Student Perspective: My First Week in D.C.

June 15, 2010

louisaA Critical Media and Cultural Studies major, Louisa Gibbs (Class of 2011) is spending her summer as one of Rollins’ LGBTQ Advocacy Summer Interns in Washington, D.C.  Her summer internship is made possible through the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Johnson Family Foundation. In this journal entry, Gibbs documents her first week in the Capitol.

What a first week in the city!  I’ve felt almost every emotion since being here, but mostly excitement. It’s my first time in Washington D.C. so I’ve been trying to do as much as possible in this first week.

My mum came up with me so that she could see my room at American University, along with a few of the sights we could squeeze in before she left. We went to visit the White House (it’s a lot smaller than I was expecting!), the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Once I got the major tourist sites crossed off my list, it was time to say good-bye to my mum for the next two months.

I headed back to campus to meet with Ashley Green, a fellow Rollins student here with me. We explored the main American University campus together and caught up on our summer experiences. While waiting for the bus to take us from our dorms to the main campus, we met a young man. We were talking about our summer internships, and I told him that I was working for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Up until that point he was very sweet, but once I told him about my internship, he suddenly became very rude and condescending. At first I wasn’t too sure what had changed, until he asked me how guys responded when I told them I was a lesbian! Just for the record, I am in fact straight and had never been accused otherwise. So, being ridiculed for being a “lesbian” because I was working at the NGLCC opened my eyes to what it must be like to be gay. His hostility towards my assumed sexuality proved to me how important it is for me to work within the LGBT community for the summer.

With orientation the next morning, Ashley, myself, and our third roommate Fiona decided on an early night after a couple rounds of musical furniture. Now we comfortably live together in our relatively small but cozy room. It was awesome seeing so many students from all over the country at orientation the next morning. It made me realize the prestige of the program I will be part of for the summer, and how lucky I am to have this opportunity to meet all these people. The majority of them are college seniors or juniors from all over the country, with a few students in graduate school. After all the mandatory orientation meetings, meeting my professor, getting an I.D. card and picking up room supplies, it was time for bed and preparing for my first day at work.

I am the Supplier Diversity and Corporate Relations intern (quite a mouthful, I know!) at the NGLCC. On a daily basis I will be answering phones, researching news articles about LGBT business and calling businesses about being part of our annual LGBT Business of the Year award. I’m enjoying it there because the people are very friendly and willing to help me if I’m stuck. Also, I feel as though the work I am doing is important work for the LGBT business world. I am working as part of the national advocacy organization for all LGBT owned companies in America, representing approximately 1.4 million LGBT businesses and entrepreneurs! The Supplier Diversity department gives companies the tools to connect with larger corporations as a diverse supplier. I will also be helping provide networking opportunities for our LGBT-owned companies through the Corporate Relations sector. I’m learning a lot about businesses and the LGBT community from both departments I am interning with and the organization as a whole.

Not only are there many opportunities for me at work, but outside of it too! Fiona and I attended a documentary called “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” which showed the child labor behind the production of cocoa beans. It was an incredibly moving documentary about two men going undercover to shed light on the use of children in cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast of Africa. Traffickers find children throughout Mali, take them to a bus station to be bused to the boarder, and from there the traffickers taxi them over to the Ivory Coast where they are delivered to farms. The frightening thing is that it was filmed only a few months ago! So many of the corporate officials of the chocolate companies and government officials of the Ivory Coast claimed that no child labor occurs, and yet these children are walking around cocoa farms with machetes. As president of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at Rollins, I plan to bring this documentary to Rollins and work with EcoRollins to present it and promote the purchasing of fair trade goods; it’s currently the only way to ensure that not only the environment is protected, but the workers are paid fairly.

A couple of nights later, Ashley and I attended a panel discussion about Queer Media. I didn’t know what to expect exactly, but as a Critical Media and Cultural Studies major, I took an interest in exploring and finding out. The panel consisted of writers from various writing outlets, the majority LGBT-specific and others more general. Each person spoke about being able to put their identity into their writing to provide a narrative to the LGBT community. For many it was difficult providing for such a diverse community, while at the same time they find that their writings help people deal with their identity and become comfortable with it.

In addition, they discussed the interplay between mainstream media and queer media, more specifically about LGBT members in the mainstream and what they do. Many found that LGBT members in the mainstream had to compromise a lot of themselves and their LGBT identity to fulfill that role in mainstream media. Overall, the internet has served as a huge revelation for the LGBT community, because it provides a space for them to live and grow. Furthermore, we discussed “What is a gay issue?” There are a lot of people who believe that certain issues are “gay” and are “not gay.” For example, immigration comes up as a non-gay or feminist issue even though many women and LGBT members are affected by it. After a couple of hours on this subject, the panel came to a close, and Ashley and I left with a conversation about how we can take back to Rollins what we’ve done so far this week. We decided that we would love for SLAP and Spectrum to work closer together so that we can organize on campus more effectively. We are still a little unsure about what we can specifically do at Rollins, but we have plenty of time to learn while in D.C.

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