News opinion: Navigating politics in Washington at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters
September 4, 2012 | 12:34 pm
(Updated: September 14, 2012 | 2:38 am)
The heat smacked me in the face as soon as I stepped off the plane, the thick humidity clinging to my skin as I made my way to the Metro Rail Station. The rail took me past the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, each of which reminded me of a bomb shelter.
I got off at Faragutt West, just four blocks from the Beacon Hotel. I had almost forgotten about the heat until I emerged from the tunnel and began to navigate the streets, my t-shirt stuck to my back like Saran Wrap. My eyes drank in the mix of colonial, classical and modern architecture—a camera stuck to my face as I took pictures.
My backpack seemed to get heavier as I walked. Yet, as I got closer to the hotel, I grew excited and began move faster, my feet feeling lighter. I rounded the corner and saw my destination: The headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign.
As the nation’s largest LGBT organization fighting for equality, the HRC building stood as an impressive symbol to that mission. The walls were made of glass, reflecting both the sunlight and HRC’s dedication to inclusiveness. The signature blue and yellow equality sign was mounted to a large slab of marble next to the entrance. I took a few pictures, local commuters walking around me with irritated glances.
I was there for HRC’s Volunteer Leadership Institute, a weekend dedicated to meeting volunteers from around the country while developing strategies to overcome the difficulties that sometimes arise with steering committees.
Over forty volunteers participated: From Boston to Orlando. From Phoenix to Charlotte. HRC Colorado volunteer Michael Lalli and I attended the workshop representing the Centennial state (both of us dying from the humidity).
The training began the next morning with breakfast burritos, blurry eyes, and multiple cups of coffee. I sat next to Elizabeth, a straight ally from Phoenix. We talked about the challenges the Arizona LGBT community faces as Governor Jan Brewer works to take away the benefits of same-sex partners who are state employees, a battle HRC is actively fighting against.
Four members of the HRC staff ran the workshop, walking us through team building exercises, conflict management scenarios, even our elevator speeches: Participants practiced what we would say in thirty seconds or less if someone asked about HRC. Not an easy task when you consider most people don’t know the HRC acronym, what HRC does, or even what LGBT stands for.
We ended our training with certificates and a group picture outside the building next to the large equality sign. Celebratory drinks followed, including a stop by JRs. (Yes, there’s a JRs in D.C.)
I flew out the next day (with a bit of a hangover) still energized by the passion of the HRC staff and volunteers who made the workshop possible.
But for me, the most memorable part of the trip was the first day when HRC Communities and Volunteer Relations Manager Erin Miller took participants on a tour of the HRC building. She showed us the office of Chad Griffin, the new president of HRC. Hanging on Griffin’s wall across from his desk was a framed copy of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
I read the document, taking a few pictures with my phone. Being an Air Force veteran who served in the closet, I got a bit teary eyed. Eighteen years of discrimination in the military ended with that document, President Obama’s signature at the bottom. It was a concrete reminder to me of why I was in D.C., and why I volunteer my time in the first place—ending inequity against all LGBT people.
Stationed at Hill AFB in 1998, I wasn’t even aware then of the existence of HRC. I wasn’t aware of any LGBT organization fighting for my rights. I was only aware of my isolation and the mistaken impression that no one would ever accept me for who I am. Those are the people HRC works to help, and those are the people I hope to reach.
There is still a lot work to be done, but that innocuous piece of paper hanging in Griffin’s office is a testament to the accomplishments of Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT organizations working toward equality. It is also a sign of victories to come. ]