What It’s Like to Work for an NGO

FullSizeRender (25).jpgI roll out of bed around 8:15–or 8:30, or 8:45, as the case may be. I get dressed, put some amount of makeup on, and schlep to the 2 or 3 train station–whichever one Google Maps tells me has a shorter wait. I try and guess which car will have less people so I can get a seat and either take a nap or read a book on my commute. I get off at the Wall Street stop and walk-jog up the stairs with a bunch of people in suits. We’re all on our way to work.

Only I’m not in a suit, and when I roll through the revolving doors of my building and wait for the elevator, I’m not heading to a bank, or a consulting firm, or an advertising agency. I’m heading to the offices of OutRight Action International, an NGO promoting LGBTIQ1 rights.

But what exactly does that entail?2

First, a little background. OutRight (formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)) is “the first and only U.S.-based LGBTIQ human rights organization to obtain consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).” That basically means they have a permanent place at the UN and get to bring up issues of LGBTIQ rights to international leaders. OutRight worked so hard to get a position with the UN because they have an international focus and work with activists and organizations around the world (especially in the Global South) to promote LGBTIQ rights everywhere.

So that’s the lowdown on who I’m working for–not too shabby for a place blocks away from the Trump Building.3

But what do I do?

I’m the Communications Intern, so I work with the Comms Department (as my supervisors call it) to help prepare press releases and statements as well as blogs about world events and OutRight’s current projects.4

But, like, what do I actually do?

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My sad former desk

Well, I used to sit at a desk tucked away between the front door and the kitchen. Then I got moved to an empty desk in the main section of the office, where I can make more friends and see just how much activist work can look like everyday office work.5

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My fun current desk

I work from around 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and I abuse my access to the free coffee in the office kitchen most of the hours in between. I take an hour lunch break, usually sometime after noon to avoid all the lines made by thousands of other workers around us. There are meetings and email chains, happy hours and chatter by the water cooler.6 I’ve already sat in on too many meetings about donors.  My assignments are really interesting, but when 5:30 (and the chance to go home and gloriously do nothing) comes around I close all the tabs on my laptop like I’ve just finished a research paper and haul out of there.

But in a lot of ways, my job is very unlike office work. We’re all supposed to get here around 9:30 but almost no one does. We’re the only people in our building (and probably the whole 10-block radius) who can wear Birkenstocks, baseball caps, and flannels to work. And, you know, there’s the whole human rights thing. The woman in the cubicle next to me is getting her office phone fixed so she can keep making calls to the UN. We are walking in the Trans Day of Visibility March as an office. I take Facebook breaks after reading the Southern Poverty Law Center’s breakdown of hate groups or about memorial plans at Pulse nightclub. We maintain our relationships with rich donors not because we’re money-obsessed but because it’s how we fund research, activist training, and UN negotiations.

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The main part of the office

Unlike a lot of office jobs, my internship requires me not only to stay on top of the news, but to de-center the US and focus on the countries and issues that are not getting the attention they need. I’ve learned more about the progress (and lack thereof) of international LGBTIQ rights in two weeks here than I did in the past 21 years through classes and the Google searches snuck in between. My employer has done more work for LGBTIQ people than anyone else I have or maybe will ever work with.

It’s strange to see how mundane the day-to-day of human rights work can be–not to mention to acknowledge how much work is (necessarily) done alongside and within existing institutions, like the UN and the US government. It can be difficult to imagine what good could possibly come from an office rather than a rally. But one advantage of working for Communications is that I get to research and document the impact that OutRight’s strategy has had all over the world. I’m reminded that my employer doesn’t just support LGBTIQ rights, it puts them before everything else. And I come to work every day and, in some small way, get to help with that.


1 LGBTIQ is the acronym my job officially uses. While I’ve used LGBTQ+ in past posts, I’ll use OutRight’s label while writing about them in this post.
2 It’s important to make this abundantly clear as well: all opinions expressed here are my own. I am not speaking for OutRight; only for myself.
3 Seriously, I have no idea why we are located in this place. Maybe it’s because the irony gives everyone fuel to work through lunch.
4 If you need a concrete example, check out my first post . (And of course I’m going to self promote. This is already a blog entirely dedicated to me.)
5 Did I mention that any and all opinions expressed here are totally mine??
6 The literal water cooler. I could not make this up.

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