To do some pre-interview research on Alyssa Veil ’15, I of course went on her Facebook page. Just by looking through her photo albums, I could see that she was extremely impressive. I looked through pictures of her playing guitar, playing ice hockey in Haiti and dining at the Human Rights Campaign gala dinner in Washington D.C., wondering how she could have accomplished so much at the age of 18.
You’re from Minnesota originally, right?
Yeah, small town Minnesota. No, I’m just kidding. Suburbs I guess. My family’s from a very very small town in North Dakota, and I went to school in the inner city of Minneapolis, so I’ve seen a lot of different realms in my life in that sense.
What are the main differences that you’ve seen or experienced between Minneapolis and small town life in Williamstown?
I would say the biggest differences would be just size and noise level, but also the type of people here. There are a lot of passionate people here. There’s also not a lot of stuff going on here – what is there to do besides talk about our intellect? Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s an advantage to getting out into the city.
So I saw some pictures of you playing the guitar on your Facebook page. Are you into music?
Yeah. I played and sang a little bit in high school. I did a lot of open mics at my high school and coffee shops, etc. I played acoustic guitar, mostly. It was all very casual, nothing professional.
Do you ever write your own music?
No, I just sing for fun. Writing music is too stressful!
I hear you’re involved in political activism.
I work with a couple of LGBT advocacy organizations. I’ve worked in some larger national organizations and the more local levels in Minnesota. And they’re very different from one another.
In what way?
I guess with the organized national groups, there’s a lot more money behind them. You have to really work the system, and it’s no different from any other business, which in some ways [makes me] question the authenticity of it all, even though it’s for a good cause. Working on a more local level is a lot more genuine. There are a lot more real emotions behind it when you’re involved with local activism and see the hardships of the real life social oppression that do exist.
Do you think there’s a way to combine the authenticity and passion of local groups with the resources of larger scale organizations?
Yes, there definitely is a way to connect the two. I’m not exactly sure how, and I think a lot of political scientists are still uncertain about how to do that. If there is a position that I would take on that question, it would be that the political influence of the national organizations needs to be in favor of the local communities and the voices that are not heard. There needs to be a focus on what we can do for people who can’t be heard.
Which advocacy groups are you involved in?
One of the main groups I’m involved in is the Human Rights Campaign, which is a politically active interest group in favor of advocating for LGBT rights and equality. Their agenda in 2010-2011 was primarily on the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, repealing Proposition 8. The current agenda is more focused on getting marriage equality on a federal level. I spoke for the Midwest chapter of HRC, from rich nightclubs of only 20 HRC members to the big 2011 gala dinner in Minneapolis, and that was like 1200 people. That was the local chapter of HRC, and then I got invited to go to the national dinner on Oct. 9, about a month ago. I didn’t speak there, but I got to go, and sit next to a lot of famous people, a lot of rich people, a lot of people whose names I should have known but didn’t! I sat next to an actor from “Modern Family.”
What inspired you to get involved with LGBT advocacy?
I think I got involved because I realized that I could. The way I was raised, I was told that if you want something, you have to go out and get it. No one is going to give you everything. So when I grew up, I asked a lot of the question, “Why are people hating?” And then those questions turned into, “What can I do?” I realized that in regards to socioeconomic status, I’m privileged. I’m privileged in race, in my educational background, and yet I have this one element that’s a little different. I have the ability to help an incredible number of people, and I have the resources, so why not use them? The fact that I was able to undergo self-empowerment and that a lot of people still can’t gives me the responsibility to do something. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue, and many people say that you shouldn’t feel obligated to be in the [Queer Student Union], go to pride parades and wear a rainbow flag on your shirt, and I agree that you shouldn’t have to do that, but I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s super stereotypical: Duh, she’s the gay kid, but for me it feels genuine and real.
On another note, you took a trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, right?
I did! How do you know that?
You had a photo album of pictures on Facebook…
Yeah, for the past two years I’ve gone to a place on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti that is basically a building with one and a half rooms on top of a mountain that is the medical clinic for a region of 30 miles. My dad’s an orthodontist, and he puts braces on people’s teeth, but when we go to Haiti, we pull out teeth. That’s not what my dad does, but when you go to Haiti you don’t have to be licensed to do medical work. Nobody’s checking on you. So my dad taught me how to do a couple things relating to oral medicine. I speak some Spanish, but my dad speaks none. The entire population is either Spanish- or Creole-speaking, and my dad’s a small town North Dakota boy. So I would come in and tell them that everything’s going to be fine. I would calm them, and sometimes take care of their little kids. The recent trip I did, we did sealants. We did that for a group of 30 Haitian orphans.
That sounds like an intense experience.
It was unreal. The amount of appreciation people have in those countries is amazing. Nobody in the States would trust a 16 year old to speak to them in Spanish, put sealants on their teeth, or pull out their teeth, but you go to a completely different place and find the most trusting people. And they’re so happy afterwards! They get their teeth pulled out and they don’t have pain medicine, they don’t have anything. But they sit and they do it because they have to. They face adversity in a way that I’ve never seen, in a way that’s beautiful to watch and be a part of.
It sounds pretty impulsive, but it seems like it worked out in the end! Do you have a specific memory that stuck with you from your trip?
There was a period of about 10 minutes where this guy asked my dad in Spanish if he could trade me for a cow, and he tried to give my dad a cow so that he could marry me.
And you were translating this for your Dad?!
I wasn’t really sure if that’s actually what he had said, so I had someone else who actually spoke Spanish come over and confirm that that’s what he was saying, and we laughed about it. There was also another time at lunch break where my dad and I went out of the hut and one of the women that we had just worked on was holding a live chicken by the neck, and long story short, we ended up eating that chicken for lunch. I just thought to myself, “I just saw a chicken die. That’s never going to happen again.”