Those Who Come Before Us – Alexis Grady

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

“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.