One of the sure-fire ways of shutting down a conversation at a college party is to mention your summer internship.
That is unless your summer internship is spent backstage during one of Chicago’s largest Pride events, mingling with LGBTQ+ icons like singer and activist Mila Jam, international star Chaka Khan, and Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot.
It’s definitely not what I imagined the summer between my Junior and Senior year would look like. If that’s not a testament to the power of a cold email, then I don’t know what is.
I began my summer internship with Out Leadership in May of 2021, shortly after wrapping up my second to last semester at Loyola University Chicago. As a political science student and a newly out lesbian, I was pleased to have the opportunity to work on behalf of an organization that represented my community and would grant me the connections I would need to develop my career goals. I knew working for a New York City-based company halfway across the country would be difficult, but if we learned anything over the past year, it is the importance of flexibility, optimism, and good Zoom etiquette.
Fast forward to the weekend of June 26, when I received a volunteer request from Mila Jam the Saturday before her performance at Chicago’s Pride in the Park festival. Swallowing my excitement, I tried my best to reply as casually as possible. I mean, this happens to all interns, right?
I had met Mila at a work retreat in Fire Island for Out Leadership just a couple of weeks prior. Mila Jam is an American transgender singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, LGBTQ+ activist, and Senior Advisor, Transgender Initiatives at Out Leadership. Her latest single “Fierce,” which she co-wrote with actress Angelica Ross and musical artist Ultra Nate, had just dropped in celebration of Pride Month.
Ecstatic to have the opportunity to rub elbows with an elite lineup of performers, I agreed. I met up with Mila at the artist entrance off Grant Park with a friend of mine the following day. There I received my VIP guest pass and went to work.
One of the things that struck me was how casually these artists and their teams interacted with one another. It’s a people’s business after all. Besides fetching water bottles and ripping costume seams, I spent my time mingling among the other technicians, assistants, PR representatives, and groupies. Every one of them was willing to shake my hand. One of those connections, Justin, even got us a shortcut to the VIP stage section. The concert was a community as much as it was a job.
There were lots of reunions. These individuals knew each other from other events. They ran back and forth between artists on other teams to pick up the slack and ensure everything ran smoothly. They were delighted to let a newcomer like me pester them with questions. As much as we were there to work, we were there to celebrate. This being the first concert event since Chicago’s shutdown in 2020, and a Pride event no less, it was a significant moment not lost on anyone.
We had all put our lives on pause for the past year and a half. It’s only natural that we had reckoned with our priorities and emerged from the tragedy with a new way of life.
On my part, I came out to my father over the quarantine period, two years after coming out to myself and my friends. A major medical event and the cliche realization that “life is too short” prompted such an honest discussion.
Now, along with artists, crew members, dancers, servers, and thousands of vibrant, semi-nude audience members, I was proud to be lending my voice to the celebration and proud to be out as myself. It was a great reminder of the work Out Leadership and other organizations had done to ensure that I and individuals within my community were able to live authentically. I was also reminded of how far we have to go.
At least at this moment, I knew I was definitely not alone.
So, to all the interns who will come next, I say never pass up an opportunity. You never know where it will take you. Good luck, and bring a seam ripper to your next event.