Tammy Baldwin talks about making GLBT issues everyday news


by Mark Segal
Gay History Project

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the first out lesbian to serve in Congress and the first woman to represent Wisconsin. She was recently an influential voice in passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House of Representatives. She also introduced an amendment to ENDA to include gender identity and protections for trans individuals, which was not approved.

MS: You’ve become the first openly lesbian woman voted to Congress, the founder of the LGBT congressional caucus and now the co-chair of Obama’s national LGBT steering and policy committee. Has the dream been realized, or is it still a work in progress?

It’s great to achieve historic firsts, but there’s still work to be done until we achieve the seconds and the thirds and the fourths, until these achievements are commonplace and nobody thinks twice about them. We’ve come a long way. Now the hard work is to make this everyday news.

MS: You played a major role in shaping the very gay-positive Democratic platform that Obama is campaigning on. Was there any resistance?

We made our decisions at the pressroom drafting committee by consensus, and it was remarkably smooth as a process. There was still agreement and pride over the fact that this was a historic document for Democrats with regard to LGBT equality.

How does this convention differ from your first Democratic Convention?

Oh my. My first Democratic convention was the 1996 convention in Chicago. I was a state representative, and I ran to be a delegate to the convention, as did a couple of my colleagues. We carpooled down and were roommates, and I was in that convention hall in awe that all of my political heroes were there too. And I got to see many of them in person for the very first time. I also had several of my fellow Wisconsin delegates encourage me at that convention to start thinking about my next step. One in particular who I will always remember said, “You know, you should think about running for Congress someday.” And so there I was with these role models, these bigger than life heroes to me, who had been at the frontlines of incredible social change for the good, and I think it was then that I first started imagining what could be in the future. So here in 2008, it’s going to be amazing to reflect on the progress.

MS: So, in 1996, you were being urged as an open lesbian to run for Congress. Do you expect that there will be people in that hall that are gay or lesbian who will have the first thought to run for public office?

I think that there’s a powerful role for role models to play in terms of inspiring LGBT people who question whether their identity might in some way might impede their reaching for the stars, reaching for their dreams. I think that’s one element I’m proud of.

MS: What is the role of LGBT delegates at this convention?

The LGBT delegates show and demonstrate in a very profound way that the Democratic Party is an inclusive party in the broadest sense of the term inclusivity. The delegates also play an important role in making sure that LGBT equality will remain a part of the many focuses of the Democratic Convention. We were just talking about the historic Democratic platform. The delegates ultimately vote on this platform, so the process is not over. We’re presenting the convention delegates with what I think is a powerful and historic document, but ultimately it is up to all of us as delegates and super delegates to protect that language during the convention, and play a big role in educating the public.

MS: Everybody is excited about the inclusiveness of LGBT issues.

And for good reason because it is a steady mark of our progress. In preparation for my role on the Democratic platform drafting committee, a role that I’ve never had before, I read the 2000 and 2004 platform, so I know there’s definitely room for growth and improvement. I know that gays and lesbians made their first appearance in a Democratic platform in 1980. We’ve gone from a first appearance to being woven into many of the different aspects of the platform, and because this is a document that is referred back to representing the values of our party, these documents over the years will collectively show a steady march towards progress.

MS: What are you going to say when you take the podium?

I am focusing on women in the economy, and one of the issues closest to my heart — in fact the reason I first ran for office in the first place — creating a healthcare system that covers all Americans. I’m going to be addressing the particular importance of national healthcare and healthcare reform as it affects women and the economy.

Once there is an Obama administration, one of the things that is expected is that there will be at least one opening on the Supreme Court. Usually when that happens, people look at various issues that a candidate might have, and recently, the most controversial has been women’s choice. Should LGBT issues be also on that same plane?

TB: It’s certainly going to be an issue on the minds of millions of Americans, how the Supreme Court with new justices will tackle the contemporary [issues] that have percolated up from state courts into federal courts. Because our lives and our equality and our rights are at stake, millions of Americans will care deeply about how the next Supreme Court justice or justices will confront our issues and other issues that are of serious concern to us. I certainly hope that our next president looks for nominees to the Supreme Court that are committed to equality and justice, and that’s exactly what we need in our Supreme Court.

MS: How busy do you expect to be on the campaign trail now that you’re the co-chair of Senator Obama LGBT steering and policy committee?

Even as we speak I’m already quite busy. It’s been exciting in the campaign because not only do I have the privilege of serving as co-chair of the committee along with Tobias Wolfe, but I’m also getting so thoroughly engaged with the Wisconsin Obama campaign. We’re in recess from Congress right now, so I’m attending Obama campaign office openings, we’re having a lot of substantive policy discussions on Obama’s agenda, and there’s a lot of activity here. It’s a great blend of work with national and statewide scope of making sure that we actually deliver Wisconsin for Obama.