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Baldwin reflects on first 100 days as U.S. senator

Lesbian lawmaker sees movement on ENDA, anti-bullying measures

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Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) will reach her 100th day in the U.S. Senate on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian lawmaker who made history last year by becoming the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate is about to mark another milestone: her first 100 days in office.

Saturday will mark 100 days in office for Tammy Baldwin, who was sworn in as the junior senator from Wisconsin on Jan. 3.

In an interview with the Washington Blade this week, Baldwin said nothing has surprised her since she took office in the Senate because the upper chamber of Congress is so obviously different from the House, where she served for 14 years.

“On the home front, the difference is between representing a whole state and representing a slice of that state that’s reconfigured every 10 years,” Baldwin said. “That’s a big difference, and I come from a big state, a state with a really interesting political history. And so, that’s really, really exciting for me personally to represent the whole state of Wisconsin.”

Another key change for Baldwin is the relative ease of getting to know her 99 colleagues in the Senate as opposed to the 434 members with whom she served in the larger House.

“It may be just catching up with people on the walk to the Capitol or an elevator ride — or all the people who’ve already reached out and said, ‘Let’s have dinner, let’s have coffee, let’s get to know each other and find out where our common ground is,” Baldwin said. “It’s one of the things I love about the legislative process — trying to build majority support for certain ideas. A lot of that is done on that person-to-person level. And it’s much tougher in the House.”

And Baldwin is undertaking outreach for the LGBT community as she completes her first 100 days in office. On April 18, the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health will honor the senator with its Partner for Life Award at the “Be the Care” event. On Sunday, Baldwin gave a well-received keynote speech at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual champagne brunch in D.C.

In terms of LGBT issues, the most prevalent topic in the U.S. Senate these days isn’t legislation, but senators coming out for marriage equality. Just this week, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) added his name to the list of senators, making a total of 54 in support of marriage equality.

Baldwin said the trend of U.S. senators coming out in favor of marriage equality reflects a growing trend nationwide. A widely cited poll from the Washington Post found that 58 percent of the American public now backs marriage rights for gay couples.

“In many cases, just like the president’s evolution on the issue, it’s been because of individuals wanting their neighbors, their relatives, their friends who are part of the LGBT community to have full and equal rights, including the right to marry the person they love and protect their own families,” Baldwin said. “I think sometimes you see elected officials leading, sometimes you see elected officials following. As long as they get to the right place, I celebrate either way.”

While many of these senators talked about consideration of their gay friends and colleagues before making their announcements, Baldwin said no U.S. senator spoke to her for her perspective as a lesbian in the days before they made their announcements because they were in the middle of spring recess.

And Baldwin has little patience for members of the LGBT community who criticized Republican Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) for endorsing marriage as a result of his son coming out as gay.

“Obviously, he had a choice between whether to change his mind and do so privately, or change his mind and do so publicly,” Baldwin said. “I think it took courage for him to make this announcement, and, frankly, as I said earlier, the major factor for most Americans changing their mind is because of someone they know, someone they love, someone they work with. And so this is how most Americans change their mind, and I think that’s a great thing. I’m certainly not going to criticize it, and I would ask again, for those who are critical of Sen. Portman and support marriage equality, we want people to get to that place and be ready to take that stance, and we don’t really care what their journey is. We just want them to get there.”

Baldwin sees movement on ENDA, anti-bullying measures

Baldwin has relatively optimistic views about Senate advancement of pro-LGBT bills in the remainder of the 113th Congress. She had particularly high hopes for legislation overseen by a panel on which she serves — the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee — foreseeing advancement of both the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Recalling that Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has pledged to move the legislation to the floor this year, Baldwin said we’ll “very likely” see ENDA advance in the Senate.

Although Baldwin sees a path in the Senate for ENDA — even a floor vote — it ends there. She wasn’t optimistic that the House under Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would be amicable to the legislation.

“I’m feeling optimistic that we can get a floor vote on ENDA,” Baldwin said. “I’m feeling fairly pessimistic about the chances of ENDA moving ahead in the House as currently composed.”

On the issue of bullying, Baldwin was optimistic that both chambers would approve legislation — provided the Senate undertakes education reform known as Elementary & Secondary Education Act reauthorization and includes the measure in the larger vehicle. Legislation that has addressed these issues are the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

“I think the prospect for either a Student Non-Discrimination Act within that bill or an anti-bullying measure within that bill — or even both — remains a distinct possibility,” Baldwin said. “And that is something that I think may be able to pass through both houses of Congress — especially given earlier action in the House on the Violence Against Women Act that had LGBT-inclusion. It suggests a willingness to act in similar ways to protect LGBT youth.”

Baldwin based on her distinction on the chances of passing ENDA and an anti-bullying inclusive education reform bill on the temperament of House Republican leadership — as well as passing the LGBT measure as one segment of another vehicle.

“I would say the parallel between VAWA and the ESEA is if we can make these very important provisions a part of a bill that gains some momentum, and that the Republicans in the House see as must-pass legislation, our prospects are brighter,” Baldwin said.

Although she predicts movement on ENDA, Baldwin also said she expects changes to ENDA upon reintroduction, which she anticipates later this month. The Blade previously reported the legislation was under review before its planned reintroduction later this month.

Baldwin didn’t detail the ways in which the legislation would be changed, but talked vaguely about changes to ENDA that are the result of lessons learned from states and municipalities that have enacted non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I certainly think there’ll be some changes based on the hard work of advocacy and legal defense organizations across the U.S. where lessons have been learned from state level legislation, and we want to capture some of those changes in the proposal that’s introduced in the Senate,” Baldwin said. “That said, there’s also always the counter-attention of trying to keep all the range of supportive organizations on board and all of the, not only all of the prior sponsors of the legislation, but obviously you want to build on that to gain momentum. So, I think that’s the — as I understand it — the process that’s ongoing right now, and we hope it’ll come to a conclusion shortly so that the bill can be introduced.”

As previously reported by the Blade, Baldwin confirmed two areas where ENDA is under reconsideration are the religious exemption, which was previously in line with Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, and disparate impact, an issue previously unaddressed by ENDA that deals with discriminatory action by employers that isn’t discriminatory on its face.

Thoughts on immigration, court cases

Another piece of legislation of interest to the LGBT community is the immigration reform bill that the “Gang of Eight” in the U.S. Senate is expected to make public soon. The Blade reported earlier this week that the Uniting American Families Act — legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States — is unlikely to be included as part of the agreement.

That’s an expectation shared by Baldwin. Still, she said she expects Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of UAFA in the Senate, to attempt to amend any legislation that goes through the Senate Judiciary Committee with a provision to include gay couples.

“We have the very strong potential of having the Judiciary Committee look at the some of the areas where the ‘Gang of Eight’ on immigration have left silent,” Baldwin said. “I expect that the committee will do that. And I’m very hopeful about the odds of UAFA ultimately becoming a part of the immigration reform measure.”

While not a member of the Gang of Eight producing the initial immigration reform legislation, Baldwin said she has been speaking with members of the Judiciary Committee about including UAFA as they address the bill.

“I certainly keep in touch with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and have been voicing my strong interest in seeing them take up UAFA as an amendment at that stage of consideration of the bill,” Baldwin said.

The legislative front isn’t the only place where LGBT advances are expected. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June in two marriage equality-related lawsuits: one challenging California’s Proposition 8, the other challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

Baldwin, who attended oral arguments in the DOMA case, said she’s hopeful about an outcome that would enable the federal government to recognize legally married same-sex couples.

“I’m very hopeful that there will be a determination that DOMA is unconstitutional,” Baldwin said. “My hope is that then marriages would be recognized by the federal government regardless of venue or jurisdiction, but that really is one of the key issues that people are watching, and again, we don’t know how broadly the court will apply its decision.”

Although she wasn’t in attendance for the Prop 8 arguments, Baldwin was hopeful about a positive court ruling, although she didn’t know what the scope of the ruling would ultimately be.

“The feeling that the court may basically rule it’s improperly before the Supreme Court at this time either because of standing issues or because they basically made a premature decision to take up the case,” Baldwin said. “In either event, my understanding is that the lower court ruling, which declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, would stand, but, unfortunately, that would mean the reach was only to the State of California, not nationally.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Robben Wainer

    April 13, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Outreach is an important instrument worth investing time in. I believe once a gay person falls under the constraints of stereotype and bias, it is difficult for them to reclaim a state of independence. This is a land of Liberty and justice, we cannot afford to send the message that homosexuality must be banned by the laws that defend the citizens of this country.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 71 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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Blinken expresses concern over LGBTQ Afghans

Groups have urged White House to implement 10-point plan

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo public domain)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country after the Taliban regained control of it.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline asked Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that focused on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan about a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans for which the Council for Global Equality and five other advocacy groups have called the Biden administration to implement. Blinken told Cicilline, a Democrat, that he had “not personally seen the report that you referred to …, but I’m going to take a look at that myself.”

“Thank you for rightfully putting the spotlight on concerns about the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan and the particular threat that they find themselves under,” said Blinken. “This is something that we are focused on.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether any LGBTQ Afghans were among those who were able to leave during the evacuations from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality last week said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“It’s important, in my view, that we take steps to ensure that those who would be subjected to violence or worse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are safe,” Cicilline told Blinken during the hearing.

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