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Outing themselves: the founders of a group of gay U.S. senate staffers say threatened outings on Capitol Hill do nothing to help gay rights.

On July 15, the morning after the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment was rejected by the U.S. Senate, openly gay Senate staffers Lynden Armstrong, 32, and Mat Young, 29, sat in a conference room near the Capitol. Both were pleased by the result but acknowledged that this was far from the last gay rights battle they would endure in Congress. That was why Armstrong, an administrative director to Republican senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, and Young, an economic policy director to Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, started the Gays, Lesbians, and Allies Senate Staff Caucus back in April.

The social group numbers close to 100 members and serves as a place for gay staffers to network. That is not always an easy task in the button-down halls of Congress, where many aides remain closeted. Their situation is especially tenuous these days in the wake of an Internet and telephone campaign by two Washington, D.C., activists, John Aravosis and Michael Rogers, to out gay and lesbian staffers working for senators who support the amendment

The Advocate's Chad Graham sat dawn with Armstrong and Young during a recent visit to the Capitol.

What do you hope to accomplish with yore. group?

Armstrong: You have a social outlet and a chance to network and talk about professional opportunities. Also, as new gay and lesbian staffers come to Capitol Hill they see that we are visible and that we can be gay and have a career. A lot of people are right out of college and they're still trying to figure out where they can be comfortable and where they can't.

Did you have to get permission from your bosses to form the group?

Armstrong: Oh, yeah. They all said "It's not an issue" and "We support you."

Young: I think an important distinction is that we're not a political group. Up here on the Hill your boss speaks for himself or herself, and the staffers generally should not be in the news. I think when we're doing these things we're not doing them in the capacity of representing our bosses; we're doing it as a social group.

How do you feel about the outing of staffers?

Armstrong: We're adamantly opposed to this whole thing. It's counterproductive to anything that we've been trying to accomplish. I've gotten e-mails from straight staffers who are shocked. They want to know how gay people can be doing this to other gay people. On Capitol Hill you'd be stretched to find anyone who thinks this is a good idea.

Young: What these activists have done has done nothing to alter the debate on the FMA. They don't like the idea that [gays are] working on the staffs of conservative members. Well, we don't feel it's the job of these activists to go and out people to their bosses.

Why is there still such a stoma for gay employees on Capitol Hill?

Armstrong: My feeling from talking to people who are gay up here is that it's a process, even if you know that your boss is supportive of gay equality. You want to make sure, as with any workplace, that you're being judged on your merits before, you're judged on your orientation.

Young: I definitely think that Capitol Hill is a harder environment to come out in because it's such a political world. You have no guarantee of a career up here. Some people are nervous about coming out and having their boss leave and then having to find another job.

What has the debate on the Federal Marriage Amendment been like for you?

Young: I think that any time personal issues involving gay and lesbian staff are being discussed by our bosses, it can be very stressful and a difficult time. It's been wonderful to have our group. Prior to forming it, if something like this did come up or there was something that was really horrible and antigay happening, gay staffers might have talked informally about it, but this is now an organized way for us to get together and manage our stress.
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Title Annotation:Behind the Headlines
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Aug 31, 2004
Previous Article:Seeking equality in divorce.
Next Article:Coupled gays a worthy target.

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