Heard on the Hill

A Voice for LGBT Staffers

Clinton’s Michigan communications director returns to the Hill and LGBT staffer group

Mitchell Rivard, the president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, is Dan Kildee‘s deputy chief of staff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mitchell Rivard, the LGBT Congressional Staff Association’s president, says LGBT staffers will need a voice with Donald Trump in the White House.

“With a new administration and with new positions that the president-elect may take, including on LGBT issues, it may become especially important for people who are LGBT, who work on the Hill and are members of our organization, to speak up and make sure that their rights are being protected,” said Rivard, who just returned to Capitol Hill after working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

During his two-year tenure as president, he has seen the association grow and change.

“I think we’ve moved the needle, so to speak, in the last couple of years,” he said.

Although the association does not work on policy issues, it has “taken a stand on issues where it affects our members,” Rivard said. 

When the association first started in the late 1980s, it was seen as a support group.

[LGBT Congressional Staff Association Announces Leadership]

“They would get together … because, at the time, they did not feel comfortable in their offices or with themselves to come out in the workplace,” Rivard said.

Now, every October, the association joins with the Senate and the Library of Congress’ LGBT staff associations for a National Coming Out Day photograph. After the deadly shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June, the association teamed up with the Congressional Muslim Staff Association to hold a vigil on the Capitol steps.

[Tears, Hugs and Prayers at Orlando Vigil on Capitol Steps]

“To our surprise, it turned into hundreds of Capitol Hill staff and dozens of members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, coming together in a really strong public showing of support for the community,” he said. “Most, if not all, of our events now are outward facing.”

Rivard, 26, is finishing up his second year as president and will relinquish his role next month because of term limits. By day, he is the deputy chief of staff for Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, a job he has held since January 2015.

He joined the association in the summer of 2011 when he first came to the Hill to intern for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for two months.

In 2013, when Kildee was first sworn in, Rivard, from Bay City, Michigan, in Kildee’s district, became his first staffer. Rivard came in as his communications director, and at the same time, he took the same role at the association.

“He’s very supportive and he’s been since Day One,” Rivard said of Kildee. “That’s the reason why I absolutely love working for him. It’s no secret that he’s a big supporter of equal rights.”

He recalled standing on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2013 when it struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, and said the congressman was the first person he hugged. In 2015, he had the same opportunity when the court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Every official organization on Capitol Hill needs a member to be its chairman. This year, the LGBT group chose two — Colorado Democrat Jared Polis and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — so it could include a GOP member.

“We’re a nonpartisan organization, this is very important to me in particular because I feel like we’re constantly trying to find Republicans to be involved,” Rivard said.

[New Head of LGBT Congressional Staff Association Seeks Diversity for Group | Hill Climbers]

As president, he has focused on adding three pillars — more women, more people of color and more Republicans — to the association.

The association recently went to the Pentagon to tour with Army Secretary Eric Fanning, the first openly gay head of any of the military services, and held an event at the house of a gay former Republican member for 50 GOP staffers interested in joining the group.

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