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.

 

 



20biteen
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.

Week 3: Confronting Challenges and New Beginnings

Change Happens Just Outside Your Comfort Zone

By: Brett Ries

A camp leader of mine once told me, “Change happens just outside your comfort zone.” Ever since I heard these words, I have incorporated them into my lifestyle as motivation for achieving my goals. I have never lived in a town with a population of greater than 25,000 people. I have always driven to my destinations and before this summer, I had never used public transportation. One of the tallest structures in my hometown is the McDonald’s arch. So, you can imagine how radically displaced I felt when I boarded the metro in Washington, DC with two suitcases in hand and was forced to navigate the nation’s capital.

A young man poses with a view of the US Capitol building behind him

It is still surreal to me that as a small town South Dakotan who woke up at six in the morning to milk cows, I am now waking up at that same time to work inside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, I have adapted and affirmed my love for big cities. The Victory Congressional Internship has certainly pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but it is because of this push that I have felt a substantial amount of professional and personal growth. As a side note, if you have an intense phobia of rats like I do, plan to take Ubers at night or you will face your fears while walking the streets. I am less optimistic that this push outside of my comfort zone will result in personal growth.

Not only have I been pushed out of my environmental comfort zone in DC, but I have been pushed outside of my professional comfort zone as well. There is a particular pressure in this work atmosphere because your actions directly impact constituents. Staff make it clear from the very beginning that your work does not lack significance: your Representative or Senator is relying heavily on you to create a positive image of their office. Every phone call you answer, every email or letter you sort, and every memo you write for the legislative aides bridges the constituents to the Congressperson. There is also a pressure to receive more opportunities by standing out in your office and an additional pressure to begin networking for post-graduation aspirations. However, I am very proud that I have been pushing myself in all of these areas, and I have already received many significant, impactful opportunities in my office.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I have been pushed on a personal level like never before. I am very grateful to be surrounded by eleven other passionate, intelligent, and diverse change-makers in our Victory Institute cohort. Over these past three weeks, my cohort has shared their stories, their struggles, and their motivations to create change. In this process, I have been pushed to be more conscientious about my words, thoughts, and actions. I cannot stress enough that I am using the verb “push” in the most positive way possible. I am extremely appreciative that my cohort has been patient and willing to exhaust emotional energy to help educate me. I am not sure my words will ever fully convey how grateful I am to my cohort, but I am hoping that my gratefulness is better exemplified through my actions.

The 12 Victory Congressional Interns pose with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Mayor Annise Parker all making peace signs for the camera

This push outside of my comfort zone has been uncomfortable and emotionally draining at times, but it is a necessary step in personal growth that must occur in order to best create inclusive change. I have learned from the experiences of the members of my cohort that while we may all be members of the LGBTQ community, the LGBTQ community itself has progress to make in ensuring equal treatment and opportunity for all. Intersectionality of issues is real, and the LGBTQ community is not immune from unfair treatment of marginalized groups.

Some fear stepping outside of their comfort zone, but I strive to place myself directly in it. I cannot expect other people to step out of their comfort zones and change if I do not place that same expectation on myself. I need to ask questions, I need to have difficult conversations, and I need to be corrected. It is okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, it often creates the change in ourselves that we wish to achieve. The Victory Institute Congressional Internship Program has only reaffirmed this belief, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.



New Beginnings
by: Janiah Miller

I was really happy when I got the congratulations email from Sarah at Victory Institute, accepting me into the program. This acceptance was something that I had only dreamed of getting. Not only would I be an intern on Capitol Hill, but I would be a part of the Victory Institute. This was especially exciting since aren’t a lot of opportunities for LGBTQ folx back home. It’s one thing to get an internship on Capitol Hill, but it’s another to be a part of a cohort, a leadership development program, to have everything paid for and to have professionals looking out for you while in the program. I felt my future ahead of me.

A young woman stands with three suitcases

These past few weeks have gone by so fast. I cannot believe we are starting week four of the program. Rewinding back to three weeks ago, I had just returned from the Netherlands from a month-long study abroad program and was leaving for Washington, DC a little over a day later. I didn’t have a lot of time to process this big transition. DC would be the farthest I had ever been away from home. I didn’t know what to expect and, not to mention, the flight to DC would be my first flight alone. After the flight, I remember landing and thinking to myself, “New Beginnings” to a day I thought would never come.

Washington, DC is so different from the Greater Cincinnati area; it is more fast paced. Even though it was a different space, everyone in my intern cohort was so nice; we immediately clicked. It was refreshing to be around so many people I related to. As a group, we quickly jumped into Victory Institute orientation our second day in DC and then started the first day on the Hill two days later. As cliché as it sounds, I had butterflies. I couldn’t fathom waking up the next day to go to my internship on Capitol Hill; it just couldn’t be real.

My placement is with the Transportation, HUD and Related Agencies subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. The subcommittee is getting ready to go to the House floor for a bill they have been working on since January. These last few weeks I have been supporting work leading up to this moment, from preparing for full committee mark-up to the bill passing through it and now, creating talks points. I feel as though I’m a part of a team. Everyone in the office is very friendly and the best part is that the staff director really includes me in the process. I feel like I’m a staffer on Capitol Hill.

A young woman stands outside the office for the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, And Urban Development, And Related Agencies

One thing that has really stuck out on the House side of the Hill is all the rainbow and transgender flags outside of offices. As I was staring, one staffer told me that there weren’t always flags outside of the representatives’ offices. The staffer shared that more of the flags started popping up after the 2018 election. What struck me the most, was when they said once the Democrats won back the House in November, the House started to look more like a representation of America, but the Senate still has work to do.

As I walk through the most powerful halls in the world, I must recognize the power and privilege that I have just by being here. I’m constantly thinking about how I can bring the resources I’m gaining back to my community. This past weekend, I was able to watch the Netflix original When They See Us, a docuseries that retells the story of the Central Park Five from their perspective. After watching it, I went to the Juneteenth festival hosted by One DC. It is ironic that I get to walk around as free person, but this freedom can be snatched at any moment. All I know is while I’m in DC, they will see me on the Hill.



A More Inclusive Nation
by: Jahad Carter

As of today, I have lived in DC for three weeks and I can say it’s been pretty epic! My time here has reminded me of a typical coming of age story full of difficulties, adventures and supportive people along the way. In this story you have me, a queer impoverished black kid who saw most of the world through a TV screen. Now I’m roaming the streets of Washington, DC, where America’s greats once governed.

A group has lunch with Representative Deb Haaland

These last few weeks have been some of the hardest, yet most pleasing times of my life. Now, you may be wondering, “What’s the hard part?” For me, it’s easily remembering where I came from and looking at where I am now. I can see every single trapdoor, hurdle, and ditch that I had to climb out of to be here today. What’s even harder is that I remember the people who are still stuck in the pitfalls that I have overcome. When I think of them, I feel immense pressure to succeed in anything that I do. Being here in DC, I feel compelled to be perfect for the ones that couldn’t even get their foot in the door.

However, I seek comfort in the fact that I will soon conquer this challenge and do it for every single person who couldn’t. Every lesson that I learn, every hardship that I face, and every time I succeed, I will do it for the people back home in the hopes that one day DC will become a more attainable place for people who grew up in government housing.

The Victory Congressional Interns pose for a photo in front of the Capitol Building

As I write this blog post, I’m thinking of the single moms I know. I think of the dropouts who I once sat in class with, who later were convicted of crimes they had no choice but to commit.  Most importantly, I’m thinking of my little sisters, Arrin and Cherry, who I want to encourage to do anything they want in this life. I want to make Arrin and Cherry proud! I want them to know that the same brother who would wake up every morning to get them ready for school, is the same brother who is at the Capitol trying to make this nation more inclusive for us all.

Week 4: Carving Out Space

Belonging

By: Marissa Wu

We’ve just wrapped up the fourth week of our internship, marking not only the halfway point of the program, but also four weeks that I’ve spent away from mid-60s weather, decent Mexican food, my guitar, and a state of total cluelessness about life and work on the Hill. While I still have so much more to learn, in the month I’ve been here, I can say with certainty that I’ve grown in multiple ways. Some are easily visible; for example, I actually have a writing sample portfolio now. Others have been more subtle, and definitely more interesting.A Victory Congressional Intern poses underneath the sign for Representative Mark Takano's Office

In one of my sociology classes last semester, I studied Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital— an understanding of soft skills and implicit understandings as reflective of one’s class upbringing and centrally consequential in navigating institutional life. In other words, cultural literacy is developed from birth, and having, or not having, the “right” kind of cultural knowledge about how to navigate the environment determines whether or not you belong. For the last four weeks, cultural capital has been at the forefront of my mind, as I notice the ways I’ve intentionally or unintentionally adapted to DC to seem like I belong.

To be frank, I don’t belong. The system was never designed for a queer person of color from an immigrant family. And, borrowing Bourdieu’s concept again, it’s not so much about identity itself, as it is about what skills and understandings those identities imbued me with, compared with what knowledge I need to be able to navigate a place like the Hill successfully.

Those are the spots where I feel like I’ve actually grown the most. As a born-and-raised Californian, being comfortable in business formal attire every day and adopting “sir” and “ma’am” into my regular lexicon does not come to me naturally. But slowly, it’s starting to feel more effortless and less like playing a character. I’ve also been working on my networking skills— with varying degrees of success. I must admit, though, I don’t know if having engrossing conversations with complete strangers is something I will ever fully master. The ability to think on my feet and react quickly has also been crucial. While I would prefer to have clear directions and a precise plan going into any situation, I’ve had to learn how to act like I know what I’m doing while totally winging it.

Four Victory Congressional Interns, all nonbinary, pose for a group photo in the Russell Senate Building

While I’m learning how to belong here, I am also constantly monitoring myself to make sure I don’t forget or take for granted where I came from. I am beyond privileged to even be here, working in federal government, much less, to have the opportunity to adapt to the environment. There are so many fellow queer folks, people of color, and immigrant families who will never have this opportunity, who cannot afford to be visible when their very existences are under attack and at risk. I also understand that this opportunity and this visibility entrusts me with the social and moral responsibility to act for those who cannot, and I will do my best in the next four weeks of this program and the next years of my life to live up to that responsibility.


 

Flying
by: Gilberto Estrada Camacho

A Victory Congressional Intern poses in front of the office sign for Representative Sean Patrick Maloney;.If you had been sitting at my table last summer in Chemistry and told me that the next summer I’d be a congressional intern, I would have laughed in disbelief and moved on to try to figure out how many electrons are in H3PO4. Being here is in DC is a dream.. That 4-year-old little boy who immigrated from Mexico to California with nothing but the clothes on him, is now roaming the halls of power. Learning the inner workings of the Hill firsthand, while still in college, is the opportunity of a lifetime. You are literally within the building that makes the laws that affect everyone in the nation.

Since the first day I got to DC, I feel that I have grown so much personally and professionally. Personally, there was so much I didn’t know about the LGBTQ community. I always wanted to know more but never knew where to start. From learning about the origin story of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to the untold stories of LGBTQ people in the Holocaust has given me a sense of pride knowing that people fought for equal rights before my existence so that I would have the freedom to love who I want. People lost their lives for future generations to thrive without discrimination. They were abused, publicly humiliated, and discriminated against, but they never gave up because they believed that everyone deserved equal rights.

Professionally, working on the Hill was nothing like I imagined. I thought the Hill would be strict and stuffy 24/7. Like the staffers in Representative Sean Patrick Maloney’s office would be robotically professional, I was wrong, to an extent, learning that,yes, the environment is professional but not all the time. On a daily basis you hear the staffers cracking jokes throughout the day. They actually talk to you and offer their help, even though they are always busy.

Some of the work interns do can come across like “busy work,” but this type of work allows staffers to focus on the important tasks at hand, like coordinating with other offices to co-sponsor a bill. Even though the work we are doing is often considered “unappreciated” work, I feel that the staffers do appreciate the interns, mainly because they were once interns, as well. Turns out, many interns become staffers within a year or two. It blows my mind how fast paced the Hill is, but that’s DC for you.

An important thing that I have learned is that it’s okay to take up space on the Hill, meaning that I belong here, even though not everyone looks like me. Just being on the Hill as an LGBTQ person of color, I am one of the twelve trailblazers for the next generation to come. I write this in hopes that younger generations can see me, read this, and think, “If he could do it, so can I.” That one thought within the younger generation will change America forever.

Eight Victory Congressional Interns pose for a group photo

I was so anxious and fearful to travel across the country for the Victory Congressional Internship. From starting the application process, to interviewing and receiving the acceptance email, I still had doubts if I would do well. When I doubt myself, I turn to the quote that inspires me to take chances:

“What if I fall?”

“Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

By coming to DC, I flew.



Resilience
by: Elí Alejo

I fell in love with a new city – one I thought I would never get used to. Despite the humid weather, the Metro rush hour, and long lines at the grocery store, DC has life to offer. I won’t lie and say I haven’t been homesick for my comforting home in Amherst and my busy bee life in Los Angeles, but I have finally adapted to my DC routine and have become in sync with the world in D.C, something that usually takes time for me when making home in another city. It is somewhat disheartening to know I will be packing up again soon, but I can assure myself that I have left my mark here.

A Victory Congressional Intern smiles for a photo with Representative Sharice DavidsWorking on the Hill has taught me resilience. However, it has only taught me resilience because it was starting to wear part of me down. I became more aware of how my gender and its presentation challenges the gender binary that is existent on Capitol Hill. I have been misgendered and subjected to a gender guessing game, based on how I choose to present myself on a given day. Through this discomfort, I have learned that the questioning of who and what I am is enough to make people begin to question the binary that is enforced within these institutions. I have become comfortable with accepting that I, as a nonbinary trans individual, am doing enough by simply existing and being in these spaces. At the beginning of the internship, I was anxious about having to justify my existence on the Hill, but soon learned that simply living and being my authentic self is enough. I thank the other intern in my office, who also challenges the gender binary daily, for helping me ground myself when times become tough.

I am partly relieved that despite the transphobia in macro or micro instances, my office believes in me and the work that I am doing. From doing day-to-day intern work, I have advanced and been trusted to do more staff assistant and legislative work. The legislative director and legislative assistant have offered me opportunities I wouldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for how much they believed in me and my work. I am now writing recommendations, researching bills, attending briefings, or simply providing the Congresswoman with what she needs. After a month of working in the office, I have gained the skills I sought out when applying for this internship. I am becoming familiar with how the government is run and how to bring back the knowledge to my community to build more resistance and passion for change. As much work as it is surviving on the Hill, it pays off when I remember that I made it this far for myself and my people.

Week 5: Moving Away from the Comfort Zone

Finding Your Place

By: Ben Schuster

During the past several weeks, I have learned so much about the LGBTQ+ community and the space I hold within it. I’ve reflected on my own background and the barriers in place towards guaranteeing the freedom to be myself, but also the systemic barriers faced by those with less privilege than I. Through this experience, I’ve started recognizing my ability to not only advocate for those similar to me, but have also started the ongoing process of being an ally for those who often don’t have a seat at the table. I’m extremely grateful to Victory Institute for this opportunity and will not stop fighting until we all have a seat with all of our intersectional identities recognized and included.

In early June, I walked in Capital Pride with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and the entire Mayor’s Office, I felt a joy and freedom I’ve never before experienced. Walking in World Pride in New York City this past weekend, I again felt that same joy and freedom only found through being with those who accept me for me.

A group of four people pose at Capital Pride

At every turn, I’ve begun to understand the immense progress our community has made, but also the work that must be done to ensure equal rights and liberties for all of us. The theme of my experience has been learning. I learn something new every day and couldn’t ask for better teachers than the members of the incredibly diverse LGBTQ+ community I am fortunate to call my own. I’ve learned about how complex the LGBTQ+ community is, but also how inspired, creative, and passionate we all are to do something amazing in the world. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

At the Victory Institute Congressional Pride Reception in June, I learned about the work of Senator Tammy Baldwin (who’s probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met) over the past two decades to increase the Victory Institute International LGBTQ+ Leaders Conference from 14 attendees in 1986 to more than 500 attendees in 2018. I’m incredibly grateful for those like Senator Baldwin who will not rest until we are all accepted for who we are, especially in a political climate like today’s where compromise is less and less common.

Victory Congressional Intern Ben Schuster poses with Senator Tammy Baldwin

In my Congressional office working for Senator Doug Jones, I’ve also grown to love working on behalf of Alabamians. Sure, it’s easy to put a face to a deep-red state like Alabama given recent events, but things aren’t always as black and white as they seem – I often answer constituent calls from those voicing support for the Equality Act and am surrounded by a full staff of accepting, supportive, and inspiring individuals from Alabama. The Senator’s office is a special one, and I have pride in working for someone who can always find commonalities with other lawmakers in a bipartisan way.

Having worked in the office for five weeks, I’ve already had the opportunity to contribute to LGBTQ+ legislation like the Equality Act (the Senator gave an incredible Senate floor speech about the Act during my second week) and am excited to continue my work advocating for the community throughout the remainder of the summer. There’s some incredible work being done on the state-level in Alabama too, so I’m constantly reminded that progress and change are always at work, even in the places where they’re least expected.

A group of interns poses with Senator Doug Jones

My experience thus far has challenged me to grow in my respect for myself and enabled me to become an advocate for what I know is right. I’m in love with DC and am inspired daily by the passion of each and every member of the intern cohort. I consider myself immensely fortunate to be surrounded by those who challenge me to dig deeper, open up, and be myself. I’ve made some amazing friends through the program and greatly look forward to seeing what the remainder of the summer brings. Let’s get to work!


 

The Journey of a Cowboy
by: Gus Stephens

Even though I am exhausted and my blistered feet are dreading the idea of wearing dress shoes tomorrow, going on a weekend trip to New York World Pride 2019 with my friends in the Victory Institute cohort is a decision I will never regret and one I am grateful to have made.

Initially, I saw NYC Pride to be another opportunity to reprise my space cowboy outfit from DC ride, reconnect with friends who had moved to NYC, and get better pictures for my burgeoning Instagram account (currently at 14 followers with 0 sponsorships). While all those things still happened, New York World Pride hit me right in the feels in a way I did not expect.

Three young people pose at NYC pride

With it being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, this Pride was filled with an extra sense of progress, resistance, and resilience. The emotion that struck me most, however, was the feeling of love directed toward the LGBTQ community. Like DC Pride, many people came out to express their support and pride for their identities. Yet the scale and symbolism of NYC Pride amped up these good vibes and almost made me tearful as I recalled my struggles with externalized and internalized homophobia and feelings of shame.

I know, I know. Cowboys are not supposed to be emotional and teary eyed, especially at a rodeo like Pride. When we’re out in public, it can still feel like we have to be more like Lonesome Dove and less like Brokeback Mountain. Yet seeing all these queer people and allies march down 5th Avenue with joy and love for queerness and queer people was the powerful reminder I needed to know that I am loved and I am not to be ashamed of who I am.

For me, being able to feel that comfort and self-assurance before and after Pride month will take more time and emotional labor as I navigate life as an openly gay man. That said, it’s good to know that the journey to self-love is not one that requires you to march alone, or in my case, ride solo. Yeehaw!

 



Coming Out (Of Your Comfort Zone)
by: Kylie Murdock

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert. I’m not one to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation, or one to enjoy networking events. In the past, I would get off from work at 6pm, go home, and spend the rest of the night by myself, usually watching Netflix. But this summer, I’ve decided to challenge myself. I wanted to make the most out of my time in Washington D.C. and not be left wondering “What if?” This past week was the ultimate epitome of this challenge.

A Victory Congressional Intern holds a sign saying "The Future is Female"Monday night, I got off work and headed straight to a networking event hosted by Ignite, an organization that trains women to run for office. Luckily, two friends from my cohort, Alexis and Alicia, tagged along so I wasn’t alone. We started talking to strangers and ended by exchanging contact information. Even though Alexis and Alicia were leading most of the conversation, I would contribute every so often, easing my way into the whole networking thing.

Tuesday night, I got off work and headed to a Pride Happy Hour hosted by the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, and I was ready to put my rehearsed networking skills to the test. I caught up with a couple people I had met at previous events, and surprisingly found myself leading the conversation. I then began talking to a 20-year-old staffer from Florida. 20! I’m 21 and he is more accomplished than me. We hit it off, and now we’re getting coffee next week. I’m excited to see what I can learn from someone so accomplished at such a young age.

Wednesday night, I got off work and headed to the Congressional Baseball Game. I have never been a fan of baseball, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to watch members of Congress attempt to catch a baseball and drop it. I ended up having a great time. By just being there, I was able to see Congresswoman Deb Haaland sitting a row away from us. After the game, Gus and I dashed to a debate watch party where we were promptly turned away because the venue was at capacity. We watched the debate on my phone on the Uber ride back to our apartment, where we watched the remainder of the debate.

A shot of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Stadium

Overall, it was a jam-packed week. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged myself to be more social and more spontaneous. While I plan to do this more, I’m definitely going to need some “me time” this week. Spending 9 hours at work and then 3 hours out after work can be draining. Self-care, whatever that looks like for people, is important. For me, it looks like spending time with myself.

Here’s to challenging yourself, but also taking care of yourself!

 

 

Week 6: History in the Making

History in the Making

By: Brett Ries

Full disclosure: I am a history fanatic. I love studying the history of our government, country, and society in general. In my opinion studying history is critical to change our world for the better. If we do not know nor understand our history, it is difficult for us to effectively change our present and future. Inherent to living in our nation’s capital, I am constantly surrounded by history, and I am loving every moment of it.

A young man looks up at the Lincoln Memorial

I’ve wasted no time in exploring the history surrounding me. On just the second day of this internship experience, my cohort and I visited the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial, and many more. At each place I took a moment to reflect on the history each memorial or monument represented. At first glance, it may seem as though these monuments represent a mere person or event, but they encompass so much more. The Lincoln Memorial is a testament to one of our nation’s greatest presidents, but it also represents the story of a nation that withstood deep division. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial does not only commemorate one of our nation’s greatest civil rights activists; it also embodies that “out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” can emerge in our pursuit of racial justice and equality. This is the quintessence of history: it teaches us about the past while also providing a lesson for the future.

There is no shortage of history on Capitol Hill either. When I underwent tour training in my first week, I took over five pages of notes about the expansive history of just one building in this city. As a history nerd, I thoroughly enjoy sharing this history with visitors, but not all of this history is positive. Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson were both decided in the U.S. Capitol Building, and these decisions severely limited civil rights for black Americans. Detrimental laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act were also passed in this building. However, what I love about our Capitol Building is its reminders of positive, progressive history as well. The statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks will remain in the Capitol Building permanently as a constant reminder of the fight and struggle for racial equality. The statue depicting the pioneers of the Suffrage Movement not only commemorates leaders of the past, but also leaves a space open to represent the progress yet to be made.

Victory Congressional Intern Brett Ries stands in front of Senator Tammy Baldwin's Office

I am also witnessing history in the making. As an intern in a congressional office, I read and listen to the concerns of those who are worried about the humanitarian crisis occurring at the border. I watched Senator Tammy Baldwin—my boss—introduce the first bipartisan LGBTQ resolution commemorating the Stonewall uprising, and the resolution even passed both houses with unanimous consent. I am still struggling to believe that I received an opportunity to both learn history and witness history at the same time.

But as I think about this history in the making, I do not just think about Congress and how it is handling the current issues in our country. I also think about myself and the eleven other young, talented individuals who are here with me on this journey. We are learning the ropes and preparing to step into the political ring. We are learning from our history and applying the lessons to our presents and futures. We are becoming the change we want to see in the world, and THAT is the “history in the making” I am most excited to be witnessing.

 


 

Today’s the Big Day
by: Janiah Miller

Janiah Miller, Victory Congressional Intern, poses in front of the Stonewall Inn

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. A lot has happened in these past few weeks; I went to the House floor and New York City for the first time. They say it’s hard to capture a moment in history or a “high” moment when you are living it. I’ll aim to do the best I can.

I woke up that Monday feeling very frantic to the feeling of, “Today is the big day.” In this case, the big day was the markup of the 2020 House Appropriations Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Bill. Although I didn’t work on the bill, I felt like I was a part of the team because I had been included in staff meetings and had the opportunity to go to the full committee mark-up. The staffers in our office had been waiting for this moment for six months.

Even though I’m just an intern, carrying files and riding the Capitol train to get the floor felt powerful. Not to mention, most staffers don’t get to go on the floor for a live bill their entire career on Capitol Hill. It was a privilege to be there and live in that moment.

On the big day, our team arrived at the “Speaker’s Waiting Room” outside of the House floor. Once you get there, you turn in your staff badge to get a floor pass. While I was there, I learned that wasn’t a women’s bathroom for members until Speaker Pelosi became the Speaker of the House. Congress fought her on it, saying it was a waste of money, but they eventually installed one.

During the review process, the en bloc can feel long, especially if you don’t understand everything that they are talking about. There were over 80 amendments in the bill’s en bloc. Two amendments particularly caught my attention; they were about housing rights for transgender folx. During the en bloc, the republicans were being transphobic in how they discussed the amendments. That was really hard to listen to since there are transgender and non-binary folx in our intern cohort and these bills directly impact them.

The most exciting moment of the day was being able to see the members vote. The members sit amongst the staffers on the floor. You just feel the power and the energy within the room (I was just two seats away from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!).

I was sitting with my subcommittee on the democratic side of the house. Looking over at the republican side, the lack of diversity was apparent. The democratic side felt more like a reflection of America. Despite seeing my favorite representatives on the floor, I felt sad. I wanted there to be more of them. There is still much work to be done to get more women in office, particularly women of color. The longer I sat there, the more I envisioned being there one day as a member of Congress.

The end of my week was exciting in a different way. This was my first year not going to Cincinnati Pride, the only pride I have ever been to. Since I’m in DC, I went to Capital Pride about a month ago. DC pride was honestly pretty overwhelming since it’s a large parade without much space to gather. In Cincinnati, there is a mix of booths from corporations, local businesses, and nonprofits sharing information with the community. New York City’s World Pride felt more similar to Cincinnati’s pride. Although the space was overwhelming at times, it felt like community. I was full of pride in this space.


 

Sense of Self & Learning
by: Leanne Ho

During the last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time engaging with constituents—on phone calls, in form letters, and even as I make small talk during tours of the Capitol. Going into this internship, I knew that I would represent the Senator, but it’s still jarring to remember that for many of California’s 40 million constituents, I’m the closest they’ll ever get to being heard. For that reason, I feel a tremendous responsibility to listen to their stories and to advocate on their behalf. This is easy when I agree with them, and much more difficult when I don’t.

For example, as the American public learns more about the conditions at border detention facilities, my office has received an influx of calls about immigration. The majority of callers are sympathetic, and if they get overly emotional, it’s usually in response to the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. But a few callers have told me that “those illegal aliens” deserve to be punished for breaking the law or that they shouldn’t have come here if they didn’t want their children taken away. I’m a child of refugees, and I still can’t imagine how desperate someone has to be in order to risk such a dangerous journey. The complete lack of sympathy is disheartening. At the same time, I’m learning a lot. Amidst this hateful rhetoric, I’m developing my capacity to deescalate conflict and process emotional challenges.

Even the cases I agree with have added nuance to my perspective and pushed me to grow. Because I was assigned to the healthcare legislative portfolio, I’ve written over a dozen form letters and memos on everything from telehealth in rural communities to toxic phthalates in menstrual care products. I see a lot of pain and suffering, but nothing could’ve prepared me to read a letter from a girl my age, whose father had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). After asking the Senator to help raise awareness of the disease, she wrote, “I’m not an employee of the ALS association. I’m just a girl who misses her dad.” Stories like hers remind me that the work we do has real life implications.

My internship hasn’t always been easy, but it’s taught me how to remain levelheaded in the face of conflict and hardship. Through interacting with a variety of people, I have learned to communicate clearly and compassionately. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to have these experiences and develop these skills.

Week 7: Privilege and Power

Driven to Make a Difference

By: Jahad Carter

A young man stands in front of the Supreme CourtAs I begin to type this blog post, I think about the amount of privilege that I have. I think about the opportunity that I have to sit behind a screen and write my experiences for the world to see. I think about the chance that I have to gain a proper education. Most importantly, I think about the privilege I have to be sitting in a congressional office researching issues that impact many communities. Amongst all of this privilege, it is honestly very hard for me to take a back seat while I witness real people hurt.

It is one thing to be in my rural town staying informed about events happening across the country. However, it is another thing to live, breathe, and eat in the institution that houses a lot of the country’s issues. While many people are focused on respectability politics, networking, and grabbing coffee; I have been looking at what is happening at the border and I feel ashamed. I’ve learned that some of what I am facing is secondary traumatic stress. When I see this human rights crisis, I feel simultaneously distraught and driven to learn how to make things like this stop and never happen again.

I wish I could say more about my internship experiences or giving tours to constituents but I’d rather not. I believe that, as a true ally, I should yield my time to shed more light on this issue. I’m writing this to remind my future self on why I should always keep fighting for what is right! I pledge to myself that I will learn how to make serious change without using real people and their lives as pawns in a game of chess. I will use my privilege to the best to my ability to learn how to make this world a much better place.


Adversity as Motivation
by: Alicia Cantrell

I can’t believe we’re coming up on the last week of our internship! Time has really flown by and I can’t even begin to adequately express how much I’m going to miss my cohort. This is a family I’m not ready to part with, but I’m confident we will continue to stay in touch with one another and for that, I am thankful. I am really appreciative of my cohort and I cannot wait to see the amazing things they will all accomplish in life.

The Victory Congressional Interns pose with Eric Fanning, CEO of AIA

These past seven weeks working on the Hill has provided me invaluable insight and perspective on my role as a citizen, and a future public servant here in America. From writing memos, to constituent letters and resolutions, to attending a wide variety of briefings and hearings, working on the Hill is an experience I will never forget. The skills I have been able to learn and expand on are ones that I will utilize throughout my life, regardless of the career I ultimately decide to pursue.

Congresswoman Angie Craig gives a speech

This past week I was able to attend a LGBT Congressional Staff Association event where my Representative, Representative Craig, was invited to speak. I attended the event with some other LGBT staffers in my office. Aside from transcribing town hall events and interviews, I had never gotten to hear my Representative publicly speak. The fact that it was an event centered around LGBT folks made it even better. Hearing Representative Craig share her story and how it lead her to pursue a career in public service really inspired me. Her speech reminded me that we all have experienced hardships in life, but it’s how we proceed after those hardships that really matters. Not everyone has the privilege to pursue higher education, and even fewer people have the opportunity to work as a Congressional intern in Washington, DC. Like Representative Craig, I intend to use the adversities I have faced in life to motivate me to work just that much harder for the change needed in our society and to do so by utilizing my privilege.


How Can I Contribute to Change?
by: Alexis Grady

This weekend the President tweeted that progressive Congresswomen who had criticized the current United States immigration policy should instead “go back to their own countries” and attempt to fix the governments there instead of interfering with ours. Besides the overtly racist tone of his tweets, President Trump also missed the fact that three of the four progressive Congresswomen he was referencing were born in the United States, the other having been a citizen for nineteen years. His tweet punctuated a week filled with multiple committee hearings on the situation at the border and the announcement of ICE raids in major cities. As someone whose partner is an immigrant, and someone who wants to work on immigration policy, these events have been a sobering reminder of the importance of the work that I want to do.

Understandably, immigration has been the most talked about issue this week on the Hill. Even in the face of this difficult issue, as interns, we are expected to remain professional. I have answered calls where people blame me for the death of migrant children. At times when this became overwhelming, especially near the end of the week, I reflected on Representative Rashida Tliab’s call not to avert our eyes away from what is difficult. I know that my active participation in finding solutions and challenging my peers to speak up is a moral responsibility and something that will prepare me emotionally to work on this issue full-time.

The issue of immigration has often come up in my personal reading. Even before the events of this week, I committed to reading every day on the metro. I selected the book Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin, a Somali immigrant who overcame great odds to escape dangerous conditions and come to America. Reading his story on the way to an internship on Capitol Hill emphasized the privilege we have as Victory Congressional Interns. It reminded me to connect policy to people and to take every opportunity to learn tools to bring back to my community.

Finally, the urgency of our immigration crisis has challenged me to think about how I can contribute to a solution. It is frustrating to feel so far away from becoming an attorney when there are people who need help now. But, our cohort visited Georgetown Law School last week and it reminded me that there are others in my shoes. As a DC based student, I have often wondered how, if at all, law schools like Georgetown incorporate the political processes happening down the street. I was surprised to learn that even those who aren’t studying public policy have obligations to invest in how law is impacting people’s lives. The visit motivated me to expand my view of how I can contribute my energy and labor to the issue and make a difference.

Week 8: The Last Chapter

The Last Week

By: Ben Schuster

This past week has been one of my busiest this summer. A lot has happened: it was my last week in my congressional office, my cohort completed our group volunteering, and I said goodbye to the cohort because I was heading back home. This summer hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’m starting to understand my role in continuing political work and bringing my learnings from this summer back to my communities in Michigan and Ohio.

This week in the office, I worked on a number of topics relating to banking, aging, and federal grant access. Honestly, they’re topics I’ve never been too passionate about, but after seeing firsthand their effect on people – Alabamians, especially – my perspective has changed. For example, people have real concerns about the future of our financial system, particularly in the wake of Facebook’s emerging support for a new digital currency, Libra, and the company’s track record with data security. Simultaneously, senior citizens across Alabama and the nation have been plagued with robocall fraud, leading many to bankruptcy. Finally, there is a real question of access to federal grants among those in Alabama, as it is the fifth most federally dependent state in the country. At the end of the day, I’m learning that policies are personal for many people.

A photo of a senate chamber

On Tuesday, the office interns and I sat down with the Senator and reflected on our favorite projects throughout the summer. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to brief him going into committee, and on Thursday, I said goodbye to some of the most amazing, passionate, and authentic people I’ve ever met. Working for Senator Doug Jones has been an incredible experience and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the amazing work the office continues to do from the outside. I’ll miss working in the office, but I know it’s in great hands.

A photo of the plaque outside Senator Doug Jones Office

The hardest part by far has been saying goodbye to the Victory Institute family. Nothing really prepared me for that, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to understand the real impact this cohort has had on me. I’m someone who overthinks things sometimes, but when it comes to life experiences like this, I need time to reflect. The 11 other members of the cohort have shown me a side of the LGBTQ+ community I’m not sure I’ll ever see again in my life, and for that, I am truly grateful. Being surrounded by a community that is unapologetically itself has made me more thoughtful and accepting of myself and also of diversity, in all of its forms.

My last week was amazing and I’d like to thank all of Victory Institute for an amazing eight weeks. You’ve really shaped us into the future and I’ll never forget that.


Knowing History, Making History
by: Marissa Wu

Over the past eight weeks, I’ve had the privilege of exploring the nuances of what it means to be LGBTQ. As an LGBT Studies minor, I came in with a decent understanding of queer culture, history, and resistance. However, I didn’t realize how much I still didn’t know, and how much I would learn.

I strongly believe that if you want to understand yourself, you need to understand your history. While I’d already studied the details of the gay liberation movement, no textbook could’ve prepared me for the weekend I spent in New York City during World Pride. During the parade, my group made it to the original Stonewall Inn, the site of the infamous riots that were among the first uprisings of gay liberation. At that moment, a bus full of community elders drove by in the parade, several holding up their fists in victory, beaming down at us. I distinctly remember one man slowly raising his hands in a triangle formation above his grey head as they drove by in a salute to the pink triangle, which had been used to mark LGBT individuals in concentration camps during the Holocaust and later, was reclaimed by the movement.

A group of older adults at World Pride in NYUpon seeing them, I immediately started tearing up. I was completely overwhelmed by the serendipity of the moment, the meeting of past and present. In that moment, I saw how I fit into the decades-old fight for equality. Our elders have done so much for us just by having the courage to be themselves, and I thought about the unimaginable violence they had to endure for me to be able to stand here, young and out. I only wished that the bus could have been more full.

Victory Congressional Intern Marissa Wu stands in front of the Victory entrance V.Understanding how others have navigated their queerness has also been incredibly insightful. Every Friday, when we visited organizations like the Center for American Progress, Aerospace Industries Association, and Georgetown Law, we had the chance to ask successful out professionals how their identities had affected their trajectories. Answers varied— for some, it motivated their work; for others, it had been a barrier; a few mentioned that they felt little effect. Ultimately, I walked away able to imagine how it would look for myself as an out person to work on issues that hit close to home.

Over the course of this program, I’ve reaffirmed why representation is so important. Just by being out, others have served as role models and inspirations to me. I can only imagine that in the future, I might be the one setting the example for others.

 

The VCI Experience: A Summary

Those Who Come Before Us 

By: Alexis Grady

“We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.” – John Lewis 

This weekend, some of the VCIs took a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to celebrate the successful completion of our internship. I have been twice before, but this time I was visiting within the context of having just spent eight weeks on Capitol Hill. Immediately, I gravitated towards the sections on the political progress of Black Americans; our struggle for rights has often been demonstrated through the vehicle of our political advancement. The Civil Rights movement boasts countless formidable leaders, but John Lewis, in particular, stood out to me on the wall. At age 23, he was preparing to speak at the March on Washington to secure the rights and liberties of people who look like me. Now, at age 79, he is serving in Congress, working to make sure the rights and liberties gained cannot be stripped away. As an intern in Congress, I stood on his and the shoulders of so many others who sacrificed for me to be here. It impossible not to think of those sacrifices as I reflect on what a privilege and a challenge it has been to serve as a Victory Congressional Intern. 

As a Queer Black person, so much of my identity is tied to movements. There are people who sacrificed their lives for almost every part of my identity to be accepted and respected so that I could simply exist. And even as I served as a Congressional intern, I was reminded that some aspects of my Queer identity are still unprotected under federal law. Because of this, I am tasked with continuing the fight that my ancestors started until our full rights are achieved. My identity is naturally political, often picked apart and parsed through by those who have no real stake in my survival. There are few people on Capitol Hill who share my marginalized identities and yet every decision that is made there affects me and people who look like me. That is why the Victory Congressional Internship program is so important. It not only accepts LGBTQ undergraduates but is intentional in making sure that the cohort is representative of the diversity of the broader LGBTQ community. There are only a dozen Victory Congressional Interns at a time, but we are tasked with being the voices of countless others. 

I had some understanding of the significance of Victory Institute’s decision to select me before I arrived back in Washington, DC but I must admit that it scared me more than excited me. I expected to encounter eleven other LGBTQ leaders who were more equipped, more sure of who they are, and more deserving of the opportunity than myself. As someone who has existed primarily in environments where there was no LGBTQ representation or acceptance, I looked harshly at myself in comparison to those who I considered to be fully formed and immersed in their Queer identities. I wondered why I was chosen. But, I underestimated the power in growing together. We were not selected as the 2019 cohort because we were symbols of perfection but because each one of us possesses qualities that make us ripe for growth and leadership. Throughout the internship, we have challenged each other to become the best versions of ourselves, and to look beyond ourselves as we seek to change the world for the better. There are things more important than perfection.  

And so we came from different states and backgrounds to live and work together in a system that wasn’t built for us, but that we are tasked with playing a role in changing. We worked in twelve different offices where some of us learned to bring our whole selves to the workplace for the first time. I became immersed in the legislative process and saw policies that impacted the lives of myself and my friends debated in real time. It is not easier for my identity to be picked apart and parsed through just because I am in the room. But in those rooms, I found my voice. And at home, there was a support system waiting for me after every long day. 

I hold the rare privilege of having future Congresspeople, Chiefs of Staff, doctors and lawyers as a support system. The Victory Congressional Interns are a high achieving and focused group of people who will no doubt turn the current system on its head and help to shape the society we all long to live in. We will pass new laws, argue new cases, and exercise compassion and empathy where our government has lacked it in the past. On top of it all, we will also be lifelong friends and that, in itself, is revolutionary. For so many of us, being Queer is a lonely experience that is more defined by struggle than love or joy. The 2019 Victory Congressional cohort has shown me that while progress requires sacrifice, it does not have to be born solely out of pain. With an environment of full acceptance, so many of us have found the footing to push ourselves further than we ever dreamed. 

I am still fearful of the future. There are inevitable realities that I will return to and challenges that I have not surmounted yet. But I am a Victory Congressional Alumni. I have learned the legislative process, spoke truth to power even through the smallest administrative tasks, challenged my peers and been challenged by them, and forged a stronger version of myself through the process. I cannot say if the people who came before me, in their fight for our right to exist, could have imagined that I would be here in this exact moment. But I hope to make them proud as I take up the fight, and push forward in anticipation that whoever comes after me will do the same. 


Where to Begin
by: Ben Schuster

The past 8 weeks have been nothing short of life-changing. I now have a better understanding of how Congress works, how truly diverse and inspired the LGBTQ+ community, and the work that needs to be done to push our country in the right direction. This experience has taught me to challenge myself, open up about my own life experiences, and listen to those around me more fully. This summer, I’ve grown in immeasurable ways and have begun to realize my own place within the world. If not for the Victory Congressional Internship and my experience in Senator Doug Jones’s office this summer, I would not have this level of clarity, for which I am extremely grateful.  

Living alongside 11 other interns in the George Washington dorms this summer, I met some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in my life, many of whom I am sure will be lifelong friends.  

Two VCIs Ben and Gus pose with the Don't Get Mad, Get Elected and Victory Signs

One of the main takeaways I’ve learned over the course of this experience is that policy at the federal level truly affects us all. At the end of the day, it comes down to the complex relationship between intent and impact. Some policies and public decisions have intended goals, though all have unintended consequences that may have negative impacts across all of society. It’s something I began to learn this past semester while in a class at Michigan’s Ford School: every policy has unintended consequences, no exceptions. It’s this reality that faces lawmakers at every level: from your local school board all the way to Congress, the Supreme Court, and White House. Policies have real impacts on people, and we cannot forget that. We can’t, and sadly, I think we’ve forgotten. 

I think a lot, now, about what I want to do with my life and in my career. Mayor Parker shared her own experiences as Mayor of Houston and a lot of what she shared resonates with me.  Doesn’t it make sense to work at the level where you can understand your constituents, equipped with firsthand awareness of the issues they face daily? I think about how I want to leave my impact on the world, especially on LGBTQ+ and voter rights policy, and I can’t think of a better place to start than at the local level.  


The Voyage of a Lifetime
by: Brett Ries

VCI Brett Ries on Speaker's BalconyAlbert Einstein remarked, “A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it’s built for.” It would have been very easy for me to stay safely at shore in South Dakota, but I am so glad I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone and set sail toward our nation’s capital. Although interning on Capitol Hill was the experience of a lifetime, I found something even more special through the Victory Congressional Internship: a supportive community that understands my struggles as an LGBTQ individual. Growing up in South Dakota, I did not have an openly-LGBTQ role model in my family, school, hometown, or state. My hometown didn’t have its first Pride festival until this summer. I could not rely on others to validate my sexuality; I had to find acceptance within myself. I didn’t realize how much of a burden this was until I came to Washington D.C. through the VCI Program and felt the weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I was finally surrounded by people who relate to my story, have faced similar challenges, and don’t need me to explain or validate my sexuality and expression. My cohort, the Victory staff, and my congressional office all welcomed me with open arms, and I was finally completely free to be myself unapologetically. 

I have learned many things from this experience, and I feel obligated to share them in order to help the next class of Victory Congressional Interns or anyone else reading this post. While these lessons may seem specific to this experience, many of these lessons transcend my experience in the program and are applicable to other life experiences, personal or professional. 

  1. Discover the recipe for the group. During this program, 12 individuals spend the majority of their eight weeks in D.C. together, including living with each other. Everyone will have their own experiences, opinions, and personalities. The goal is to find how you can all grow together in the most conducive environment. It’s like when you have 12 separate ingredients for a meal: you know that the ingredients can make something beautiful and delicious, but you have to find the best way to approach each ingredient. You cannot just throw the 12 ingredients into a bowl and expect them to magically turn into what you want. Take the time to understand each ingredient and figure out what it needs to help create a cohesive dish. To escape the metaphor, be patient and respectful with your fellow cohort members to the best of your abilities. However, it is also your responsibility to remain open to different perspectives and uncomfortable conversations. If you give up on your cohort, they may give up on you. Everyone is learning together. It will be a long eight weeks if no one takes the time to listen and understand one another. 
  2. Take initiative. I am so grateful that I got to assist in the research and drafting of the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall Resolution that passed both the House and Senate unanimously. However, I don’t think I would have been given that opportunity if I hadn’t given my legislative assistant a policy proposal for a topic area I had done extensive research on. I also wrote a tour guide and master table with issue codes for my fellow interns. Neither of these tasks were assigned to me, but they were certainly noticed by the office staff. If you want to make the best out of this opportunity, it will require you to take the extra time to think outside of the box about what you can do to improve the area around you. 
  3. Seize the moment. While eight weeks may seem like a long time, it goes by in a flash, so take advantage of the space around you. It may be easy to just go home to the dorm and rest after a tiring day of work, but there is too much surrounding you to do that. Visit museums, monuments, LGBTQ spaces, and other amazing places in D.C. One of the favorite pastimes of my cohort was to go to karaoke and tots on Sunday nights. We even took advantage of the cheap bus rides to New York City and went to World Pride. I promise there will be time to rest after the internship, so make the most of D.C. while you are there. 

It is now time for me to take my ship back to my home state of South Dakota. It’s time for me to be a more vocal and visible role model for the other LGBTQ individuals in my state who are afraid to emerge from the shadows or are struggling while in the light. But as I think about my voyage across a sea of change and growth, I have to thank the sailors who boarded ship and supported me. To the Victory staff: I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity and the kindness and support all of you showed me. Thank you for investing in this South Dakotan. To the eleven other cohort members:  it was an honor to share the past eight weeks and grow with all of you. Thank you for your kindness, your energy, and your lessons. I can’t wait to change the world in one way or another alongside all of you. Victory 12 forever. 

Brett Ries poses in front of Victory sign with "make historic firsts history" sign


V12
by: Eli Alejo

Eli poses at VCI graduation with Sarah Pope, Program ManagerDuring the graduation reception, I realized how far I had come from the beginning of summer until now. It hardly felt it had been eight weeks. I was beginning to get used to the routine and the people I was constantly around. The Victory Congressional Intern cohort was my first “chosen” family; it became hard to imagine leavingI felt similarly on my last day in the Congresswoman’s office as I had to confront leaving the other interns in my office, the staff assistant, and the legislative director. I find it difficult to begin to write about the ways I grew professionally, mentally, and emotionally. With my chosen family, they challenged me to become a better communicator and guided me towards ways to take more initiative. Leaving DC I’m more confident with myself and my abilities to create change in my community.

The Hill isn’t easy for those with a racialized and/or marginalized identity. I’ve experienced a variety of spaces that feel more welcoming that others. Isome spaces, I have found myself often being the only person with my racial and marginalized identity. My brownness and transness are inseparable and set the tone for the experiences I will have in the workplace or public spaces. Through hardship, I have learned the importance of a strong support system and selfcare. Days will get tough and tiring but having a system in place lessens the emotional impact.  

If someone were to ask me what is one thing you would tell someone who is coming into the Victory Congressional Intern program is to be open to what community can look like and feel like. It’s challenging as a queer individual to find community and make spaces that are judgement free that fully accept all of you. As a support mechanism, I recommend reading books that are about queer resistance. I had the pleasure of reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, the novel became part of my growth. It’s comforting to know about the universe(s) of queer existence in time and space. James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was another novel I had that helped ease my anxiety about existing as a person of color in predominantly white spaces. 

In regards to my professional development, I felt like I thrived this summer; my challenges ultimately refined my skills as a writer and researcher. Within my first week of working in the office, I was given responsibilities that many interns hardly receive. I was tasked to keep track of bills the Congresswoman had co-sponsored, attended briefings on behalf of legislative staff, and then wrote memos about the topic. The memos ranged from aviation regulations to banning conversion therapy. I had to learn about Kansas and the constituents the Congresswoman served when writing recommendations on bill voting.  

Working for Kansas District 3 taught me how to work with constituents who were on the moderate spectrum when it comes to progressive legislation. I had to learn what were the priorities for Kansans and who they were: from their unionizing rights to their educational curriculum. Growing up and studying in progressive states like California and Massachusetts only exposed me to a limited view of the political world. I’m thankful to have been politically challenged because the skills I have obtained will better equip me for any governmental position I will have in my educational or professional career. 

Lastly, I am grateful for what I’ve learned this summer not only about myself but my peers. I take away lessons on building community, fostering acceptance, and reimagining a world where our struggles as LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are no longer existent. I leave this internship hopeful about the future of my cohort and am equally excited about the leaders that they will all become. I thank Victory Institute for creating a program where I can envision myself and my future political path. Without the contribution of Victory Institute and my cohort, I wouldn’t have grown within the last two months. This experience is one I will not forget and it is one I will carry to encourage others that change is possible.  


Wistful and Empowered
by: Gus Stephens

_✓_ ID badge has been surrendered 

_✓_ Graduation certificate has been granted 

_✓_ LinkedIn/Resume has been updated 

It’s official; my Victory Congressional Internship has officially come to an end.  

I have been dreading this moment for the past two weeks ever since I realized that I’ve fallen in love with DC, working on the Hill and in the Office of the Speaker. Normally, a farewell week like this would have made me feel blue, but focusing on how to make the last 4 days in the office as meaningful as possible prevented that from happening. I dedicated the final days on the job to writing heartfelt thank you cards to all the people who took time out of their busy schedules to do coffee chats with me and drafting and delivering opening remarks for the Speaker of the House at her Hill intern lecture series. The introduction for the Speaker was particularly meaningful since it required me to get out of my comfort zone in several ways – first as an intern taking authority over a speech in the writing and revision process, and second as a shy guy wanting to deliver an exciting and worthy introduction for the highest ranking member in the House of Representatives and most powerful woman in US history. Fortunately, my discomfort did not get the best of me when the time came to recite the introduction in front of the Speaker and a crowd of 500 Hill interns, I knew the words by heart, got shout outs from the Speaker and Victory Institute for it, and was later told by the intern coordinator in the office that Speaker Pelosi said it was the best ever introduction she’s heard from an intern. The opportunity was without a doubt the best farewell gift I could have received. 

VCI Gus Stephens with Speaker Pelosi

On the note of getting out of your comfort zone and feeling better for doing it, that’s essentially how I would describe my experience in the Victory Congressional Internship. When I found out that I would be in the Office of the Speaker, I was initially confused and a little concerned. I felt like I was not qualified enough to be in the Office of the Speaker given that my background in politics was not the most extensive for such a high profile office. Victory must have made a mistake; why else were they taking a chance on a kid from Texas? Yet, the office’s feedback on my work this summer and the Speaker’s reaction to the speech helped me realize that I was, indeed, qualified to work in this office and could actually excel in it.  

Another way this internship experience pushed me out of my comfort zone was by being out as LGBTQ in the workplace for the first time. In my previous internships, I never mentioned my sexuality to anyone and avoided the topic whenever it came up. At first, I found it somewhat uncomfortable to explain to fellow interns what the Victory Congressional Internship program is for they would immediately know that I am gay and then think differently of me. The main fear behind this concern was that if I was known as “the gay intern,” my coworkers would not take me seriously.  

This discomfort was woefully misguided as I would quickly find out. Much of the Hill, the majority of the staff in the office, including the chief of staff, are LGBTQ, therefore disproving the idea that queer people couldn’t hold these positions and be taken seriously. That said, for me it took being surrounded by LGBTQ people in these important and high ranking roles in Congress for 8 weeks to unlearn this internalized homophobic fear that queer people are considered unserious for positions of authority. I also credit the LGBTQ people on the Hill, in the office, and the Victory Congressional Internship program for teaching me firsthand the importance of visibility for LGBTQ people. By making our presence known as openly LGBTQ people, even in a Congressional office, we can create spaces and attitudes that promote the dignity we deserve and that help us live better lives: a lesson that can start at the personal level and later apply to the political.  

While I’m still feel a tinge of sadness now that this experience is over, I’m grateful that the Victory Institute and the Office of the Speaker took a chance on this kid from Texas. I will leave DC a more resilient, confident, informed, and empowered man than when I arrived. And will take this new sense of power into my personal and professional lives as well as my continued work within the LGBTQ and Latinx communities that I am a part of.  


Focus
by: Jahad Carter

The experience I have had this summer has been the most inspiring, gut wrenching and impactful eight weeks of my entire life. I believe that the Jahad that landed in Washington D.C. on May 27th, is surely not the same person who will be leaving to go back to North Carolina.  

Over the course of these past eight weeks I have been engulfed in an ocean of knowledge. And I can say that I have learned how to swim better than ever.  

I have witnessed the beautiful passion for change within myself grow and form into something that I never could have imagined. Now I am ready to take all these lessons I have learned back with me to build up my community and make a seat for everyone at the table. 

I must say it is extremely difficult to put into words my feelings and thoughts of this experience. So, instead I present to you a few poems I have written over the summer that encapsulate my thoughts.  

Victory 12 

All together here we are. 

In the heart of our nation. 

Where my ancestors worked tirelessly. 

We are here to set a new wave. 

Something that hasn’t been done before. 

A trail blazing rainbow across the nation. 

Making way for the marginalized in this country. 

Taking our pain with us everywhere we go. 

Highlighting the things that should fall 

If we shall rise: 

Capitalism. 

Patriarchy. 

White Supremacy. 

And make room for the new. 

A place where hope is currency. 

A place where loving one another is required. 

A place that doesn’t memorialize our dark past. 

Where we remember who built this place. 

I believe in the Victory 12. 

For they will be the ones to change the world. 

Our norms, culture, and values. 

This must happen If we are to have any hope. 

-Jahad Chris Carter   

 

Been Here Before  

Accomplished Accomplishments lead you here. 

To the same place. 

At a cross road. 

Where the signs say. 

“You can’t do this Ave”  

and 

“Why try again Ln” 

No matter what you do, it leads you here. 

At least it seems  

But that is not the case. 

It’s those thoughts that linger from the past. 

Those feelings that want to regain control over your sanity. 

But we aren’t there anymore. 

Haven’t we proved to ourselves that?  

I mean look where we are!  

We didn’t get here by accident.  

Unleash the beast if you have to! 

In fact, you need to!  

For the future’s sake.  

Remember who is rooting for you!  

Your family who can no longer forget you. 

Your Ancestors who built this country for you. 

That little boy who deep down just wanted to be loved. 

I promise you just cruse and you’ll get through.  

-Jahad Chris Carter  

 

The Voice  

You have the voice of a leader.
Use it to climb the ladder of success. 
Use it to carry others with you to the top.
You have the voice of a preacher. 
Use it to uplift the helpless. 
Use it to spew optimism around the globe.
You have the voice of a fighter. 
Use it to hit back at the oppressors. 
Use it to stand up for the oppressed. 
You have the voice of a victor. 
Use it to put an end to the wars that wage on. 
Use it to win for the ones that the system set up to fail.
The voice you have shouldn’t go to waste.
So, just use it! 

-Jahad Chris Carter  

Focus  

As I look to the west I feel the wind flow toward the pacific, just as the founding fathers searched for manifest destiny.  

As I look to the east I hear the negro spirituals my ancestors would sing, as they built a nation that was only free for some.  

I sit in class rooms where I am not expected to do well, even though my ancestors overturned separate but equal.  

I stand on pavements that have been cracked by the ones who came before me as they were driven to peacefully protest.  

I live and breathe in the societal scars that seem to heal. 

In regions that once was soaked by the blood of slaves.  

I have this chance and I may only get one.  

As I see the tossed baton. 

I need to focus and take it.  

-Jahad Chris Carter  


The Time to Be Alive
by: Janiah Miller

When I reflect on my time as a Victory Congressional Intern it feels surreal. I no longer feel alone navigating the world, I feel liberated. One can liberate themselves by finding acceptance within themselves, and that is exactly what I did.  

I woke up on the last day of the internship program and thought, “Wow, it’s really the last day. It feels odd that it doesn’t feel like it’s over. Just a few months ago, I wrapped up 2.5 years in the Student Government Association. At our end of the year banquet, it felt like it was the last day. I felt uncertain about what my future as a leader entailed. I got used to leading in that capacity. When I think about the Victory Congressional Intern program ending I don’t think about it being over, I think about the rest of my life beginning. This is the start of a new beginning. I’ll return home to be a part of a social justice residency program in Cincinnati, begin my membership with the Southwest Ohio Black Democrats, and in the spring, I’ll be in the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission intern program. After that I’ll turn my tassel. The future is bright — this is the time to be alive, to be a young Black queer woman in the politics. 

This summer, participating in the DC and NYC DYKE March was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had. I felt the most empowered in my Black, Queer womanhood. I loved seeing alternative forms of policing at the marches, through the use of community members serving as marshals. I was able to march with other Black folx while holding a sign that said, “Decriminalize Blackness.” I felt love to the point where I almost cried when a woman approached, shared that she’s an old dyke, smiled and shook my hand. Another older woman wanted to take a picture with me. 

Congressional Interns pose with Representative Ayanna Pressley

Being able to attend the Black Women’s Congressional Association week event with Ayanna Pressley was amazing. The conversation was nuanced in what it means to be a Black girl and woman. My biggest takeaway is that Ayanna Pressley can be aauthentic Black women while in a white space. I was tearing up as she spoke and felt like I was being over the top, but then looked over at Alexis, and for the first time in my life, I felt my shoulders go down and didn’t feel alone, particularly in navigating the political world.  

VCI Janiah poses below a Shirley Chisholm portrait with the same crossed arm pose as Shirley ChisholmThey don’t want you to have joy– they want you walking with your head down. I live by Shirley Chisholm’s mantra, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” When thinking about this mantra, I think about the legacy and what it means to continue it. To me this means not only sitting at the table,but building your own table that allows you to be unapologetic. It has been 50 years since Shirley Chisholm was elected to be the first Black woman to be in the United States House of Representatives, as well as the first woman and Black person to seek the presidential nomination of a major political party. We must, as women of color, as Black women, continue to change the way leadership looks and presents itself.  


Goodbye for Now, but Not Forever
by: Kylie Murdock

These past eight weeks in Washington, DC have been a dream. Every day on my way to work, I would catch a glimpse of the Capitol building, and I would pinch myself. I was working in Congress.  

I interned with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is not only my Congresswoman, but also one of the most progressive members of Congress. There’s something really special about working for a Member who you agree with on everything. My time in her office has been amazing, mainly because of my intern coordinator, who is also apart of the LGBTQ community. When I graduate this May, I want to move back to DC and work on Capitol Hill, and my intern coordinator made sure I was well-equipped for my job hunt. He took me on as his mentee and trained me in all the responsibilities of a Staff Assistant and Legislative Correspondent, from booking tours to writing constituent letters. One of the highlights of my time here was managing outreach for one of our bills, H.R. 1111, the Department of Peacebuilding Act. I was able to get Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Deb Haaland, three women that I deeply admire, to sign onto our bill.  

The other part of this program that I really loved was being surrounded by other queer people. Growing up in a Catholic, Republican household in a Republican town was hard. I was told growing up that being gay was a sin, and that I was straight. When I got to college, I was finally able to be myself. And while UC Berkeley is a great place to come out as queer, I was still surrounded by straight people. The Victory Congressional Internship gave me the opportunity to live and work with queer people, and as a result, I’ve become so much more secure in my identity.  

I am so thankful to the Victory Institute for this amazing opportunity. Thank you to Sarah and Mario for managing this program. And thank you to my fellow cohort members for making this summer unforgettable. I’m sad to say goodbye, but it’s a goodbye for now, not a goodbye forever.  


A  Summer of Learning
by: Leanne Ho

Leanne Ho and other interns from Sen. Diane Feinsteins office pose with the senator

For the first week of my internship, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that I wasn’t qualified to be there. Some of the other interns in my Senate office had previous experience either in DC or in District offices, so I felt like I was constantly asking dumb questions that everyone else knew the answers to. My first form letter was a mess, but my legislative correspondent sat down with me and talked me through it. By working hard and demonstrating my eagerness to learn, I found myself improving quickly. I can’t begin to count the number of times a staffer asked me to do something, and I responded along the lines of, “I don’t know how to do that yet, but can you teach me so that I can keep doing this for you in the future?” I also took initiative by asking to tag along with other interns when they completed tasks so that I could learn from observation too. 

I think my Hill placement was a perfect fit. I learned a lot from everyone there, and I got the chance to participate in real work with real consequences. I remember during orientation, the Victory Congressional Internship alumni panel told us to ask for assignments, whether it was writing memos or attending hearings. I was fortunate to be in an office where I didn’t even need to ask. My staffers expected me to do the same work that staff assistants or legislative correspondents did. I learned how to schedule tours, draft form letters, and even present a policy recommendation. Although I plan to go to medical school after I graduate, this internship has strengthened my background in healthcare policy, and I hope to continue my advocacy for community and population health. 

I also learned from my community service requirement, which I completed at Whitman-Walker Health, an organization dedicated to providing accessible, affordable, and inclusive healthcare for LGBTQ patients. Their services include gender-affirming transitions, sexual health educating and testing, and HIV care and management. As a volunteer, I helped assemble sexually transmitted infection (STI) self-test kits, which were part of Whitman-Walker’s initiative to reduce the rates of STIs in the DMV area. I also trained and served as a Community Outreach Educator, where I went with the Whitman-Walker mobile unit to underserved communities to provide sexual health education, free safer sex supplies, and free HIV testing. My experiences off the Hill provided a taste of the clinical side of healthcare, and I hope to continue serving the LGBTQ community as a physician. 

 


Moving Forward
by: Marissa Wu

The “makeover” is probably one of the most recognizable television tropes. Character A is hopelessly average and awkward, but all it takes is a brand-new wardrobe, an entourage of stylists, and a pep talk to reveal their true inner stardom. The person who enters is totally transformed by the time they leave. And we love seeing it. But what really happens after the protagonist saunters offscreen, shiny fresh blowout glistening in the wind, and steps back into the mundane routines of daily life? 

This is the same question I’ve been asking myself. Of course, in my case, there was no four-hour overhaul of my entire appearance, personality, and confidence. But, there’s no denying that the past eight weeks have been transformative. I can measure my growth through the newfound ease I have in talking to strangers, the friends and acquaintances I’ve made, my growing writing portfolio, my familiarity with the metro. Business formal is almost second skin. But even as I list the ways in which the Hill has become home, I’m unconvinced— can I unlearn a lifetime of habits in two months? How much of what I’ve learned here can I retain when I’m gone? 

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about this exact topic, both with other program interns and with friends from back home. I confided my doubts in my own ability to preserve the motivation I feel right now, and my fears about what losing that momentum would entail. I don’t want things to go back to how they were; I want to hold onto the changes that this experience has inscribed on me.  

The truth is, when I’m packing up my suitcases, there are just some things I can’t bring back to California with me. For one, time— being a full-time student, while working part-time, while also serving as VP of UC Berkeley’s immigration clinic, will definitely leave me less freedom to attend events and grab coffee with people I want to get to know, a luxury I’ve had here. Secondly, people— being surrounded by people who are 100% supportive, want to see me succeed, and share the experience of existing in the world as a young queer person is something I will miss very much. Third, the entire city itself— it has been truly heavenly to be in an environment so entrenched in politics, but I need to remember that the rest of the U.S. doesn’t geek out over Congressmembers and binge C-SPAN the same way. 

As I change my title from a Victory intern to an alum, I already know that I will miss this experience so much. I’m sure that I will be tested by the stress and challenges brought on by the next academic year, and I’m sure that I cannot completely translate my behaviors and experience in D.C. back to the Bay. But I’m also sure that I will realize I’ve grown in ways I didn’t notice when I’m facing familiar situations, and better equipped to handle them. Above all, I know the network of friends I’ve made here will still be there for me, even while scattered across the country. 

Maybe a more realistic makeover scene would play out like this: Character A enters the frame. Through a nurturing group of friends, an incredible internship opportunity, and maybe a new blouse and a pair of slacks, they emerge a little more capable and sure of themselves. They still face the same struggles as before, but they get better at dealing with them. Little victories build up to bigger ones. And maybe, after many years, changes are truly internalized and made permanent. But transformation is continuous, never really over. 

Being in this program was the start of my own transformation. From here on out, it’s up to me. But thanks to Victory, I know I’ll always have people growing with me and cheering me on.