In 2012, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate. Baldwin is co-sponsor of the Equality Act of 2019, pending legislation that aims to curb discrimination and extend civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community.
Lisnek: In 1999, she became the first openly gay member of the House of Representatives. And now Tammy Baldwin has just begun her second term in the United States Senate. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers". I'm Paul Lisnek. A big part of her work this term will be spearheading legislation to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans -- Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin. Thanks for spending some time with us. I appreciate it.
Baldwin: Oh, I'm so pleased to join you, Paul.
Lisnek: You know, when you were first elected, so many things about you said you are making history. And your response was "I'm not here to make history. I'm here to make a difference."
Lisnek: How do you feel about it?
Baldwin: Well, I think that's our duty, of course, but, you know, there's many aspects to being a first and crashing through a glass ceiling. And certainly we bring our life experience as we know it to our jobs. And it informs the issues we prioritize and how we vote and how we participate in debates, and it really transforms things. There's an expression that, if you're not in the room, the conversation's about you. But if you're in the room, the conversation is with you. And therefore, you really do make a difference, but I never want to underrate the power of being a role model. And at the time I first became involved in public service at the local level in Wisconsin, there were very few out LGBTQ elected officials in the world. Very few. This was the mid-'80s. And so for people who are coming out or are questioning, I think being able to see somebody make progress was inspiring. And today, we see far more visible, articulate, powerful leaders from within the LGBTQ community.
Lisnek: And perhaps that's why this is a good time to be spearheading the Equality Act of 2019.
Lisnek: But I have to note, this isn't the first time we've seen something like this. These kinds of things have been around for 45 years.
Lisnek: But we're in a different environment today. We have a gay man, Peter Buttigieg, who is running for president. So do you have more hope in today's environment, that this kind of bill will get through?
Baldwin: Yeah, so first of all, I think people have to understand the dilemma, the challenge that still faces us. In 29 states, people in the LGBTQ community lack full comprehensive coverage against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and other realms. And while we have seen progress, extraordinary progress, sometimes at the local level, sometimes at the state level, it's of little solace if you're the one who's fired because you're gay or because you're transgender in an area where those protections don't exist. You know, and one thing that I note of this time is that since the amazing achievement of marriage equality, I think a lot of people think, "Oh, the LGBTQ movement has secured everything that they've sought." And I think that's obviously wholly incorrect. Discrimination still exists, but now is a time to build on the progress we've seen under the Obama administration and pass the Equality Act.
Lisnek: So let me ask you because, as you know, the court will be hearing cases which challenge or raise the question as to whether the Civil Rights Act extends to the LGBTQ community. Does this legislation -- will it supercede that? Whatever the court does, is this the way of going, "No, no, this is about Congress stepping in."
Baldwin: Absolutely.This would resolve the issue, and we need to note that, while people have sometimes succeeded using existing civil rights laws to fight being fired or being evicted from housing or whatever the discriminatory act was, we've also seen courts decide the other way. So there's a division among different circuits, especially with regard to the issue of sexual orientation discrimination. And this is something that is absolutely needed to clarify that.
Lisnek: I have to ask because I know this bill goes further than other legislation has into different areas like funding and whatever, but I also notice the sponsors. I see "D"s next to everybody's names, and the Senate, controlled by Republicans -- how hopeful are you it gets through the Senate?
Baldwin: Well, we have one "R", which is actually a milestone in the Senate, so we're very pleased with that. And in the House of Representatives, as you've seen, there's been a more significant number of Republicans who have been involved. We're making progress in the House. Not surprisingly that we're starting there. But I hope that that momentum keeps building and that we can actually pass this legislation.
Lisnek: Senator, you may not have run to make history, but you have made history.
Baldwin: Oh, thank you.
Lisnek: Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin, thanks for spending some time with us today. I appreciate it. And I appreciate your joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the country, just go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Paul Lisnek. Bye bye.