OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ+ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
As a part of the Victory Congressional Internship programming, I have been asked to draft a blog on my reflections from this program and how representation on the Hill is so important. I am struggling with this prompt, for how can I even begin to put my experiences here into words? Who will read this blog, and how should I present myself? I have decided to be authentic with my audience, whoever you may be, in the hopes that my challenges and successes can inspire even just one person to explore their dreams, regardless of their positionality, despite what they have been told or what boxes the world tries to put them in.
To give a little background on me before delving into this blog: I am a rising senior at the University of Iowa, completing a double major in Economics and Public Policy and Ethics with a minor in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. I have lived my whole life in Iowa with limited travel experiences. My grandfather came to the US on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean, and we have taken root in Iowa ever since. I am the first in my family to attend college and a proud daughter of a blue-collar working family. Life hasn’t always been the easiest, but I can say now that what we lack in income, we have in love.
I have been in DC for nearly a month now, and yet, every day, I am still in shock. Although I had dreamed of this life for as long as I can remember, something deep in me always held me back. Now that I am here, I am trying to discover why and exterminate it. Yet every day, as this little Iowa girl meets people from every walk of life imaginable, I cannot help but wonder where I fit in. I joke to the people I meet here that my high school had “drive your tractor to school day;” (this was actually something my school had, however).
Even taking a flight by myself on May 31st and living in an entirely different city was so new to me; from there, the new experiences kept coming, and there’s been little time to process. I continue to question what got me here and if I belong. I wonder if it is safe to be an out-LGBTQ person professionally. I simultaneously wonder if I am “gay enough” in one space and “too gay” in another.
The Hill, first and foremost, is absolutely wild. They call it the “Belly of the Beast” for a reason. Everyone is fighting to make a name for themselves, network with the right person, be the loudest in the room, make money, make a difference, fight the power… the motives are spread so wide. And while encountering every belief and individual, I have found my biggest enemy to be myself.
Being in a space that has historically been an elite, cisgender, heterosexual male arena, I am no stranger to imposter syndrome. The Victory program (and frankly, any marginalized person who has ever spent time on the Hill) understands this; hence why our orientation contained an in-depth portion on imposter syndrome. Nonetheless, I find myself constantly comparing myself to others and questioning myself. I will admit that I hear people around me mentioning a certain congressperson or bill, and I do not know who or what that is. When I applied for this internship, I was asked where I saw myself in five years… I was transparent, and I said I was unsure.
There is power in uncertainty. I am only 21 years old on a planet with a million places to see, people to meet, and things to do. I have so much to experience, and it is powerful to continue a journey not knowing where it will go. Yet my answer to the question, while so uncertain as to where I would be, I was absolutely sure who I would be. At the end of the day, I want to work with people and be a light in this world, whether that light is big or small. My mother has always told me my smile will change the world. As cheesy as that sounds, I know it to be true. Whether I touch one heart or millions, I know I want to spread kindness.
Further, I know I am a hard worker. It led me to be valedictorian of my high school class, to receive a full-ride to university, to be on the President’s List, to start my very own club on campus, and to be here in DC today. While I often must fight doubts and suffocate the imposter syndrome, I belong here. I have proven myself in strength, resilience, and intelligence that I belong. As many times as I have to repeat it, I belong here. As I take up the space I deserve in these realms I encounter, I hold the space open for future queer women to enter.
This leads me to answer the question: what is so important about representation on the Hill? The fact that I, a low-income, first-generation, queer woman working on Capitol Hill today, would have been inconceivable to my younger self. The fact that I wear a Victory pin, announcing my queer presence on the Hill, would have sounded impossible to the closeted middle schooler who struggled to make friends. Coming from such a small, conservative town in the middle of nowhere Iowa, representation on the Hill means everything.
To be my authentic self and successful at the same time would have been unimaginable to me ten years back. I did not have a queer role model in my town growing up. So, if this little girl from the middle of nowhere Iowa can see where I am and believe she can be here too, my duty is complete. Whether I end up working in politics, business, or something else entirely, I am out and proud to be who I am.
I am incredibly thankful to the Victory Institute for making this dream possible. I cannot wait to look back on this post and see how much farther I have come five years from now, and another five from that, and so on. I hope to spread queer joy in each space I inhabit, and I am so incredibly thrilled to see where I go from here on out.