Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) was among the wave of women and LGBT people elected to Congress in the 2018 midterms. Endorsed by former President Barack Obama, Hill trounced the Republican incumbent in a district that was solidly GOP for 30 years, and did so while rejecting PAC money — only accepting money from small donors. Her campaign was the subject of a Vice News documentary that highlighted her left political positions and called it “the most millennial campaign, ever.”
Hill was chosen as the Democratic Caucus representative before the start of the 116th Congress. She was appointed as vice chair of the powerful Oversight and Reform Committee, on the Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The only openly bisexual member of the House, she also was a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus. A familiar face on CNN and other national broadcasts, Hill, 32, was a rising star within the Democratic Party.
All of this exciting work came to a halt Oct. 27, when Hill tweeted out a letter of resignation that read, “This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents and our country.”
In the letter, Hill blamed her abusive estranged husband for trying to humiliate her and destroy her career. The conservative website Red State published an allegation that Hill was having an affair with a male staffer — a claim made in the press by her husband, and which Hill categorically denied. But Hill did reveal she had had a previous relationship before her election with a female campaign aide, Morgan Desjardins. Red State and the Daily Mail then published leaked photos of her and Desjardins. According to CNN’s Kyung Lah, more than 700 images, including nude photos, and explicit texts between the two women were turned over to GOP websites.
Revenge porn is illegal in California and 39 other states, as well as the District of Columbia. The photos of Hill were illegally disseminated, and her father told press Hill’s estranged husband is “evil” and should face prosecution.
About the relationship with Desjardins, Hill said, “I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment.” Although the relationship took place during the campaign, it could be construed as a violation of House rules instituted in 2018, which include a code of conduct that bars members from engaging in sexual relationships with their staffers. Desjardins was never a staffer for Hill’s congressional office.
On Oct. 29, it was revealed that Jennifer Van Laar, author of the Red State and Daily Mail pieces on Hill, is a longtime GOP consultant who has worked for Republican politicians who ran against Hill. At one point, Van Laar was the campaign manager for a California Republican who ran for Hill’s seat.
On Oct, 30, George Papadopoulos, an ex-Trump aide who went to jail in the Mueller probe of the 2016 election, announced he was running for Katie Hill’s House seat.
Is a consensual relationship with a campaign aide before an election cause for resignation, or is the Katie Hill story really about her gender, the gender of her sexual partner and Hill’s bisexuality?
Hill’s abusive soon-to-be-ex-husband released revenge porn to GOP operatives that he sought out, knowing they would maximize Hill’s humiliation. Mainstream media outlets published that content without Hill’s consent. GOP political opponents weaponized those images and a titillating story that straight men have made a staple of porn for centuries — two women having sex. And now Hill has been forced to resign from Congress.
A private past relationship was made public as a form of abuse, and the victims were two queer women in a consensual relationship. Adding to the question of why Hill was forced to resign is the fact that another California House Rep. Republican Duncan Hunter is currently under indictment for violating campaign finance laws. Among the issues raised in his prosecution is that Hunter used campaign funds on extramarital affairs with five women, including congressional staffers. Hunter is running for re-election in 2020.
Why is Hunter still in office when he is accused of actual crimes as well as affairs with staffers while Hill — the sole out bisexual in the House — has been forced to resign?
Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a strong supporter of Hill’s, said in Hill’s defense. “Let’s also speak the truth that men and women are not held to the same standards,” Harris said, adding, “I mean, look at who’s in the White House,” referencing the dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault made against the president
Harris also said of the publication of the photos, “It was clearly meant to embarrass her. There’s so much that people do about women and their sexuality that’s about shaming them.”
Hill has vowed to fight for victims of revenge porn, releasing an impassioned video on YouTube. But Hill’s promising political career has been sundered, and her voice for LGBTQ people from the power podium of the House has been silenced. Hill was slut-shamed out of Congress for a consensual affair with another woman, and now a convicted felon in Trump’s cohort is running to replace her. The double standard for men and women has never been more obvious. And the message to women to hide their sexuality has never been more stark.