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Senate LGBT Staff Group Provides Bipartisan Professional Development

GLASS caucus prioritizes being a safe space for its members

The Senate GLASS Caucus board. Back row left to right: Robert Curis, Mario Semiglia, Trelaine Ito, Russell Page. Front row left to right: Peter Narby, Tré Easton, Caitlin Hart, Andrew Shine, Michelle Mittler. (Photo courtesy of the Senate GLASS Caucus)
The Senate GLASS Caucus board. Back row left to right: Robert Curis, Mario Semiglia, Trelaine Ito, Russell Page. Front row left to right: Peter Narby, Tré Easton, Caitlin Hart, Andrew Shine, Michelle Mittler. (Photo courtesy of the Senate GLASS Caucus)

The Senate GLASS Caucus was created to provide a safe space for staffers on Capitol Hill who might still feel uncomfortable about being openly gay in their offices.

The caucus’ co-chairmen this year are Caitlin Hart, legislative correspondent for Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, and Andrew Shine, legislative correspondent for Delaware Democrat Thomas R. Carper.

“We have Republican members and we even have Republican members who haven’t disclosed their sexual orientation to their bosses,” said Shine, 29.

“I’ve personally been in offices that I haven’t been out and then I’ve worked in places where I have been out of the closet,” he said.

“Same,” Hart said. The 28-year-old agreed.

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The bipartisan caucus’ 50 members, all from Senate offices, want to “really help out people who do feel alone or uncertain about their futures,” Shine said.

They host happy hours and professional development events. In the past, they’ve had senators speak to members as part of a speaker series on their experiences with LGBT issues.

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“We’ve had membership surveys before to see, just for our awareness, who our membership is so we can target events for them,” Hart said.

The group partners with the House and Library of Congress’ LGBT staff associations.

It takes a stance on legislation “when it’s something that affects the community as a whole,” said communications director Mario Semiglia, 28, legislative correspondent for New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich.

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“Whenever something happens in the community, we react to it and do events around that,” he said.

After the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting last year, the group worked with the Senate Employee Assistance Program to bring people together for talks, which included a lot of “raw emotion” and “a great turnout,” Semiglia said.

While raising awareness of LGBT issues is a big part of the organization, professional development is why it exists.

“We’re here as a resource for Senate LGBTQ people,” Hart said.

Semiglia said that Capitol Hill “is about who you know and to have such a chill environment at our happy hours or events, to kind of just really be able to take the awkwardness out of networking and have this one common denominator.”

In the new Congress, the group has made a push to market itself to new staffers, so they can get involved, and get to know their members.

“I think that by talking to our members one-on-one, we get to value them and know what their professional needs are,” Shine said.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg served as the group’s congressional sponsor from its founding in 2004 until his death in 2013. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the only openly LGBT senator, has served since.