OutPower

‘Rainbow Wave-ing’ Hello to Capitol Hill – Zach Larkin

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns & Fellows. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the fellowship at victoryinstitute.org/vcf

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“If you help elect more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised a green light to move forward” — Harvey Milk

The first time I walked down the halls of a House Office Building was surreal. It was a long anticipated first day on the job, yet I could not believe I was there. Looking around at all the names on the plaques outside of member offices, I could feel the tingling energy of power and change. The halls of this institution hold great stories, historic moments, and some of the most critical times of this country. Despite living in Capitol Hill prior to the fellowship, I never stopped to take a moment and absorb what was really all around me, and now I was smack dab in the center of it all. I felt like it was my first day of kindergarten, but I was in a suit, and I could not be so scared. I will never forget all of the ‘firsts’ I have had and am still collecting. Looking up inside of the Capitol dome, even though I see it every day, will stick with me forever. While it has been a few months since the start of my fellowship, these buildings and the people have not lost their magic. My day-to-day continues to shock me, and I am still having many ‘firsts’. I am so thankful for the people that got me here, and I could not be happier to be fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in such a beautiful and hallowed place.

I never pictured myself working on Capitol Hill when I first moved to Washington, D.C. However, my graduate education mixed with the tantalizing political atmosphere of the nation’s capital piqued my interest. Now, I am walking through the halls amongst great politicians every day to fulfill the missions of the LGBTQ Victory Institute and the Congressional LGBTQI+ Equality Caucus. I am still just as excited to be representing and empowering the LGBTQ+ community three months in, and this adds fuel to the fire of my advocacy and passion for LGBTQ+ equality. Now more than ever, representation in our government is crucial to the queer community, and exemplary for the generations to come. We need to be tall, out, proud, visible, and outspoken; LGBTQ+ people are leaders too, and it is necessary to reflect the diversity of our country in our government. It is so inspiring to set foot inside the government buildings to fight for my community. I am still finding myself bewildered at how I got here, but I cherish the moments I get to be shocked and proud at the spaces I am taking up.

Since assuming this position in August, I have been focused on learning. I was still unfamiliar with Capitol Hill culture and some political processes, but there have been so many people guiding me every step of the way. I was excited to receive some of my first tasks, which I learned would be focused mostly on either policy or communications. Since August, I have been working with a fabulous team that pushes me to be an authentic version of myself and putting that into the work that I do. I quickly became adjusted, strapped in for the ride, and got familiar with Caucus priorities. I have had the chance to work on some amazing social media and legislation and partake in events for the advancement of LGBTQI+ equality domestically and globally. As a results-oriented person, I have been nothing short of amazed at the outcomes that the Caucus produces. To get a better understanding of some things I have been a part of, this is a comprehensive but non-exhaustive list of some great tasks and events I am privileged to be a part of:

  • Connecting with Congressional Caucus member offices in order to figure out how best the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus can serve them
  • Drafting and circulating critical letters of high Caucus priority such as amendments to Title IX for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) inclusivity, and increased inclusivity and visibility in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act for LGBTQ+ people
  • Sending out social guidance to Caucus member offices for important dates in the LGBTQ+ community, such as LGBTQ+ History Month, the anniversary of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being repealed, Transgender Awareness Week, and Transgender Day of Remembrance
  • Sitting in on important meetings with advocacy organizations to discuss how the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus can assist with their goals and objectives
  • Assembling briefings on Capitol Hill in collaboration with other Caucus member offices and outside organizations to provide information regarding critical LGBTQ+ issues
  • Attending networking events and building a strong web of Capitol Hill connections, and relating them to my Caucus work if possible
  • Sending out daily pertinent news clips involving LGBTQ+ issues and daily media social newsletters covering member involvement with LGBTQ+ issues
  • Tracking midterm election news and keep an eye out for victories of LGBTQ+ leaders across the country
  • Working in the Congressional office of two esteemed openly out members of Congress, Representative Mondaire Jones and Representative Mark Takano
  • Attending and conducting Caucus Co-Chair and Co-Chair Liaison meetings

I have a tremendous feeling that we have accomplished so much in the short time that I have been here, and I am expecting so much more to come out of this fellowship. This progress gives me hope for the future of the LGBTQ+ community’s place not just in the government, but in the country. I entered this fellowship at a unique and critical time with the advent of midterm elections, a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, and the balance of LGBTQ+ representation unknown but threatened. Working in two openly out members of Congress’ offices in my time thus far added so much to my experience, as well as hope for increased representation following the midterm elections. Looking forward, I am excited to attend the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, a comprehensive candidate and campaign training, and a host of networking events. Some of my favorite moments thus far have included connecting with people on and off of Capitol Hill in a professional capacity. It has afforded me opportunities to accomplish great things, and it inspires me to put my heart into the work I am doing. Three months has provided me so many skills to champion LGBTQ+ rights and representation, and I am excited to continue this mission until the end of my fellowship.

While I still find myself questioning how I got here, I know that my vigor for advancing LGBTQ+ equality, especially during these unprecedented times of increased LGBTQ+ vitriol and anti-trans rhetoric, is what I am here to enact. I see great leaders of our Congress pushing to protect our community every single day, and I could not be happier to be boots-on-the-ground during these uncertain times. In just a few short months, I have learned a lot, but I know I have so much further to go. I know I can carry these experiences with me through future endeavors and anticipate many more great and unexpected things to come in the next 7 months. My mission here carries on the fight of all of the LGBTQ+ icons that have come before me, and I am fortunate enough to do so within the powerful walls of the U.S. government.

“We have to be visible. We are not ashamed of who we are.” — Sylvia Rivera