M. A. Keifer admits that, to the average voter, her work on Capitol Hill isn't all that "sexy."
"A lot of the good work in Congress happens behind the scenes," she tells Out. "People only see the bad stuff-the vitriol, the political back-and-forth. A lot of the work we do is nitty-gritty, but it's good work. We're building those relationships; we're finding ways to agree where it sometimes seems impossible."
Keifer is a legislative assistant for Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee and one of dozens of LGBTQ staffers on the hill. While elected officials make the votes, they lean heavily on a vast network of staffers who do everything from answer the phones to draft legislation. Congressional staff are the bedrock of change on the Hill.
These staffers depend on an atmosphere of professionalism and collegiality to make their work possible, and what they fear most from the Trump administration is how the harmful campaign rhetoric may invade the capitol and start shutting down relationships.
Says Keifer, "There is a nonpartisan, not bipartisan, but nonpartisan understanding that you respect staff and make sure this is a welcoming space. But who knows? Weirder things have happened. We're not immune to what's happening outside the Hill, but our ears are perked a little bit, to make sure that this space stays safe."
A queer Democratic aide in Congress, who spoke on background, believed that many representatives could be emboldened by the Trump administration to prioritize politics over policy.
"There's a very good shot that it will continue to be ugly," he says. "At some point, push will come to shove. If a staffer or their boss starts supporting something truly repugnant, the relationships we have with them to make some policies possible could be strained, or even crumble."
Keifer agreed that the divisions bred by the Trump administration and by hardline Republicans in certain states could seep into that nonpartisan environment that she, as a queer woman, depends on to work with her peers. "It's a chilling effect," she says. "I do think that this administration has emboldened some members of Congress to think now is the opportunity to make changes up here. I certainly hope that anti-LGBTQ measures passed at the state level don't make their way to Capitol Hill."
Some issues that depend heavily on bipartisan staffer cooperation include HIV/AIDS prevention and even marriage equality, which the aide said most staffers and members on both sides of the aisle generally support.
As far as attitudes toward advancing LGBTQ rights under Trump, views are split. Some queer staffers believe real offense is possible, while others believe that the best the queer movement can hope for in the coming years is to hold ground.
Says Keifer, "It's vital not just to hold the lines on basic human rights, but to push forward. It's hard to see that when we have to put out all these fires. But we ask ourselves, how can we think about the next step? That's how we stay motivated."
Meanwhile, the Democratic aide described queer rights today as "100 percent locked into defense mode," adding that "civil rights triumphs over the last eight years can be attributed to the administration; now that the administration has changed, a lot of those are not set in stone."
He pointed to the difference in progress between the Equality Act--the massively supported pro-LGBT bill that hasn't received a single hearing--and the First Amendment Act, the anti-LGBT law that will likely require a fight from Democrats early in the session.
Whatever happens next on the Hill, queer staffers are there, even behind the scenes, fighting for their community.
"Whatever comes through the House isn't going to come through without a fight," Keifer says.