Interning in the Youth and Campus Outreach department at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization in the country, was a once in a lifetime experience and opened doors to a future career in social justice.
I spent a significant amount of my time there recruiting interns for the fall and creating a comprehensive guide on intern recruiting. I contacted dozens of university “intern in DC” programs asking them to send our information to their students. I sent hundreds of Facebook messages and emails to campus LGBT groups and resource centers. I also mastered job posting on LinkedIn, Idealist and university career services websites and was able to orchestrate our social media advertising, including posts on the HRC Facebook page (liked by nearly 1.5 million people), Twitter and Instagram.
After all the applications were submitted, I helped in the intern hiring (which was very surreal as an intern myself). I had to organize and keep track of hundreds of applications through a system called Wufoo. It ended up being a really good way to interact and work with staff from all across the HRC. It was also helpful to see and read hundreds of resumes and cover letters so that I could continue to perfect those essential skills for myself.
In addition to helping with the intern recruiting process, I did extensive research (including policy research) relating to youth and campus issues. I did preliminary research for a guide on youth entering the workforce for the first time, looking at things such as coming out in the workplace, company nondiscrimination policies, domestic partner health insurance benefits and transgender-inclusive insurance coverage.
I also researched the LGBT campus climate in 10 states (looking at over 100 universities) to help determine what opportunities and roadblocks the HRC faces there. This involved 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.
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. It was one of the highlights of my summer to host such a fun, successful event with such a great turnout.
The HRC provided 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, where Mara Keisling, the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), spoke. Each of these speakers gave insight into the equality movement, where we stand and where we have to go from here.
I also lobbied congress with NCTE 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.
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 the organization that made 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.
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, at which I will be volunteering. 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. I am excited that my internship was just a beginning and that I can take the valuable skills and connections I made this summer with me as I move towards my future career goals.
Brennan Suen is a rising senior (graduating in December 2013) majoring in Psychology, Theatre and IMC. He spent his summer interning at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. You can find his website and blog at brennansuen.com.
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