tammy baldwin
tammy baldwin

It’s Been 5 Years Since the United States Elected an Openly Gay Senator

In these troubled times, it’s nice to reflect on some of the unabashed triumphs of American democracy — and you need look no further than the election of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly queer US Senator. It was five years ago this month, and it might’ve been the last great moment in American politics before … well, you know.

 

Tammy Baldwin is uniquely qualified

Tammy came to the Senate with impeccable credentials dating all the way back to childhood. She was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, the valedictorian of her 1980 class. She quickly rose to prominence, practicing law in the late ’80s as she served on the Dan County Board of Supervisors.

As her political career ascended through the ’90s, Tammy never made a secret of being a lesbian. In 1998, she was the first out candidate to be elected to the Wisconsin legislature, and citizens were proud to have her represent them.

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A milestone for LGBT equality

Her 2012 victory was a remarkable milestone, both for LGBT people and for Congress. She was up against Tommy Thompson, the Republican former governor, and remarkably her sexual orientation was seldom mentioned. (Just a few years earlier, another gay candidate was attacked in radio ads that warned “gays from Madison” would be invading the rest of the state.) What would have been an insurmountable obstacle just a few years earlier was barely worth a mention in 2012.

But once elected, her service was instantly significant. It broke an invisible barrier that had existed since the founding of the country, providing proof to queer people everywhere that they could be proud progressive advocates for their community without sacrificing their political careers.

“I didn’t run to make history,” she said on election night, but she added, “the people of Wisconsin have made history. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the trust you have placed in me.”

 

Winning against all odds

Many observers predicted she was sure to lose the election. Early projections had her going down in defeat, but against all odds, she pulled ahead in the days before the vote.

As an advocate, she’s worked tirelessly for queer people throughout her career, whether on the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus or championing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Tammy was also instrumental in passing improved hate crime protections and recognizing the spouses of federal employees.

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Tammy Baldwin has been a strong advocate

And since her election five years ago, voters have learned they can count on Tammy Baldwin to stand for justice, particularly when it came to the Iraq invasion in 2002. She voted against the military move, and later joined a caucus to push the United States to end its interference in Iraq.

Marc Pocan, another openly queer politician, ran for state office in Wisconsin 1998, and recalled slurs and death threats at the time. One anti-gay activist even stood outside his house distributing leaflets. In a climate like that, many politicians would have given up — but Baldwin persisted, and she persists to this day.