First openly gay senator makes history: a profile of Tammy Baldwin

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By Malissa Rogers

Representative Tammy Baldwin (D) made history twice on Tuesday night. She became the first openly gay person and the first Wisconsin women to be elected to the United States Senate.

(View her acceptance speech below.)

“This is a big day for gay women in America, and really, for all communities who aren’t the typical straight, white, wealthy men elected to Congress,” political commentator Sally Kohn said according to CNN.

Baldwin led former governor Tommy Thompson (R) 51 percent to 48 percent and will be taking over for Senator Herb Kohl (D), according to the Associated Press. The seven-term Democratic congresswoman has become one of four openly gay House members, joining Democrats Barney Frank, of Massachusetts; David Cicilline, of Rhode Island; and Jared Polis, of Colorado.

“Now, I am well aware that I will have the honor of being Wisconsin’s first woman senator. And I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member,” Baldwin said during her speech Tuesday night. “I didn’t run to make history.  I ran to make a difference.”

Wisconsin became the first state in the country to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation 30 years ago, with the passage of The Gay Rights Bill, AB70. The state made its mark in LGBT history once again with the 2012 election. 

Many conservatives attacked her campaign, including Jeffrey Kuhner from the Washington Times who said a political win for Baldwin would “mark a watershed for the homosexual movement” and be “a major blow to traditional America.” 

However, many opponents were challenged as Baldwin took her position as the first openly gay member of the Senate.

Baldwin was born in Madison, Wisconsin and completed her education there and at Smith College. She later earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1989 and practiced law for the following three years.

Baldwin, 50, is a political veteran, who never kept her sexual orientation a secret during her campaign.

She became the first out candidate to be elected to represent Wisconsin’s second congressional district in 1998. During her rise in politics, Baldwin has focused on an array of issues including education, healthcare and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights.

Baldwin, a founding member of the LGBT Equality Caucus in Congress, has worked on the Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. An act that criminalizes attacks and expands the federal hate-crime law to include specific criteria about attacks made on a person because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2009 she introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, something she strongly felt would help “uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples, repealing DOMA,” according to the Advocate. Baldwin was also a major advocate for the 2010 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, putting her at the forefront of LGBT equality.

Baldwin also voted against the Bush-era tax cuts and the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act, which divided investment and banking – a repeal that many experts have said helped cause the economic collapse of 2008. More recently, she pushed for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, and even wrote the provision for young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

She is currently a sponsor of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which is dedicated to rewriting anti-discrimination employment laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Baldwin continues to support a variety of demographics including college students, Native Americans, immigrants and LGBT individuals in the Violence Against Women Act; a law that would protect all victims of domestic violence.

Her future plans in the Senate include providing everyone with a quality, affordable education, something that has been a top priority for Baldwin throughout her career. Baldwin’s dedication to her constituents has not wavered, as she pledged in front of all her supporters to protect and fight for the middle class of Wisconsin. 

“Tonight, a long journey comes to an end,” Baldwin said during her acceptance speech. “But our work is just beginning…And whether you voted for me or not, whether tonight you’re celebrating victory or dealing with defeat, I hope we can wake up tomorrow morning ready to get to work.” 

 

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