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Katie Hill's Sexual Freedom Was Too Much for Congress

Katie Hill

This isn’t going to come as a surprise to anyone, but some people really get screwed in life.

When I hung up from a conversation with embattled, former U.S. Representative Katie Hill, that’s what I thought about her. But then, I had second thoughts. Could it be that her misfortune will one day propel her back to political prominence? And, could the circumstances of her recent downfall only serve to pave an easier path for others in her generation to follow?

Hill ran for the U.S. House seat in California’s 25th congressional district in what was billed at the time as the “most millennial campaign ever” – and this attribution ended up being an important harbinger to what would befall Hill and what she might become. At the age of 31, she turned that red district blue, soundly defeating a Republican incumbent. 

She assumed office in January 2019 and was immediately placed in a House managerial role (freshman class representative) by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was looking to diversify a leadership that was glaringly old and white. Representative Hill would be the first bisexual member of the House leadership, and a face and conduit to the future of a more diverse Democratic party.

Then, in October 2019 a right-wing blog published a story alleging an affair between the married Hill and a female staffer, a charge she later admitted to, and apologized for. Then came the accusations of a throuple relationship with her husband and another woman, as well as the publication of nude photos of Hill that were maliciously leaked by her estranged husband. It was a tangled and embarrassing mess that left the 32-year-old Hill disgraced and without a job. But not without a future.

After almost a year from her resignation from Congress, Hill is back, or at least attempting a comeback. This month, she published a book, She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality in which she shares her experiences from her time in politics. 

Though her time in Congress was short, Hill is very proud of what was accomplished during those nearly 10 months that she represented her California district “Honestly, it seemed like such a short moment, but I was able to work with incredible people, like the Speaker, and other leaders in our party that have forged the way for so many of us,” recalled Hill. “In the short time I was there, we passed the Equality Act, equal pay legislation, and a raise to the minimum wage. Those first few months of Democratic leadership in the House were an important time to be there.”

Hill admitted that the most influential person for her during that time was, in fact, Speaker Pelosi. “She is such a force. I learned so much from her, and in my book,  I talk about how difficult it was to call her and let her know that I was resigning. It was heartbreaking, but the Speaker is so inspirational and has been so supportive.”

The other meaningful part of her House tenure was being the co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “The members of the caucus are some of the most dedicated people in the House,” she said. “I particularly enjoyed my time with Representative David Cicilline (of Rhode Island), since we also served in the leadership together. And then there were Representatives Angie Craig, Sharise Davids, and Mark Pocan – too many to name and call out. They were all wonderful, and they were a great reflection of the diversity of the Democratic party in the House.” 

In addition to her book, Hill has started a Political Action Committee (PAC) called HER Time. Its aim is to help further diversify the House by helping women candidates run for office, particularly young women and women of color. She also just launched a wink-wink titled podcast, Naked Politics.

I explained to Hill that in the several years I’ve been teaching at a local New York City college, I’ve had conversations with my students about the proliferation of naked pictures shared through social media by their generation. When I specifically cited Hill’s situation to several of my classes, they didn’t see the big deal, and questioned why she had to resign. “Sharing naked pictures is sort of commonplace,” seemed to be the general consensus of the students.

Was Hill ahead of her time? Meaning, five or 10 years from now, will naked social media pics elicit shoulder shrugs, rather than outrage, by today’s Gen Z-ers, who will be tomorrow’s voters? “Yes, I do agree with you. The fact is that those pictures were a big part of what happened to me, and they made so many people mad. What got lost in the conversation is that the pictures were released maliciously via a criminal act. Those pictures were meant to be private.

“If the release of naked pictures does happen in the future to a woman candidate, or office-holder, hopefully people won’t just blame her, and they will take the time to understand the whole story. In this day and age, there are different expectations for women than there are for men. But as the young people of today become the voting base of tomorrow, and hold seats in government, naked images probably won’t be looked at so scandalously as they are today. 

“For my generation, we’ve grown up online, right? The young people today are sending these types of photos without any remorse, and in a way, it’s becoming more of an accepted norm, so long as you’re not a minor, and its not outright pornography. And, I think because my case created the attention that it did, it might not be so difficult for another woman the next time around.”

In regard to the double standard, I had to ask her what she thought of the recent Jerry Falwell, Jr., pics where he and a woman (not his wife) have their pants unzipped? “Thank God you couldn’t see anything,” she jokingly replied. “But seriously, there are a few other instances where men in power have had embarrassing photos revealed, and they weren’t forced to resign or didn’t have their photos sexualized. I’m not naming any names, but they were definitely not treated the same way as women who might have similar photographs made public, or a man who might release pictures of a woman.”

Case in point: Aaron Coleman, a 19-year-old who admitted to releasing nude pictures of an ex-girlfriend in a case of blackmail and revenge porn, who won his primary race on Wednesday for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. 

I also mentioned to Hill a column I wrote earlier this year about how the media depicts throuples and included her story as well as the unsavory scripted characters in two Netflix series, Elite and Tiger King. I wondered if she felt the same way, that the media still treats throuples as indecent? And, if the revelation of her being part of a throuple was also ahead of its time in being more socially accepted? 

“Well, first I do think that the situation I was in was treated unfairly by the media,” she lamented. “There was a lot of biphobia, and the fact that I’m young and a woman, and that the women, in particular, were being sexualized. It was clearly blown up by being portrayed as a fantasy thing, without dealing with the complexity of the relationship. I think we have a long way to go in terms of dealing with people who fit into those heteronormative relationships. “

“The younger generation is like, ‘alright it might not be for me, but whatever works for you.’” And I’m not even saying that a throuple is a good structure. I’m not making the argument one way or the other. But the bottom line is, and I think this generation would agree, is that people should just be left alone.”

Society is slowly changing in some ways, and the concept of a “suburban housewife” as Trump keeps touting, tweeting, and addressing seems outdated. What does Hill think when she sees those tweets and comments from Trump? 

“I think he’s completely misreading the situation. That’s not a ‘thing’ anymore. The vast majority of women who live in the suburbs are working. There’s so much more diversity among women, and Trump is miscalculating our gender entirely. We’ve seen that change in suburban women recently in the way they helped turn red districts blue in the midterms. The fact that he’s using that phrase is actually a good thing for us.” 

And there’s more of the likes of working husbands like Chasten Buttigieg’s sprinkled among those so-called suburban housewives? “Yes, indeed. And, I just thought Mayor Pete’s campaign was so exciting,” Hill added. “But I was bummed out a bit by the fact that people decided that Pete was a moderate, and keyed in on that label for him, and I think that wiped out some of the historic nature of his campaign.

“However, the fact that we had a gay, married man, who was totally open, and talked sincerely about LGBTQ rights was truly historic. He won Iowa! That was a big deal! And I’m sure his campaign paved the way, making it easier for the next one. He has a bright future.”

For her future, would Hill ever consider marrying a woman? “Oh definitely. I just don’t have any desire to get married anytime soon, as I’m sure you understand,” she said. “And one reason is that I’m unfortunately not officially divorced yet. I’m all for freedom of sexuality, so I could go either way.”

What way will she go, perhaps within the next 10 years professionally? Will Hill pick up and move to a more welcoming, blue district and run for Congress again?

“I wouldn’t say never, so I’m not going to write it off completely,” she contemplated. “Redistricting will occur after the 2020 election, and that will change the landscape. Right now, it’s really important for me to help people of color, and especially women of color, and make sure they get priority in running for office. Honestly, I need some time to heal, and figure out my path. I’m only 33, so I’m still young.”

In the meantime, Hill aims to stay involved in politics, and that’s why I think that while she might have been screwed, what lies ahead will undoubtedly be far better and far more accepting days. 

Hill might have been ahead of her time. When her generation becomes more involved in politics, she just might get the shot she deserves. “I think the political process is the one, true way we can instigate the changes we need to make in civilization,” Hill, still in campaign mode, intoned. “And hopefully, I can have an impact through politics, and with the way society looks at things culturally, and help people become more involved, and less judgmental.”

John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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