Settling In

This post was featured on the Northwestern EPICS Blog on July 30. I have been blogging for them, the HRC blog and Both Eyes on the Suen, so please forgive the crossover!

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Things have certainly calmed down since standing in front of the Supreme Court when DOMA and Prop 8 were repealed. I’ve gotten used to the daily routines of work, felt more like a local in DC and become closer to my new friends. I’ve seen my projects come to fruition and realized that my work is benefiting an organization I care about.

I’ve spent a significant amount of my time here recruiting interns for the fall and creating a comprehensive guide on intern recruiting. The guide has reached 25 pages (granted, a lot of it is contact information)! I’ve contacted dozens of university “intern in DC” programs asking them to send our information to their students. I’ve sent hundreds of Facebook messages and emails to campus LGBT groups and resource centers. I’ve also mastered job posting on LinkedIn, Idealist and university-specific career services websites.

The most fun part of the intern recruiting process has been social media advertising, which allowed me to create posts for the HRC Facebook page (liked by nearly 1.5 million people), Twitter and Instagram. I was able to direct an intern photo-shoot that was used on the Instagram – and of course dozens of profile pictures. 

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I was also able to attend Generation Progress’s Make Progress National Summit 2013 with the rest of the interns, which was fun and empowering. We heard from some awesome speakers there, my favorites including (but not limited to) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, senior adviser to president Obama, David Simas and openly gay Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Warren gave a riveting speech on the student debt crisis, as student interest rates recently doubled due to inaction by Congress. This year, the government is expected to make $51 billion in profit from student loans.

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

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Simas spoke about the importance of the Affordable Care Act and its implications for those who max out their healthcare plans, those with preexisting conditions and young people. He urged us to fully support the act and to encourage people to enroll for these protections on October 1, when open enrollment begins.

Baldwin finished the summit with empowering words on the importance of youth in the progressive movement. The day really got me excited about a career in progressive politics, whether that’s through nonprofit work, working for a politician or maybe even running for office one day. Like this summer as a whole, the summit has opened my eyes to careers that I had never thought about before – ones that I plan on pursuing.

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After the summit, I was able to post my first post on the official HRC blog about the interns’ experience at the summit. You can read the full post here.

The other new project I have been working on is planning and advertising the HRC “Networking with GenEQ” event. The event will bring together progressive youth from around DC to take part in a networking activity led by facilitators from the HRC staff and enjoy a light reception afterwards. It will be a great way to meet other young professionals in the area and talk about ideas and goals as members of the progressive movement. You can find the Facebook event and RSVP form for the event here.

Encouraged by my new “professional” lifestyle and staff at the HRC, I also bought my own domain name for my website, www.brennansuen.com and ordered business cards. This internship has really made me feel like I’m entering adulthood, but also that I am entering it passionate and excited. 

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July 4th, 2013: Four years living openly

For me, the Fourth of July will never just be a holiday where I celebrate America’s independence; it’s also the day where I celebrate the beginning of mine.

Some of my best friends and me at my annual America themed party back in Little Rock.

Some of my best friends and me at my annual America themed party back in Little Rock.

I could say a lot about how America isn’t exactly the land of the free for 70% of Americans that don’t live in a state with marriage equality, or how LGB people can be fired in 29 states and T people in 34 just for being who they are, or about a hundred other things that need to change – but most of us know all this. Instead, I’d like to talk about some of the wonderful parts of my coming out.

I came out on July 4, 2009 in a 30-minute, unplanned monologue filled with penetrating silences and about two dozen repeats of “I’m just not… I’m just not” before I was finally able to add “into girls.” Saying the words “I’m gay” after almost five years in the closet would have been too difficult.

My best friend Christa patiently waited, probably figuring out what I was going to say long before I said it but letting me make the difficult step. It still makes me tear up to think about what a rock she was for me in that moment and the weeks and years to follow. A couple of weeks later, we sat in her room just talking about cute celebrities. I had never been able to talk about someone I actually thought was cute until halfway through 17 – everyone else was doing it at the lunch table at 11. I remember I always said Pamela Anderson or Carmen Electra. LOL

Christa and me back in 2009.

Christa and me back in 2009.

Every single friend I came out to in Little Rock, Arkansas – where I never thought it would be okay or accepted – welcomed me with open arms. It got easier and easier as I saw my support system growing, as I was able to develop friendships I felt were open and full. No one even blinked or had second thoughts.

I got to make real change with some of these friends, putting a face to a “controversial issue” and making them realize that it’s just love and we’re just people. And even if they felt uncomfortable, even if just for a moment, they knew they loved me and they made sure I knew that too.

My family and me (in the midst of my awkward years).

My family and me (in the midst of my awkward years).

I came out to my family towards the end of 2010. They have shown me that support comes in many ways, whether it’s Brad’s crude gay jokes (how could he ever stop making fun of me after so many years of doing it just because I came out to him?), Jessica and my lunchtime gossip sessions, my dad treating me like nothing had changed or my mom’s newfound activism.

And then there was a moment over a year later where we got in an impassioned discussion about the minority experience at dinner with my grandmother, Jeanie, at the table. I was discussing how minorities have to face every new interaction cautiously and hyper-aware, and my family kept saying, “why do you feel like a minority? Do you feel like a minority because you’re Asian?” To which I, in the heat of the discussion, passionately replied, “because I’m gay!” They hadn’t thought of that, which in itself is kind of beautiful, but I said this knowing that Jeanie didn’t know.

Jeanie turned to me, grabbed my hand and told me, “that’s okay. You’re still naming your daughter after me, right?” As you can imagine, I went to the bathroom and cried for about 10 minutes.

Jeanie and me before I left back for Northwestern this winter.

Jeanie and me before I left back for Northwestern this winter.

Since then, I haven’t had to worry. It’s been easy, and I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve come a long way from a scared, lonely boy who thought he would marry a woman and get over it.

I am privileged to celebrate this Fourth (both July 4th and my fourth year!) in Washington, DC., where DOMA and Prop 8 were just struck down and where equality will one day be granted to all Americans in all states. I celebrate it with new and old friends, whether they are in Little Rock or Chicago or even London. I celebrate because today, I feel independent and proud and loved (okay and really, really cheesy and sentimental). For that, I am very thankful.

Happy Independence Day.

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.