LGBT Community Rises (Or Falls) With Tammy Baldwin

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In 1998, Republicans realized that impeaching Bill Clinton had backfired. With a booming economy, Clinton remained popular. Republicans, by contrast, looked petty and sanctimonious. The impeachment process also exposed several Republican leaders for having affairs of their own, causing not one but two leaders to resign. So as Republicans braced themselves for losses at the ballot box, they focused all of their efforts in defeating one vulnerable Democratic senator: Carol Mausley Braun, the only African-American in the US Senate. Senator Braun was not a perfect candidate; she definitely made some mistakes, but Republicans knew that as the only minority member in that body she’d be an easy target. And they were right. She was the only incumbent Democratic senator who lost in 1998.

Fast forward 20 years and Republicans know that the ill-tempered, man-child they’ve placed in the White House is destroying their party from the inside out, to say nothing of the country or the world. Democrats are energized in a way that I have never seen in my life – more so than 2004 and possibly even 2008. Republicans know it’s going to be a tough year for them. So what do they do? Again, they look at the plethora of Democrats running in red states, and they’ve identified a potential weak link: the first openly gay person elected to the US Senate, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Nine conservative groups have spent $4.7million against Baldwin already, which is more than they’ve spent against all of the other Democratic incumbents combined. Republican candidates themselves aren’t daring to openly attack Baldwin’s sexuality, but they’re letting dark and shady outside groups do their dirty work for them. The “Restore American Freedom and Liberty” group has called Tammy Baldwin a pervert and claimed she was going to “force” children to learn about the details of gay sex. The claim is bogus, but the sad truth is the Republican Party will use any form of bigotry that it can to obtain and hold onto power, and homophobic attacks are no exception.

A few months ago, I called on RuPaul Charles to enter the US Senate race in California. Yes, it would be a fabulous race and great TV, but in large part, our straight counterparts need to not just see us as their gay accessories. Attitudes change when people see minorities in leadership positions, working on behalf of the entire country – and not just for the interests of their own group, and Baldwin is doing just that.

Moreover, if Baldwin goes down in defeat, I fear we as a community will fall with her. Just as Braun’s defeat signaled six years of a senate that had no place for African-Americans, I fear Baldwin’s defeat could herald a decade or more where no openly LGBT person serves in the upper chamber of Congress.

Republicans always claim that advancements in gay rights will somehow hurt children. But I would flip that around for the Huffington Post Queer Voices readers, what about LGBT young people who are passionate about public service? Is it foolish of them to dream of holding high office one day? Will they ever get role-models who show them how to get elected in a majority heterosexual environment? We all have a stake in Baldwin’s victory.

There’s another reason gays should rally around Baldwin, and it’s called President Pence. As the Mueller investigation looks as if it has solid evidence to nail Trump for obstruction of justice and money laundering, Mike Pence’s ascent to the highest office is going from hypothetical to probable. Trump joked last year that Pence wanted to kill all the gays. The joke wasn’t funny at all, but it shows that Pence has a deep antipathy towards our community. I don’t think Pence would openly encourage violence against our community, but a Pence Administration would look to undercut every advancement we made during the Obama years. So who better to stand up to a potential President Pence than Senator Baldwin?

We need someone in the senate, arguing with Republican colleagues that any such rollback in rights affects a fellow senator directly. Republicans would, at the very least, have to look Baldwin in the eyes before passing any homophobic legislation. In 2019, the senate will be closely divided either way, so Baldwin’s presence could be key in persuading a reasonable Republican or two not to back any legislation that could harm our community.

So as Republicans are hoping to gin up anti-gay sentiments in Wisconsin, we need to rally around Baldwin the way we’d rally around Baldwin with the same intensity as we’d rally around Mama Ru. We need to be ready, get involved on social media, make phone calls, or even volunteer/knock on doors (if you live near Wisconsin). I’m expecting to see a lot of homophobia emerge in Wisconsin this year, but whether it succeeds is up to us. But if Baldwin wins by a commanding margin, Republicans will certainly think twice before trying it again.

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