Congresswoman Katie Hill resigns after photos out relationship with campaign staffer



FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Katie Hill speaks during an interview after voting in Agua Dulce, Calif. Hill announced her resignation over the weekend following the publication of explicit photos that outed the relationship. She describes the photos as “revenge porn” and is vowing to fight the problem so that women and girls don’t shy away from politics in the future. Hill’s resignation in a sex scandal she blamed on an abusive husband has observers wondering if women are held to higher standards in public life and what the future holds for politicians coming of age in the iPhone era. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Katie Hill announced her impending resignation from Congress on Sunday following the revelation that she had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer.

Earlier this month, conservative blog RedState alleged that Hill was involved in a long-term sexual relationship with a female member of her staff and that the pair was engaged in a group relationship with Hill’s husband, Kenny Heslep. Hill is notable for being California’s first openly bisexual person elected to Congress.

Nude pictures of Hill were featured on both RedState and DailyMail.

It’s hard to say what role her queer identity has played, or is going to play,” said John French, a lecturer in the political science department. “Certainly, the fact that relationship with the campaign staffer seems to have also involved her then-husband, and that all three are, apparently, in the photos that have been circulated, will add to the level of media attention.”

Hill initially denied the allegations, claiming that Heslep—whom she described as “abusive”— was attempting to humiliate her during their divorce proceedings and the claims were part of a larger conspiracy against her from her political opponents. 

The House Ethics Committee later announced that they would conduct an investigation into the allegations. Hill later emailed her constituents, admitting to having partaken in the relationship before she was elected to Congress. 

In a video posted to her YouTube channel explaining her resignation, Hill described the situation as a “smear campaign” and stated she did not want her experience to scare women out of running for office. 

Hill’s resignation has evoked mixed responses, with some claiming she knowingly abused her power, while others have stated that she is a victim of revenge porn.

With any relationship between a boss and an employee, we have to ask whether the power differential between them was a factor,” French said. “One reason for the House rule against relationships with staffers is, presumably, that such power differentials make it hard to be sure that a relationship or interaction was genuinely consensual. Putting that another way, it’s difficult not to end up using your powerful position to get what you want, even if you don’t mean to, so it’s clearly better to simply avoid such a relationship.”

Some of Hill’s supporters claimed that Hill is facing more scrutiny for her allegedly consensual transgressions than public figures accused of sexual assault, like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump. 

“…Other right-wing opinion sites have emphasized not only her gender, but also her sexual orientation and the type of relationship she had,” said Brandon Tejeras, president of DePaul College Democrats. “This is something that is never emphasized in the case of the accused perpetrator of the toxic relationship being a straight man.”

Tejeras posited that Hill’s status as a queer woman in the wake of her affair will lead to further scrutiny from her detractors.

“The fact that she is among one of the first bisexual women in Congress has caused right-wing media outlets to continue to generate the kind of headlines that assuredly paint a whole community with a wide brush, continue the demonization of those who are involved in same-sex relationships and perpetuates the stigma around not only women, but LGBTQ-

identifying people,” said Brandon Tijeras, president of DePaul College Democrats. “So, this case has been and will be continually scrutinized in a way that is not on par with other incidents like these.”

There was not a set date for Hill’s removal from Congress as of publication.