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Gay, Republican and Wondering What’s Next

It’s not unusual to disagree with your party platform on some issues. But what happens when the disagreement includes your personal life? Even with recent sweeping policy changes — which Hill Navigator strongly endorses — not all gay staffers may feel at home on Capitol Hill. Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. I am a gay Republican staffer. I am quite comfortable with who I am and live my personal life openly, but am afraid to do the same with my professional life as I fear it may hold me back as I continue to advance my career on the Hill working for Republicans. Do you have any advice for my situation?

A. Republicans and Democrats alike have wide disparities in their political beliefs and subsequent expectations for their staffers. And LGBT issues have evolved rapidly; there are many members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, for whom your personal life would not be any issue whatsoever.  

My advice to you is to speak to someone who has been in your shoes. Hill staffers are nothing if not resourceful, and in anticipation of questions like these (and before the days of Hill Navigator), staffers created the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus in 2004, during the now-defunct debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment. GLASS celebrated its 10-year anniversary this week; it is a bipartisan organization with a focus on professional development and mentoring. This is the ideal place to start delving into how you can maximize your chances of professional success as you climb the party ladder.  

But perhaps this is an issue that is a bit closer to home and you are unsure how your current office would react. If there is a co-worker you trust, consider being open and honest with him or her. If given a reason to believe your office will be accepting, then perhaps that is the cue you need.  

And if this trusted person doesn’t give such an indication — though I hope very much that it is provided — then take the time to think about what it means to work in an office where you cannot be fully honest with your boss. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 provides some protection for Hill staffers from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation*, but even that might not be enough to maximize your growth and promotion opportunities. Every staffer disagrees with the boss on some issues, but sometimes there are deal-breakers. I hope, for your sake, that this is not it.  

*But not all protections. Per the Office of Compliance, it is judged case by case until Congress passes legislation such as the  Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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