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Baldwin makes history with Senate victory in Wis.

Becomes first openly gay U.S. senator

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Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Wisconsin, Washington Blade

Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin defeated former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson this week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In an historic first, lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin won her race for the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin Tuesday night, becoming the first openly gay person to serve in the Senate.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Baldwin was ahead of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin.

“I am honored and humbled and grateful,” Baldwin said in election night remarks.  “And I am ready to get to work, ready to stand with President Barack Obama, ready to fight for Wisconsin’s middle class!”

LGBT organizations throughout the country hailed Baldwin’s victory as an important milestone in the LGBT rights movement.

“This is a historic victory not only for the people of Wisconsin, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans across the country who have finally gained an authentic and powerful voice in Congress’ upper chamber,” said Chuck Wolf, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provided financial  support for Baldwin’s campaign.

“Tonight Tammy shattered a glass ceiling that has existed for more than two centuries, and we could not be more thrilled,” Wolf said.

Baldwin’s supporters in Wisconsin noted that she also broke another barrier by becoming the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which also provided financial support and field workers to assist Baldwin’s campaign, said Baldwin succeeded in drawing support from voters on a wide range of issues.

“With a relentless focus on the issues that matter to most Wisconsin voters – economic security, access to healthcare and fairness and inclusion for all,” Griffin said, “she’s earned the respect of all her constituents, gay and straight.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the election division of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which runs the state’s elections, reported that Baldwin received 1,533,868 votes, or 51 percent of the total. The board reported that Thompson received 1,370,664 votes, at 46 percent.

Two other candidates received a combined total of 3 percent of the vote, the board reported.

Early polls showed Thompson with a slight lead over Baldwin shortly after Thompson won the GOP nomination in a primary in August. By the middle of September, polls showed Baldwin in the lead, but the size of her lead narrowed by late October, with some pollsters saying the two candidates were in a statistical tie going into Tuesday’s election.

Baldwin’s quest to become the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator captured the attention of the LGBT people across the country, many of whom contributed money to Baldwin’s campaign.

She also received backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other Democratic leaning groups, including labor unions, environmental organizations and the women’s advocacy group Emily’s List.

In 1998, Baldwin became the first openly gay non-incumbent to win election to the U.S. House when she won her race for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District in which the state capital of Madison is located.

In her seven terms in Congress, Baldwin became known as one of the strongest advocates of LGBT rights in the House as well as one of the strongest champions of progressive causes and policies.

Thompson, whose supporters describe him as a moderate, served as governor of Wisconsin between 1987 and 2001. He served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005. He became a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 but dropped out of the race before the start of the primaries.

Thompson has said he personally opposes same-sex marriage and supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and a woman. But he has said he doesn’t favor a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality and favors leaving same-sex marriage decisions to the states.

He has said he opposes workplace discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation but has not said whether he would support federal legislation to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

Although Wisconsin members of the gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans supported Thompson, the national Log Cabin organization, which endorsed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for president, didn’t endorse Thompson.

“We endorsed candidates that engaged with us and asked for our endorsement,” said Log Cabin president R. Clarke Cooper, who noted that the group endorsed just four U.S. Senate candidates this year.

The outcome of Tuesday’s Senate election in Wisconsin marked the end of a bruising campaign, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says may have broken a national record for the most negative TV ads of any U.S. Senate campaign in the state and possibly in the nation.

The Journal Sentinel reports that both Baldwin and Thompson appear to have lashed out at each other with equal force, with some independent observers saying some of the ads from both sides included misleading information.

None of the Thompson attack ads appear to have singled out Baldwin based on her sexual orientation.

However, in at least one instance, a Thompson campaign official sent an email to the news media in early September, one day before Baldwin spoke before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., highlighting Baldwin’s appearance at an LGBT Pride festival in Madison several years earlier.

The email, sent by Thompson campaign staffer Brian Nemoir, included an attached YouTube video showing Baldwin waiving her arms while dancing on a stage with the popular Wisconsin rock band V05. Some of the band members were dressed in Wonder Woman costumes as the band played the theme song for the Wonder Woman TV series.

Nemoir stated in his email that Baldwin was scheduled to discuss “heartland values” in her Democratic Convention speech.

“Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy,” he said sarcastically in the email.

Baldwin supporters called the email a form of gay baiting, saying it was an attempt to question Baldwin’s values because she appeared at an LGBT Pride event. A Thompson campaign spokesperson said Nemoir was acting as an individual and not on behalf of the campaign when he sent the email and video.

While the Thompson campaign’s negative TV ads steered clear of Baldwin’s sexual orientation, they sought to portray her as an ultra liberal politician out of touch with the needs of the state and the country.

One ad pointed to Baldwin’s longstanding support for a single payer health insurance system, quoting her as saying several years ago that the single payer system she supported is a “government takeover of medicine.” Another ad noted that Baldwin voted four times against economic sanctions for Iran, criticizing her judgment on a key foreign policy issue.

Baldwin responded to the health insurance attack by saying she voted for and continues to support the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health insurance reform measure that Congress passed two years ago. She said her support for a single payer system was “moot” since the Obama measure is about to be implemented.

She said she voted against sanctions for Iran at a time when she was hopeful that dissident groups in Iran would overturn Iran’s government and establish a true democratic system. She said she began voting for sanctions after determining that the opposition forces didn’t have the strength to change the government.

A Thompson campaign attack ad that drew expressions of outrage from Baldwin’s campaign and its supporters showed video footage of the devastation of the World Trade Center in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and denounced Baldwin for voting against a 2006 House resolution honoring victims of the attacks.

Baldwin said she voted for at least four other 9/11 resolutions honoring victims of the terrorist attacks but voted against the 2006 resolution because it included other provisions on unrelated issues with which she disagreed.

In her own TV ads, Baldwin fired back at Thompson, citing reports by New York firefighters saying the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which Thompson headed at the time of the 9/11 attacks, was slow in responding to firefighters’ calls for assistance for their illnesses believed to be caused by the fumes and contaminated dust that engulfed them while responding to the World Trade Center disaster.

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State Department

U.S. envoy for global LGBTQ, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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