. I still can’t believe that I have been afforded the opportunity to intern in the office of the most influential woman in American political history and de facto leader of the Democratic Party.

That day touring the Hill and the first days in the office further confirmed to me how special of an opportunity the Victory Congressional Internship is. While my first feelings on the Hill were awe and disbelief, getting to know the Hill reminds you of how difficult it is to intern there in the first place. Because most internships in Congress are unpaid, being a “Hilltern” is a role typically pursued by students who come from families who possess the means and access to political networks. Moreover, without the help of LGBTQ+ staffers, representatives, organizations, and allies who have broken down many of the barriers that LGBTQ+ people encounter within our institutions, getting to the Hill would be an even more difficult for queer undergraduates. It truly feels like a blessing to have been selected by the Victory Institute and know that there is a community who validates and believes in us.

The VCI cohort has been the other special part of this week. Living and working with such a diverse, kind, respectful, and intelligent group of queer people in a city like DC is something I would have never imagined as a closeted high school student a couple years ago.  For these next 7 weeks, I look forward to not just the fun and sightseeing, but also the chance to learn from one another and provide mutual support as we go on this incredible journey. In the vein of Mario Enríquez, Victory Institute’s Director of Domestic Programs, advice about how being authentic is the key to being part of opportunities such as VCI, I look forward to learning from my fellow VCIs (past and present) how I can bring my entire authentic self – as a gay, first generation, low income, Latino from the South – to a place as exclusive and intimidating as Capitol Hill.

Week 2: Settling In & Celebrating Pride

The Significance of the Victory Pin

By: Alexis Grady

The 12 Victory Congressional Interns pose for a photograph with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Mayor Annise Parker

As a student at Howard University, I have had the privilege of living and working in Washington, DC for three years now. This city is small, but the personalities and expectations are larger than life. Living here comes with pressures to find your niche immediately, and excel at a young age. As a Black Queer person, these pressures are amplified. I am aware of the responsibilities I have, not only to myself but to others who look like me that will not have the same opportunities. I am also acutely aware that my Queerness often further others me in spaces where I am already a minority. This impacts the way that I show up in different spaces. I hesitate to come out in the workplace, for fear of reinforcing the stereotype that my blackness already brings and for fear of being labeled a “diversity hire.”

A young person stands in front of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz's OfficeThe two weeks that I have spent as a VCI so far have flipped that expectation on its head. In my cohort, I have found a community of other LGBT policy wonks, each having taken a very different path to get to this moment. We all carry the responsibility of our own communities with us to our internships each day, but we do not shoulder it alone and when we return home, we’re met with empathy and compassion. Working on the Hill in this context is significant to me in a way that defies words.

Because the Victory Congressional Interns are placed in twelve different offices, we are not easily identifiable outside of our home in Foggy Bottom or the Victory Institute Office. One thing that sets us apart is our victory pins: small gold pins that we place on the left side of our suit jackets. It is through the vehicle of this pin that I am ‘Out on the Hill.’ The Victory Institute pin has started more conversations than I have started on my own; people ask me about it in the Longworth Cafe, the metro, and in my office. At first, I would tense every time someone noticed it. But I have always been surprised. Those who know of the Victory Congressional Program instantly break into smiles and congratulations. And those who are unfamiliar with the program seem impressed. And then something even more remarkable happens: we continue working.

The Victory Congressional Internship and the pin that represents the program have led me to come out more times in professional contexts than I ever have before. But it has also given me the courage to walk confidently into the moments that follow coming out. When I am able to bring my whole self to work, I exceed even my own expectations. I am writing legislative memos, answering phones, entering hearing rooms, and even speaking to my Representative without feeling like my identity is a burden. When days are difficult as an LGBT person on the Hill, I have the other members of my cohort to lean on back at the dorms. But increasingly, I am bringing home stories of how good it feels to be Out and doing my best to absorb all of the incredible experiences I am having on the Hill.

Here and Queer!
by: Alicia Cantrell

Hi and Happy Pride, y’all! This past week has been a complete whirlwind. I can’t believe I’ve already completed my first full week working on “the Hill” (as I now know it is called in DC). Time is moving so fast, and I want to savor every moment I have here in DC. I’m already feeling emotional about the end of this program. I have only known my cohort for about two weeks now, and I already feel so close with them. I honestly feel like they are a second family to me; I feel so safe and at home with them. I am so grateful to Victory Institute for not only selecting me as an intern for this program, but for also providing me with a group of people I can call family.A Victory Congressional Intern poses with Representative Sharice Davids

My first full week in a congressional office was hectic. The intern coordinator had to take an unexpected leave of absence, so I didn’t receive the normal intern training. I had to learn by doing, which proved to be challenging in some aspects, but I remained flexible and asked lots of questions (maybe too many at times) to be sure I was completing tasks properly. It was tough, but I stayed positive and was eventually commended by one of the staff members for my ability to learn so quickly. It was nice to be validated, and it gave me more confidence to believe that I do, in fact, belong here.

This weekend was DC’s Pride, and let me tell ya, I have been so excited for this event since finding out I was chosen as a Victory Congressional Intern. I have never been able to attend a Pride before, so this year’s Pride was my very first. Friday, we got to kick off Pride weekend with the first Dyke March in DC in 12 years! I loved getting to march and be a part of something more grassroots led, rather than corporate-led like with the larger Pride parade. I loved getting to be surrounded by so many other queer women.

A young woman holds a sign that says "Queers have heartbeats, too" in all capital letters. Then, not only did I get to attend the Pride parade, I actually got to march in the parade with the LGBT Congressional Staff Association! Walking in the parade was such a surreal experience that I never thought I would ever get to take part in. It was amazing to be surrounded by my community. Walking in the parade allowed me to see so much joy from a community that normally does not have the space to be themselves as freely as they can at Pride. Having people cheer us on and celebrate one another as we marched really made me feel like I belong in this community. I’ve never felt so much love and joy in one space until I attended Pride.



by: Kylie Murdock

Happy Pride! If you, like me, are queer and in DC, you were likely at DC Pride this past weekend. This pride, however, was extra special for me because it happened to coincide with my 21st birthday. I was nervous at first about celebrating my 21st in Washington, DC this summer, where I would know absolutely nobody. My birthday would only be two weeks into this program, how close could I possibly get to these people in such a short time? I was pleasantly surprised.

By day three of being in DC, we were already closer than I could have hoped. We would stay up all night, cramped in the small living room of one of our dorm rooms, talking about politics, our lives, and everything in between. There wasn’t a day when we didn’t hang out for hours. Growing up in a conservative family and town, I was closeted until the age of 20. I was surrounded by straight people and straightness. Even going to school at UC Berkeley, I was never really surrounded by a bunch of queer and trans people. But now, I was living with eleven other queer people, and I was excited.

A group of young people pose at the DC Pride parade

The day of the pride parade (and my birthday) came. I put on my gay shirt, my fishnets, my shorts, and my baseball cap. My roommate Elí gave me rainbow eyeshadow and doused my face in glitter. We headed out to the Nordic Pre-Pride Parade party for free food, because we’re college students. After the party, we walked over to Dupont Circle to get ready to march in the parade. I went to DC pride last year, but I stood on the side and watched with my straight friends. Now I was with my gay friends, and we were going to march in the parade with the LGBT Congressional Staff Association. It must’ve been two hours of sitting around before we actually got to start marching. But once we did, I knew it was all worth it. Seeing all the people who had come to watch the parade, seeing them wave their flags and cheer us on, it was powerful. My heart swelled with love and pride as I waved and threw out beads. It was a magical way to celebrate my birthday and pride.

So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the connections I’ve formed with the others in the program, and I’m so excited to continue to grow those relationships during these next six weeks. I already rue the day I have to say goodbye to them. But I know we’ll stay connected until we see each other in November at the 2019 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, and then continue to stay connected throughout our lives. Who knows, maybe we’ll be working with (or for) each other someday.