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Baldwin: Lesbian U.S. rep talks Obama, ENDA
by Ross Forman

This article shared 4957 times since Wed Aug 25, 2010
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Her volleyball team was getting ready for the bronze-medal game at Gay Games IV, held in New York City in 1994, yet Tammy Baldwin was needed back home. She was, you see, in the Wisconsin legislature at the time.

"We got called back into special session in Wisconsin. Of course I could not miss my day job by playing in a sports festival, as important as that sports festival was," Baldwin recalled, just a few weeks after Gay Games VIII wrapped up in Germany in 2010.

"I was able to secure, at great personal [ financial ] expense, an [ airline ] ticket from New York to Madison, so I could cast my vote, and then got on a plane heading back to New York and made it back in time to still be the [ team's ] setter in the last game of the tournament, which we unfortunately lost."

Her team finished in fourth place, but her Gay Games memories still resonate some 16 years later.

"I remember a lot of things about the Gay Games in New York," she said. "I remember it being [ held ] at the same time as Stonewall anniversary, so it made it so much fuller."

Gay Games IX returns to U.S. soil in 2014, but don't expect Baldwin to participate in Cleveland—her day job is a bit time-consuming, not to mention high-profile and, well, pioneering.

Baldwin, a Democrat, has been a member of U.S. House of Representatives since 1999, representing Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district. She is the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Wisconsin, and is currently serving her fifth term. She was the first openly gay non-incumbent to be elected to the House of Representatives, her election having won the backing of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Baldwin is one of three openly gay members of Congress, along with fellow Democrats Barney Frank ( Massachusetts ) and Jared Polis ( Colorado ) .

Her domestic partner was Lauren Azar for about 15 years; they separated in early 2010.

"I'm not sure I have a sport where I would now qualify," for the 2014 Games, Baldwin said, laughing. "Before [ being ] elected to Congress, I was quite an avid volleyball player. I played in NAGVA [ the North American Gay Volleyball Association ] , and they had a big Chicago connection because there often was a really fabulous tournament in Chicago at an armory that I attended on a regular basis with my Madison-based team.

"I've had [ the Gay Games ] in my history, but not in my future. I know that I will be cheering on many others who will be playing [ in Cleveland ] . The practice time that is required of an athlete in fine form eludes me right now."

Still, Baldwin knew of a governmental tie to the Cologne Games—Kei Koizumi, who handles budgetary and policy issues in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Koizumi, 41, won a gold medal in men's age 40-44 110-meter hurdles and a silver medal in the triple jump. And Koizumi's husband, Commerce Dept. employee Jeff Dutton, won the silver in the marathon in the men's 35 age-group.

The White House issued its first-ever Gay Games-related press release in August, discussing Koizumi.

Baldwin's sporting blood also includes ice hockey—well, sort of.

She grew up and still lives and works in Madison, home of, arguably, the largest LGBT hockey league in the world, the Madison Gay Hockey Association ( MGHA ) , and the University of Wisconsin's men's and women's teams are perennial powers.

"Madison is really a hockey community," Baldwin said. "Our great university teams, both men and women, have won the NCAA Championship in recent years. And the fact they won them in the same year was a thrill.

"We have a thriving LGBT community [ in Madison ] . They did an amazing job [ forming that gay hockey league, ] but I'm more of a summer sports fan. I'm just a fan and admirer [ of the MGHA ] at a distance."

Baldwin spoke with Windy City Times in an exclusive interview Aug. 18—ironically, the rumored day marriages were going to resume in California. Baldwin, 48, spoke at length about multiple serious LGBT-related issues, not just her sporting side.

"I'm of two minds because, as an out lesbian/activist/organizer, the pace of change is slow. I'm frustrated that more has not been achieved; I'm frustrated that full equality has not yet been achieved," she said. "At the same time, I am awed by how much is moving all at once right now; I feel lucky to be serving at a time when so much is happening, when so much is within our reach, though just not there yet."

Just consider what's on the LGBT slate these days, as she highlighted:

—Repealing of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

—The litigation around the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California.

—The litigation around the constitutionality of the Defensive of Marriage Act.

—Continual political organizing on such important measures as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

So what's first?

"If you just look at the way things are lined up right now, the next major accomplishment, I believe, will be [ the ] statutory repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and replacement with a policy that allows out members of the military to serve openly," said Baldwin, who expects major developments in the fall of 2010 on the military's ban on out servicemen and women.

Baldwin has worked with other members of Congress who needed persuasion to get to the point where they were willing to vote to repeal DADT. And she even introduced a Wisconsin native personally impacted by DADT.

Baldwin tells the story of a member of the U.S. military who grew up in her district and went to college on an ROTC scholarship. During college, she came out and then eventually came out to people in the ROTC. Upon her graduation, she has received extensive mainstream media coverage for negative issues she's endured since coming out.

"When I first joined Congress, we did not have majority support [ to repeal DADT ] ," said Baldwin, who knows many men and women who are out, or been have been outed, and has introduced them to her colleagues, so they can tell their own stories and, "my colleagues' minds will expand because of their stories."

Baldwin speaks openly and knowledgeably about gay servicemembers Victor Fehrenbach and Dan Choi—and has met both.

"These people have proudly served our country, and now are willing to be public face of why Don't Ask, Don't Tell is such an abhorrent and un-American policy," Baldwin said.

Proposition 8

When asked if she would get married, Baldwin said, "I believe so, but, much more important is wanting that right. I yearn for a true equality."

Baldwin would have to drive to Iowa as it's the closest state with marriage rights.

California appears on the road back to marriage rights, though.

"I certainly have been encouraged by Judge Vaughn Walker's very strong ruling, finding Prop 8 unconstitutional," Baldwin said. "It's heartening to see the decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, but also heartening to see the gradual, but steady, opinion change that is leading to greater and greater support for marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. And we can all be a part of that education. Getting into why marriage equality is most important is what is most persuasive to the American people, not arguing around the edges of this.

"I was certainly disappointed that the stay on the ruling of the judge was not lifted. But, hand in hand with that came a commitment to review the case on a quicker pace, which I think is encouraging. I think that, the more people who are married, the easier time we will have of changing hearts and minds. If you see a same-sex married couple living in your neighborhood, shopping at the same grocery store, worshipping in the same church, all of those things change hearts and minds. So, the disappointment for me is that people who very much want equal protection under the law are denied it for an additional length of time.

"I think we certainly will win marriage equality rights. [ It's ] just a matter of time."

In 2006, Wisconsin had a constitutional amendment on the ballot, and the majority voted to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, and to ban any substantially similar institution from legal recognition.

"Our country has always marched towards equality, just not necessarily at the pace that those who are denied full equality would be satisfied with, but it's always been the direction that we're headed," Baldwin said.

"Obviously we have a number of states that are recognizing same-sex marriage at the state level. We have an active challenge [ in Massachusetts ] to the Defensive of Marriage Act at the federal level that is denying those married couples the federal benefits of marriage. We are seeing the case in California, in all likelihood, working its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court."

President Obama

Baldwin said President Obama is, arguably, the most pro-equality chief executive that the United States has ever seen—and is a stark contrast to President George W. Bush.

"Once someone becomes president, they have a megaphone unlike any others," Baldwin said. "There have been times when the president has used that voice to do very important things for the LGBT community. I am proud of those, but I would push him further because I think it makes a difference. I would push him further with regard to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, with regard to finishing the job of repealing DADT, with regard to calling for domestic-partner benefits and obligations for federal employees. His partnership is welcome and every time he speaks out for equality, it helps our efforts in the legislative branch."

But is President Obama moving slow on LGBT causes?

"As a member of Congress, I certainly feel frustration with the pace that some things take," she said. "I will not restrict myself to LGBT issues here [ in this answer ] , but, the number of times that the House has acted on measures and sent them over to the Senate, only to see them languish because the Senate's rules that require 60 votes rather than a simple majority for legislation to move forward. An additional layer of my frustration is because I am an out lesbian and I yearn for the day when I have full equality, and it cannot come soon enough."

Still, she stands firmly behind Obama.

"I am a strong supporter of our President, and my job is to continue to communicate with him and urge him to be bolder and louder on these issues," she said.

More Tammy Baldwin:

—On ENDA: "One of the things I've worked on very, very hard in regard to ENDA is, talking with my colleagues one on one, trying to make sure that we will have the votes to pass ENDA in its inclusive form, meaning, covering both sexual orientation and gender identity at such time that the leadership schedules it for a floor vote. I have felt very proud of the efforts that I've undertaken, with the help of others, to get a good, strong vote count. I think we are there; we're at the time where the majority of the House of Representatives is willing to vote for an inclusive, strong non-discrimination act. It's my job to be prepared for the day when this gets its day of debate, so we can move it forward."

—She graduated from Madison West High School in 1980 as the class valedictorian—and was scheduled to attend her 30th high school reunion days after this interview. "I'm blessed to have tremendous friends, local friends and long-distance friends," she said.

—Baldwin has a wide range of hobbies and non-political interests, especially cooking, with items from her garden, such as zucchini, squash, eggplant and tomatoes.

—So would she appear on a TV cooking show, such as, Top Chef? "I'm not that good," she said.

—On Chicago: "It's a destination that a lot of Madisonians like, and there are a large amount of Chicagoans who come to Madison for recreation and to just get away, especially on a [ big, local ] sports weekend. There are good ties between Chicago and Madison."

—It's a fact: She enjoys Ann Sather's restaurant in Chicago for Sunday brunch. "One [ cinnamon roll ] is my limit," she said, laughing.

—Quote: "I think our equality is still achieved with each individual who comes out and with each ally who stands up for their gay friend, or lesbian sister, or whatever. All of those individuals and small group acts of visibility are really what changes things, and we can never forget that.

—As the lone out lesbian in Congress: "It's a lonely sorority, and sororities require sorority sisters," she said.

This article shared 4957 times since Wed Aug 25, 2010
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