Validating Community – Gus Stephens

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

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.