Washington Semester students visiting PoliticoShahamat Uddin
American Politics

February 13, 2019 | It was exactly 9:44 AM when I looked down at my phone and saw the POLITICO news notification: “The Supreme Court allows… [Trump’s] plan to restrict military service by transgender people.” I was merely fourteen minutes into my fourth day at my internship with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The only word that came to my mind was one that is probably not appropriate for this platform and as I peeked my head over my cubicle, it was evident that this word was the same thought of many of my co-workers.

It was then 9:47 AM when the fifth floor completely transformed from a dismal disarray of a Tuesday work morning to passion exploding out of people committed to the pursuit of the civil rights of LGBTQ people. Loose sheets flew off the desks around me, and my colleagues were running office to office, delegating tasks of immediate activism. I could barely catch my breath as behind me we had staff pleading to Congressmen and women and in front of me, a telephone I barely knew how to operate was ringing without stop with calls from concerned citizens.

Washington Semester students at the Kurdish Embassy in Washington, DC10:00 AM and the office was deserted. You would walk into this Rhode Island Avenue building and think there was an all staff skip day. But this staff was far from ditching. They had spread themselves all over D.C., meeting with lawyers, protesting outside of Supreme Court, and catching flights to be with some of the most notable veterans of the transgender community. I sat at my desk, drafting an e-mail to our board members, ready to encompass the feelings of the past fifteen or so minutes, but my mind was elsewhere: sitting at a desk in Morocco a few months prior, contemplating whether to accept this internship or not.

I applied to the HRC internship on a whim. I had fallen into social activism many times throughout my life and not usually by choice but due to a sense of responsibility to the marginalized communities to which I belong. Working for HRC made sense, and while I was travelling throughout Morocco as a study abroad student, securing the ‘perfect’ internship was quite low on my personal priorities. So, I applied and I received an offer, but I was incredibly apprehensive about accepting it.

Running through my mind were all the criticisms that have been brought against the Human Rights Campaign—their corporate interests, fixation on cisgender white gay men and women, and reluctance to collaborate with grassroots LGBTQ movements in the past. Accepting this internship felt like a kick in the face to all my morals about intersectional activism. Yet, it also felt like an opportunity to reap real rewards of a dedication to social justice. It was my chance to be in the big leagues of non-profit organizing.

Now, after my first three weeks in D.C., I continue to wrestle with the same tension of opposites. I ride the red line to work every day, confused by the people around me. My idealism wants me to believe that, yes, these are the public servants of our nation, actively working for a better civil society. However, I find myself swirling in the networking whirlwind of professionalism. I do not want to meet someone on the metro or at an embassy or at a bar and have them see me only as a connection, as a rung on their own ladder to career success. Sometimes I find that this is what intern culture is and if I want to hold a powerful position with agency that this is what I must do: network, coffee, network, job. But then, sometimes I find that I am fifteen minutes into work and I am already in the epicenter of the most meaningful progressive changes.