Reflecting on a visit with the Vice President
The day after my first day of class at IPS, I received an email titled “An Invitation from the Vice President and Dr. Biden.” At first, I assumed it was just another fundraising email from the Obama campaign, but once I saw “This invitation is non-transferable” at the top of the message, I knew it was something else. The Bidens were holding an end-of-summer barbecue at their house celebrating the next generation of LGBT leaders, and I was one of their invited guests.
Having just spent four years of undergrad in DC at American University, I was initially uncertain whether to say I would attend. I’d received invitations from the White House before, and I would be on my own for transportation from Chicago. However, after sharing the news with friends and learning that I knew people traveling from Las Vegas and San Francisco for the event, I decided this was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. So I cashed in some frequent flier miles and part of an American Airlines bump voucher, and after only 36 days in the Midwest, I found myself on a plane back to Washington.
Being back in DC was a surreal experience, especially since I was there for such a short time. I can still navigate the Metro system with my eyes closed, so it was no trouble to get to the house I was spending the night in or to get to the White House for a tour the following morning.
That tour was just the standard self-guided tour of the East Wing that anyone can request on the White House website, which was slightly disappointing – I’d seen it before, and if I had known it was just the standard tour, I probably would have gotten a little more sleep. My friend Sarah interns at the White House, though, and she was with our group so we got a little bit of “unofficial” commentary as we made our way through the building.
Following the tour, we were invited to a three-hour LGBT Policy Roundtable at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This event featured three panels representing nine government agencies’ efforts on LGBT rights in the context of domestic laws, international relations, and support for young people. While most of the information shared was not particularly new to me, it was a good opportunity to get an big-picture look at this administration’s multifaceted approach to such an important civil rights issue.
Most moving was the keynote speech by John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay person in the history of the federal government. He shared stories of the countless people who directly and indirectly helped him get to where he is today, and told us of the importance of thanking people who support us in our struggles. Berry closed his remarks with an admonition to do everything we can to preserve our integrity, comparing it to holding water in one’s hands – there are countless places and ways for integrity to slip away, but ideally you should seek to end your life holding just as much as you had when you started.
Of course, the main event was the evening barbecue at the Naval Observatory, home of the Vice President’s Residence. Even the White House staff who organized the event had never been there before, so it was a real treat for everyone involved. After an opportunity to mingle with friends old and new while enjoying food and drink (complete with napkins featuring the Vice Presidential seal), Dr. Jill Biden took the stage to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and reflect on her experiences as an educator. Vice President Biden then shared stories of his history working for civil rights as a public servant, and thanked us for our work to free the soul of this nation from the travesty of discrimination.
The profound remarks by John Berry, Dr. Biden, and Vice President Biden left all of us with a lot to think about and be thankful for as we left the event that night. I was incredibly honored to be a part of this amazing event, and I look forward to strengthening the connections I made that day to continue seeking justice at Loyola and beyond.
Originally posted at IPS in Action, the blog of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.