When your internship is just the beginning

This post was featured on Northwestern’s EPICS Blog.

As part of my internship at the Human Rights Campaign, I planned our quarterly “Networking with GenEQ” event that was held on July 31st. This included advertising the event to various progressive organizations across the DC area. After many phone calls, emails, social media plugs and conversations with friends, 60 people showed up for light refreshments, an open bar and a networking activity. I know that networking activities can sound lame, but everyone ended up having a good time and leaving with valuable skills in crafting elevator pitches. There was also ample time to meet other smart, progressive young people and enjoy a few free drinks. It was one of the highlights of my summer to host such a fun, successful event with such a great turnout.

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Me with my co-intern, Rachel, and supervisor, Candace Gingrich-Jones.

There was something about the networking event that felt like the culmination of my internship, but my busiest weeks interning have actually happened since then. I was responsible for most of the internship recruiting and advertising, which wrapped up around the priority deadline of July 21st. Since then, I’ve been working on matching the right interns with the right departments. Often times an applicant won’t be the right fit for some of the departments he or she selected, so I have to reroute those applications to other departments. It can get very complicated as some departments end up with a lot of applications in their hands while others are left with none.

I have to keep track of the hundreds of applications through a system called Wufoo so that we know which departments have what applications, which departments have hired, which departments still need an intern and which interns have turned down offers. It can get especially tough when many applicants can only work part-time in the fall, as many departments need full-time interns. I get emails from departments every day asking for more applications, telling me which ones they are interested in and which ones can be rerouted. It has ended up being a really good way to interact and work with staff from all across the HRC. It has also been helpful to see hundreds of resumes and cover letters so that I can continue to perfect those essential skills for myself.

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Me and some of the other HRC interns from my floor.

In addition to helping with the intern recruiting process, I have been working on two other projects over the last few weeks. One is creating a guide on young LGBT people entering the workforce for the first time. I have done extensive research on coming out in the workplace, company nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner health insurance benefits and transgender-inclusive insurance coverage. It has been eye opening to see concrete examples of the rights and benefits LGBT people and their families are denied and the complex processes they and their employers must go through to create more equal work environments. There is strong, competitive incentive for companies to have domestic partner inclusive benefits, and a majority of Fortune 500 companies offer equal domestic partner benefits. It is very important for young LGBT people to have a grasp on their employers’ often confusing domestic partner policies and the rights and responsibilities that they have in spite of these policies. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index does incredible work rating companies for their LGBT-friendliness and inclusive policies.

My other project involves researching the LGBT campus climate for 10 states to help determine what opportunities and roadblocks we face there. This involves researching nondiscrimination policies, employee domestic partner benefits, LGBT student organizations and resource centers, current news stories involving LGBT issues (such as firing teachers, votes on various policies, etc.) and any other relevant information. Luckily, some of these schools have been rated by the Campus Pride Index on these qualities and more, making my job much easier.

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Me and Karin Quimby, HRC’s Regional Field Director for the South.

I will be continuing to work with the HRC in the fall, campaigning for marriage in Illinois and Senate votes for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in Arkansas. In addition, I am volunteering with HRC’s Chicago Steering Committee, working on the media and communications team for their Chicago Gala, which I will be volunteering at. Finally, I will be volunteering at the HRC National Dinner on October 5, which President Obama, Lady Gaga, the cast of Glee, Mo’Nique, Sally Fields and more have all attended.

As my internship enters its last few days, I look back at my summer at the HRC and the incredible opportunities it has given me. I have befriended passionate people from all over the country and met and worked with some of the foremost LGBT and civil rights leaders of my time. I will forever miss my time as an HRC intern, but I hope to return to DC after I graduate in December to continue my work in progressive politics and LGBT equality. I can’t help but remember nervously sending in my application for my dream internship last February and the excitement I felt when I was accepted. Now, faster than I could have imagined, my time here is almost gone – but my work is just beginning.

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The Make Progress National Summit 2013

This post was featured on the HRC Blog.

Last Wednesday, myself and 24 other HRC interns attended Generation Progress’s Make Progress National Summit 2013 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was an exciting day filled with influential speakers and nearly 1,000 young people from across the nation.

The day started off with an empowering speech from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the current student debt crisis.

Student interest rates recently doubled to 6.8% due to inaction from Congress, while the government lends to major banks at less than 1%. In addition, the government will make a $51 billion profit from students this year. This has caused many students to live with their parents after graduation when they could be buying real estate and take jobs unrelated to their studies to begin paying off loans immediately.

Warren called for a major decrease in the interest rates as an investment in students, who can in turn use their education to benefit society and stimulate our economy.

“The government should not be making profit on the backs of our students,” said Warren.

Additional speakers included Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and young CEO of The New Republic and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, who gave the HRC a special shout-out for co-sponsoring the event.

David Simas talks about the importance of the Affordable Care Act.

David Simas, a senior advisor to President Obama, spoke about the Affordable Care Act and its implications for those who cannot afford healthcare, those who max out their healthcare plans, those with preexisting conditions and young people.

Later, a panel featuring Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, MSNBC’s Alex Wagner and Emily’s List Executive Director of Amy Dacey addressed what it takes to be a woman in politics or the political spotlight and the importance of female representation in politics.

The summit also included breakout policy sessions in gun control, immigration, the court system, student debt and voting rights led by experts in each field from various organizations.  HRC Chief Foundation Officer Jeff Krehely also joined a panel on the judicial system. He discussed the implications of the recent repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 as well as the future of the battle for LGBT equality, including high rates of homeless LGBT youth and workplace discrimination. Additional panelists addressed the importance of appointing fair-minded, diverse judges in a court system that has a desperate shortage of them.

The media and messaging workshop taught shared values between progressives and conservatives as a conversation tool.

HRC interns also attended training sessions on media and messaging, leadership and teamwork, policy creation, making “asks” in grassroots organizing and lobbying. The day ended on a high note with a speech by openly gay Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, who gave an inspiring talk on creating change, electing the right officials and empowering youth.

HRC interns left feeling impassioned and excited about our country’s future while also motivated to put in the hard work it will take to turn these ideas into reality.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin addressed conference attendees.

My time thus far

I’ll start this by apologizing for my shameless use of Instagram photos.

Interning in the Youth and Campus Outreach department at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the country, has been a great delve into the 40-hour work week of adulthood (albeit without the paycheck).

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The Washington Monument from the Jefferson Memorial.

I’ve spent most of my time so far working on one big project, which is marketing our internship program (which you should check out!). The HRC has 30 brilliant, passionate interns that do a significant portion of the work here, and my job is to help keep a steady, diverse stream of applicants coming in for the fall semester and to create a fast, easy-to-follow marketing plan that future Youth and Campus Outreach interns can follow.

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Catherine and me, two of the few HRC interns from below the Mason Dixon line.

It’s a great way to combine my coursework as an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) student with my passion for LGBT advocacy. Thanks to teachers like Gerry Chiaro and Lori Erikson Copple, I know how to identify the problems and opportunities in marketing strategy and create plans of attack for them. The cool part of a real-world internship is that I get to take the next step and actually implement the strategy. This currently involves identifying LGBT resource centers, campus groups and university semester DC programs (which takes a lot of research and time) and emailing/Facebooking all of them, asking to send our information to their students. It can get tedious, but it is really exciting to see results. My next steps involve reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and diverse campus groups to increase the diversity of applicants. Equality affects all of us, and it is important to have diverse representation in the LGBT movement.

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The Ben and Jerry’s Truck brought us free Frozen Greek Yogurt!

The HRC provides us with a lot of awesome educational opportunities, such as getting to spend an hour talking to Chad Griffin, the HRC’s president and the man who orchestrated bringing Prop 8 to the Supreme Court. We also had a Q&A with Natalie Sade, the head of the Aguda, Israel’s HRC equivalent, and I had the opportunity of attending a lunch speaker series at the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, with Mara Keisling, the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Each of these speakers gave insight into the equality movement, where we stand and where we have to go from here.

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Lobby Day Participants

I was also fortunate enough to lobby congress with NCTE and the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and LGBT inclusion in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This was definitely one of the toughest, most educational and worthwhile experiences I’ve had in DC. Alongside three other Arkansans, I spoke to staff members from Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor as well as Congressman Tim Griffin himself.

Lobbying was somewhat discouraging at times; my congressmen and their districts are generally very socially conservative, which doesn’t help when lobbying for LGBT equality. At some points, it felt like I wasn’t being heard at all. However, there were also moments where I felt like they were truly listening to me, and that was empowering. As awful and foreign as our political process can be, I felt, for once, that I was actually playing some small role in it.

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Fellow Arkansans at the Supreme Court after DOMA was struck down and marriage returned to California!

Certainly the most exciting part of working for the HRC was the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 on June 26th. I got to stand at the front of the Supreme Court when the decisions were made, which was one of the most emotional and powerful moments of my life. I was watching history while working for an organization that played a major part in it. The eruptions of the crowd, tearful and joyous hugs from friends and the feeling in my heart that things are getting better for me and all LGBT people – it was a powerful moment in civil rights history. I can’t believe I was lucky enough to experience it firsthand.

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The Supreme Court building (or at least a giant picture of it) as the crowd leaves an exciting morning.

These first few weeks of interning for the HRC have energized me like no other. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by pre-professionalism and career goals as a college student, but working for an organization that stands for something I care about so much has sent me veering off the road I once planned on taking.

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HRC employees, law fellows and interns celebrating the end of DOMA and Prop 8!

I love going to work, even if intern tasks sometimes get monotonous and staring at a computer screen for seven hours gives me a neck ache. I care about what I am doing, the organization I am working for and the people I am working with – and I’m willing to take a pay cut from what I once thought I would be doing to enter the world of nonprofits and LGBT advocacy. I hear echoes of all the people in my life who have told me that you’ve got to love your job more than you love the money. I think I’m going to take that advice.

Brennan is a rising senior at Northwestern studying Psychology, Theatre and Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). You can follow his internship adventures on his blog, www.botheyesonthesuen.wordpress.com.

This has been uploaded to Northwestern’s EPICS Internship Blog.

Waking up excited

I am not a morning person, but when I wake up in DC, I am. The morning means that my day has started, and I wake up each morning excited. I’ve heard my whole life how I need to find a job I love, and one week in, I feel like I’ve found it. There’s something incredible about working for an organization I care about so passionately with people that are as eager to be there as I am.

This last week has been packed full of things. I spent some time with Matt and Abby, two close friends from abroad, as well as checking out the Air and Space Museum.

994789_1939746846481_1812182097_nI also got to see the pandas at the zoo, which lord knows was probably the most exciting moment of the last six months! I haven’t seen a panda in many years (I was maybe in middle school when my family took me to the Memphis Zoo just to see them), and I can only describe how I felt by asking a dog lover how they would feel seeing a cute pup after going without dogs for years. Or by waiting in line to see your favorite celebrity – a furry, cute and endangered one at that.

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On Monday, I lobbied Congress for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and LGBT inclusion in Comprehensive Immigration Reform with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). This was definitely one of the toughest, most educational and worthwhile experiences I’ve had. Alongside three other Arkansans, I spoke to staff members from Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor as well as Congressman Tim Griffin himself.

Lobbying can be somewhat discouraging when your congressmen don’t necessarily think the way you do. At some points, it felt like I wasn’t being heard at all. There were also moments where I felt like they were truly listening to me, and that was empowering. As awful  and foreign as our political process can be, I felt, for once, that I was actually playing some small role in it.

I have been attending a lot of educational talks from prominent members of LGBT organizations, like the HRC and the NCTE. It’s been really eye-opening learning more about transgender issues, something I had a lot less experience with before coming here. The equality movement is going strong, but there are a lot of considerations to take in moving forward.

All 29 interns have finally arrived and started work. Everyone is really cool, and we have spent a lot of time together! We are all hanging out at my dorm before heading out tonight, which should be really fun!

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.41.52 PMAs exciting as my days are, and as energetic as I wake up each morning, I end my days exhausted. Guess I’m going to have to rebound before tonight!

Full of Pride

This past weekend was my first in DC – and lucky for me, it was also the week of Capital Pride!

ImageNew friends and me at Pride!

I arrived in DC at 3:00 am on Friday night (or Saturday morning) and already started making friends. My friend Katie from Little Rock was hosting me for the first two nights before I could move into my dorm, and her roommate ended up being friends with my friend Jacob from NU!

ImageKatie and me at The Sign of the Whale.

Saturday’s main agenda was the Pride parade, but first I got to reunite with one of my best friends from abroad, Abby, over lunch. We’re really excited about the summer together – how lucky that we get to pick things right back up! After our lunch, I left with Katie and some new friends to meet up with the HRC interns at the parade.

ImageThe HRC interns at Pride!

The Pride parade was a lot more moving than I thought it would be (in addition to being colorful and fun). There were families, children and elementary school groups marching, which really inspired me. I certainly wasn’t thinking about these things when I was that young. My first experiences with the word “gay” came from kids making fun of anyone wearing a GAP shirt (to 8 year olds, it meant “gay and proud”). It was the ultimate insult to be “GAP” back then, which is pretty crazy to me now. It means a lot to me that these kids are growing up thinking that being LBGT is normal. It reminded me of one of my new favorite quotes: “heterosexuality isn’t normal; it’s just common.”

It was also very heartwarming to see the number of Christian groups walking. A lot of times, Christianity is unfairly associated with homophobia, but these groups brought out the fact that it is a religion based on love. There was even a Mormons for Marriage Equality group that gave out “I hugged a Mormon today” stickers!

The parade lasted for three hours, and although my feet started to hurt, my heart was constantly full of joy. It was an incredibly supportive, diverse and loving celebration. Anyone could be who he wanted to be and feel loved for it.

Later that night, we all went out to this fun club called Black Cat that has a monthly party called Mixtape. It was really, really fun – I hadn’t gone out dancing since London!

On Sunday, I met up with some of the HRC interns (whom I love!) at the Capital Pride festival, where we saw Icona Pop. I’d only heard a couple of their songs, but I got home and downloaded their CD afterwards. They’re really fun!

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A little slice of home in DC!

I ended my night on a monument tour with Abby. I can’t believe my midnight strolls can include the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and a bunch of other historic monuments! I can tell that will be the first of many walks to the National Mall. Gazing over the reflecting pool, Abby and I reminisced on our time in London, caught up on each other’s semesters and most importantly, got excited for the endless possibilities of a summer in DC.

It’s going to be a great summer.

ImageMe at the Lincoln Memorial on my National Mall stroll with Abby!