Heard on the Hill

Meet 8 LGBT Aides Who Climbed the Hill

‘People assume you’re not tough enough to tackle a negotiation, and they’re always mistaken’

Michelle Mittler from the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said “on Capitol Hill in general, everyone is assumed to be heteronormative unless explicitly told otherwise.” (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Lingering inequality, coming out to your boss — high-ranking political aides have faced it.

The Capitol may still be a “heteronormative” place where some wonder, “Am I commanding enough?” But LGBT staffers run media shops, committees and offices.

Now these Hill climbers speak out about how to love your job while bringing your “full self” to work.

Getting a foot in the door

Robert Edmonson, 33, chief of staff, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s, D-Calif., personal office: “I was first a House page for my Texas congressman at the time, former member Chet Edwards. My second week was actually 9/11, so it was a very fascinating time to be in Washington, D.C., and just had a really profound effect on me.”

Julie Tagen, chief of staff to Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.: “My first job on the Hill was in 1989. I worked for Paul Kanjorski. He was the chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, which doesn’t even exist anymore.”

Wyatt Larkin, 27, digital media director for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.: “I started out as an intern for congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, who is my member of Congress from home. She is the first out bisexual member of Congress. I identify as bisexual. That was totally not part of the equation as to why I started working for her, but it was certainly a very, very welcoming place.”

Mitchell Rivard, 28, chief of staff to Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.: “I came to Capitol Hill in 2011 as a press intern for Leader Pelosi, and it was with the help of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. They have a program called the Victory Congressional Internship program that helps place LGBTQ interns on Capitol Hill.”

Michelle Mittler, 30, director of scheduling for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.: “I moved to D.C. originally for grad school, and I was one of the very lucky people who two weeks later happened to have a job. It was with Paul Tonko of Albany.”

UNITED STATES - JULY 30: Robert Edmonson in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office in the Cannon House Ofice Building (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Robert Edmonson, who works in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s personal office, says he came out at work before he came out to his mom. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Daily challenges

Drew Hammill, 40, deputy chief of staff and head of communications to Pelosi: “I work for Nancy Pelosi, and she’s been for marriage equality since she came to Congress in 1987. It’s different than it was maybe 16 years ago when I started on the Hill, but there couldn’t be a more supportive, inclusive boss.”

Bryce McKibben, 31, senior policy adviser for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Democrats: “I rarely if ever have any challenges internally. I have, however, experienced challenges when more conservative junior staff in other offices and some lobbyists need to think more carefully about the language they use. And I’ve encountered stereotypes where people assume you’re not strong or tough enough to tackle a negotiation, and they’re always mistaken. I believe being openly gay has helped me recognize and understand additional perspectives, and it makes me a better staffer.”

Mittler: “I don’t know if I would call it a daily challenge, but on Capitol Hill in general, everyone is assumed to be heteronormative unless explicitly told otherwise. That can be an uncomfortable thing to correct a colleague or someone who you’re meeting in a professional environment.”

[Latino Staffers Who Call the Shots on Capitol Hill]

Tré Easton, 27, legislative assistant to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.: “Like many gay men, I’m very self-conscious about my voice and mannerisms. Am I commanding enough? Does this group of presumably heterosexual men take me seriously? Are my hands moving too much? It’s a daily decision to try and worry about those superficial things less and to instead focus on providing good work for my boss and for the constituents. Those are the things that truly matter in these jobs.”

Tagen: “The biggest challenge was, because we weren’t legally allowed to get married — now I am married, I have a wife and children — that we had to have separate health insurance. My wife at the time had to get insurance through her company, and I had to get it through the Hill. For me, that was just kind of discrimination. It had nothing to do with my employer.”

Edmonson: “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such an incredibly supporting office, coming all the way from the leader and her decades of involvement in LGBT rights. I actually came out in the office … one of the first people I told even before I told my mom was my chief of staff, and she was just incredibly supportive.”

Mitchell Rivard, the president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, speaks with Roll Call on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mitchell Rivard became Rep. Dan Kildee’s, D-Mich., chief of staff in February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Advice for others

Rivard: “Figure out what excites you and drives you to get out of bed every morning. Doing what you love makes work and life a lot easier, I’ve found. The second piece of advice that I usually give is to say yes. Say yes to things and the new opportunities that come across your desk.”

[Black Women Movers and Shakers on Capitol Hill]

Larkin: “There’s a real community, and everybody’s looking out for each other. Seek that out and be a part of it.”

Hammill: “I think interning is a really solid way to start. I know it’s not always attractive to everyone, but I worked part time while I interned, made it work. It was a slog, but it was well worth the hard work.”

Easton: “For me, being LGBT is an aspect of my identity that I refuse to mute, encumber, or in any way deny. I’m of the belief that if you can’t bring your full self to work, then you’re not able to bring the fullness of your perspective and experience to help form policy and shape public opinion.”

[Asian American and Pacific Islander Capitol Hill Staffers to Watch]

Tagen: “Just to work hard, love what you do, be willing to put the time and effort into the institution.”

Mittler: “Longevity stands for a lot, so just staying sometimes can get you further than you might think.”

Edmonson: “I also serve as president of the LGBT congressional staff association, so come and join the association because we are really dedicated to helping LGBT staff have a home on the Hill.”

McKibben: “Be politely persistent, tell your story, and find your people. Your people are those who will be there reliably for you in your career or job search — the ones always willing to extend a helping hand.”

Reporter’s Notebook: Democratic Senators Seeking Re-Election Have Less Diverse Staffs

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.