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It’s Still Difficult to Be Gay on the Hill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Christopher Hoven (left) said he’s experienced verbal taunts on Capitol Hill since coming out in 1989. Andrew Powaleny said he’s never felt excluded in the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and that the group is excited to have a Republican member.

Under the Obama administration, the OSC has reverted to an earlier interpretation that protects employees based on sexual orientation. The office has fielded 20 complaints of discrimination since 2009.

Glassgold said she knew about the lack of legal protection when she came to work on the Hill and made sure she chose an office that was accepting of her personal life.

“The Hill is a strange place,” she said. “I feel for my Republican colleagues whose Members may not be supportive of gay rights and [in] whose districts there might be tensions around those issues.”

Powaleny said that concern is misplaced.

“As far as being gay on the Hill, it has not even been an issue at all,” he said.

The Republican Party is a “big tent” that welcomes gay and lesbian voices, Powaleny said, arguing that there is no political reason why more GOP staffers are not open about their sexual orientation.

“I’d suspect that the reason someone doesn’t come out sooner has more to do with a personal decision rather than political affiliation,” he said.

Chris Fisher, legislative assistant for Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), said it is those personal questions that plague staffers the most.

“How is my boss going to react when my boyfriend shows up at the Christmas party?” he said. “Is that going to be OK with the chief of staff? What if I have [a legislative director] that isn’t comfortable with members of the community?”

Still, he and others say that while coming out might be personally difficult, it benefits the broader gay community by helping break down barriers.

Ken Mehlman, campaign manager for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and former Republican National Committee chairman, came out after leaving the political world. In interviews, he later said he wished he had come out sooner, as it may have helped push his party in another direction on some LGBT issues.

Fisher said he hopes all gay and lesbian staffers will one day be able to be open about their personal lives at work.

“In my exit memo, should I ever leave this office, I would say to staffers, ‘You know it’s OK to bring your significant other to the Christmas party, it is OK to come out to your boss,’” he said.

Correction: Dec. 19, 2011

An earlier version of this article quoted Christopher Hoven, administrative assistant to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), as saying he has faced discrimination and verbal taunts on the Hill since coming out in 1989. Hoven said he had faced verbal taunts, but not discrimination, on the Hill.

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