Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First Lesbian Senator In U.S. History Just Might Win.

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin just might be the first openly gay U.S. Senator in our nation's history.  She's running as a Democrat against incumbent Tommy Thompson, and she's currently showing a small lead in the polls.  Baldwin has worked hard to frame her campaign around core democratic issues, such as equalizing the tax burden, rebuilding the public education system, saving social security and Medicare, and strengthening the economy. For example, here is one of her campaign ads demonstrating the disparity between the tax policies supported by Thompson, and those that she supports:

However, it is not the creativity of her platform that really sets her apart (although apparently she is an expert seamstress and loves volleyball!), it is the simple fact of her status as an openly gay woman.  Even more striking is how little this issue has played into her campaign.  She has worked hard to make her sexual orientation a non-starter in the political attacks lodged against her, despite her opponent's extreme views on LGBT rights.  She believes in equal rights for gays and lesbians - but you rarely hear her talk about it.  In fact, she says that when she decided to run it virtually did not occur to her that her status as a lesbian would be a hinderance.  This feeling alone represents meaningful progress for civil rights activists.

How comfortable is Tammy Baldwin with her status? Pretty damn comfortable. Here she is dancing at the (by all appearances extremely tame) Madison, Wisconsin Gay Pride Parade (with Wonder Woman) in 2010:

[Also, side-note, in a fascinating turn of events for Wisconsin's Second District, not exactly known to be the San Francisco of the midwest (I'm sure their neighbor Paul Ryan would back me up on this), Baldwin's seat is very likely to be claimed by openly gay businessman Mark Pocan.]

Baldwin describes the import of her candidacy thusly: "breaking through these glass ceilings has a ripple effect. " I think that encapsulates the issue well.  Having such a visible figure of equality in the Senate means that gay and lesbian people will be less likely to self-sabotage their own chances at running for office - or anything else.  It means self-esteem and self-respect for the LGBT community, and particularly young people in Wisconsin.  It also means that her colleagues will be under pressure to maintain a more respectful discourse (hopefully) when it comes to LGBT civil rights issues, and it means that we will have one more ally in government.

It is also important because at last count, we had 17 female senators, out of a 100, and only 4 of them were democratically elected.  4!  The rest were appointed, typically to replace their deceased husbands.  So, for every ceiling broken, we should be proud and inspired.  Nevertheless, we can't forget that the next step is to build more ladders.   So, what i'm saying is, gay, straight, or somewhere in between, will some women please get out there and run for office! And to our Wonder Woman, Tammy Baldwin:  I'm voting for you in spirit.

1 comment:

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

I have enjoyed following this race, especially in moments when Baldwin's candidacy appears to be surging ... The ruralist in me got a kick out of the depictions of Baldwin's folksiness in this piece by Frank Bruni this summer in the NYT:


Here's a quote from Bruni about Baldwin's interaction with a farmer as she was doing a campaign swing through the rural part of the state:

“Wow,” she said, repeating a syllable that was getting a thorough workout as she deftly played a social role as traditional as any: the attractive younger woman stroking the older man’s pride. Her sexual orientation was irrelevant.