Ben Panico says that working on Capitol Hill is his dream come true, made all the more special by his position as the Hill's only current out transgender staff member.
In fact, the 22-year-old recent college graduate is only the fourth openly trans staffer throughout the entirety of the Hill's history, notes digital TV network Fusion. He was preceded, most notably, by Diego Sanchez, who worked as a senior policy adviser to Rep. Barney Frank before his the congressman's retirement.
Panico has been hard at work since June, spending his days as an aide to the LGBT Equality Caucus, supporting seven openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the House while they advance legislation. His duties include the expected news updates, letter writing, and scheduling of briefings, but Panico says he also brings something extra to the table.
"I've had unique experiences [as a trans person] that no one else on the Hill right now can speak for," he explained to Fusion's Jorge Ramos in the video below.
"I've met a lot of trans folks who've faced discrimination in a lot of areas," he elaborated to the Washington Blade in August. "And I think that there are a lot of ways that the caucus is doing a great job addressing these problems."
Though he has a personal stake in the issues, Panico keeps his public persona strictly professional. While open about the fact that he is transgender, he is very private about the details of his personal life, consistently declining to comment on his own transition or whether he's faced antitrans discrimination himself.
The Hill, at least, is once place Panico faces little risk of encountering the prejudices that continue to plague the U.S.'s trans population, including discrimination in employment and public accommodations. "Capitol Hill is a very friendly place to be," he told Fusion. "Most people … that know that I'm trans just treat me like any other person."
Next year Panico will work with gay Colorado representative. Jared Polis, continuing to push LGBT-focused legislation forward. See more of his story in Fusion's America With Jorge Ramos segment below.