Wistful and Empowered – 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

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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.