Launched in 2004, the GLASS Caucus was the first LGBT staff association on the Senate side. Members seek to help one another navigate their professional careers; the group does not get involved in policy or advocacy.
Navigating Senate culture, steeped in history and tradition, can be hard for any newcomer to Capitol Hill. For staffers who identify with the LGBT community, a group still working for acceptance across the country and within the halls of Congress, the endeavor can be even more challenging.
The Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus, a group of LGBT and LGBT-friendly Senate staffers who seek to help each other grow professionally on Capitol Hill, recognized those challenges and launched a mentorship program this month to help LGBT staff make a smooth transition to a successful career on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.
“The Senate is a very strange place; it has different rules than any other place,” said Jeffrey Levensaler, deputy chief of staff for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and a co-founder of the GLASS Caucus. “So being able to go to someone to get guidance in navigating those rules when you first get here is important. But … if you’re an LGBT person, to be able to go to someone who’s also LGBT who shares that common history, at some point they had to come out, it adds an extra level of comfort, and I think it’s really important to have that resource for people.”
The Culture of the Senate
The mentorship program was the idea of Annie Walden-Newman, a legislative aide for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and the first straight board member in the GLASS Caucus. The program will pair experienced LGBT or LGBT-friendly Senate staffers with LGBT staffers just starting their careers to help teach the newbies the ropes of the wonky Senate rules.
“The Senate is very traditional in its institution, and I think new, young LGBT staff might not know about that,” said Jake McCook, communications director for the GLASS Caucus and a staff assistant on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “And I think it’s important for them to have people they can go to, to understand the culture of the Senate and how to be comfortable with their office, with themselves and with the greater Senate community, and that’s one thing that we can offer that no other organization can.”
Interested mentors must be dues- paying members of the staff association ($20 per calendar year) and have at least two years of experience working on Capitol Hill. Mentors need not identify as LGBT, but they must be LGBT-friendly.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.