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2013 in photography

2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) buyphoto 

03
Jan
2014

Mizeur finding momentum in Maryland

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum

Del. Heather Mizeurwith running mate Delman Coates. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There’s something very exciting taking hold in my home state of Maryland. State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has tapped into the same progressive energy that propelled Bill de Blasio to the mayor’s office in New York City and Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate.

Six months ago, Heather invited me to join her on probably the hottest August afternoon of the summer. She was speaking at a house party in Baltimore City. With the oppressive heat, I was expecting to meet a dozen or so interested voters. When we arrived we were greeted by over a hundred progressive activists eager to hear Heather’s vision for our state.

For nearly two hours Heather tackled tough issues – from marijuana decriminalization, to fighting for a fracking moratorium, slashing middle class taxes and campaigning against an unnecessary juvenile detention center in Baltimore City.

Heather has the momentum and her vision is resonating with voters. In a recent survey polling likely Baltimore City voters, Heather and her running mate, Pastor Delman Coates, scored a huge upset coming in second and only three percentage points behind frontrunner Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and his running mate, County Executive Ken Ulman (32 to 29 percent).

Maryland, despite being a progressive powerhouse, has never elected a female chief executive and no state in the nation has ever elected an openly LGBT governor. With the opportunity to shatter both of those barriers, national organizations are quickly coming to the aid of the Mizeur/Coates campaign.

In the last month alone, Heather earned the support of EMILY’s List, the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and was recently announced as one of the top “Women to Watch in 2014” by MSNBC.

Five months is an eternity in electoral politics and if Heather continues to tap into the same progressive energy that propelled de Blasio, Warren, Baldwin and others, we are going to witness a tremendous victory for our community in June.

Kevin Walling is a candidate for Maryland House of Delegates from Montgomery County.

28
Jan
2014

Victory Fund endorses Catania for mayor

David Catania, Catania for mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania won the Victory Fund’s endorsement even though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an influential national group that raises money for LGBT candidates for public office, created a stir among local activists this week when it announced it has endorsed D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor.

With many LGBT activists supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election bid and others in the LGBT community supporting one of the four other City Council members running for mayor, some are asking why the Victory Fund would endorse Catania before he has formally announced he’s running for mayor.

Catania has formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral race and has said he most likely would run if Gray wins the Democratic primary on April 1.

Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai said that while the group doesn’t endorse unannounced potential candidates very often, it has taken this step before. He noted that the Victory Fund endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) for the U.S. Senate in 2012 before she officially announced she was running for the Senate.

Baldwin went on to declare her candidacy for the Senate and won that race, making history by becoming the first out lesbian or gay person to become a U.S. senator.

“David Catania brings an incredible amount of passion and commitment to his job,” the Victory Fund’s chief operating officer, Torey Carter, said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday.

“He helped guide Washington through a period of unprecedented growth and revitalization,” Carter said. “He is ideally positioned to lead a city with such a diverse and dynamic people.”

The Victory Fund also announced on Tuesday its endorsement of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in his race for the 8th District U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Ebbin is running in a hotly contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 10 in which two other openly gay candidates are running in an 11-candidate race.

“Adam Ebbin has distinguished himself as an outspoken voice of progressive values,” Carter said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “After ten years in the state legislature, he has remained committed to his goal of increasing equality and opportunity for those who are often left behind.”

Virginia State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out publicly last week in a column in the Washington Post, emerged as an unexpected ‘out’ candidate in the 8th District congressional race. Also running is gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who worked as a legal counsel for gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levine says he’s been out as gay since the 1980s.

As of this week, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 out LGBT candidates in national, state and local races and expects to endorse more than 200 out candidates across the country in the 2014 election cycle, the group says on its website.

Among those endorsed so far are at least nine gay or lesbian candidates running in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, including Catania and Ebbin.

But missing from its endorsement list so far are lesbian Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Country), who’s running for governor, and gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is running for re-election to a fifth term.

Spokesperson Thai reiterated the Victory Fund’s longstanding policy of not disclosing why the group has not endorsed a candidate. However, he said many more candidates are in the endorsement pipeline and the group could very well endorse candidates not on the list in the next few weeks and coming months.

He said the group’s criteria for endorsing any candidate, as posted on the website, include a demonstration that the candidate is viable and can show a path to victory; a record of support on LGBT rights; and the completion of a detailed application seeking an endorsement. Thai said an endorsement for a prior election doesn’t carry over to the next election and all incumbents must re-apply each time they run.

Graham couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if he applied for an endorsement in his Council race.

The Mizeur for governor campaign didn’t say specifically whether the campaign formally applied for a Victory Fund endorsement.

“We are in close communication with the Victory Fund and we would welcome their support,” campaign spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz told the Blade.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed development, Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County), one of eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly, announced last month that he is not running for re-election to that position. Instead, Murphy said he decided to run for president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, a position equivalent to a county executive.

“Whether you’re a state legislator or a county commissioner president, it’s all about the quality of life for all people,” Murphy said in a Feb. 3 statement. “I’ve always been accessible and responsive as a delegate, and I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve all our residents with the same enthusiasm and dedication.”

As a candidate for governor, Mizeur is giving up her seat in the House of Delegates. Records with the state board of elections show that she did not file for re-election to her delegate post prior to the filing deadline of Feb. 25. The election board lists Mizeur as an “active” candidate for governor in the June 24 Maryland primary.

The departure of Mizeur and Murphy from the House of Delegates would lower the number of out gay or lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly from eight – the highest in the nation for a state legislature – to six if all six remaining lawmakers are re-elected this year.

The others running for re-election are State Sen. Richard Madelano (D-Montgomery County) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County).

All except Kaiser have been endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Other out gay or lesbian candidates in Maryland that have received the Victory Fund’s endorsement this year are Evan Glass, Montgomery County Council; Byron Macfarlane, Howard County Register of Wills; and Kevin Walling, Maryland House of Delegates, Montgomery County.

Walling is running in a different district than that of Mizeur and Kaiser’s districts in Montgomery County.

26
Feb
2014

Mayor attends ‘Gray Pride’ rally in campaign’s final days

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Mayor Vincent Gray, shown here marching in D.C.’s LGBT Pride Parade, joined about 50 LGBT activists last week for a fundraiser and rally sponsored by Gray Pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joined about 50 LGBT activists last Thursday night for a fundraiser and rally sponsored by Gray Pride, an LGBT group established in the past month to support his re-election campaign.

The event was held at the Northwest Washington home of longtime gay rights and AIDS activist A. Cornelius Baker. It took place three days after Lane Hudson, co-chair of Gray Pride, released the names of its 24 members, many of whom have been longtime activists in the LGBT rights movement.

“Comprised of a diverse group or people from all walks of life and all parts of the city, the Gray Pride Committee will work to highlight Mayor Gray’s solid record of accomplishment on LGBT issues in order to win LGBT support for his re-election,” according to a statement released by the group on March 24.

The group has had a presence on Facebook and Twitter before the official announcement of its members last week.

In addition to Hudson, Gray Pride co-chairs include Courtney Snowden, a principal at the Raben Group public affairs firm and former Capitol Hill staffer for then Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.); Jose Ramirez, HIV youth educator and board member of the Youth Pride Alliance; Alexis Blackmon, staff member of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs and graduate of Project Empowerment, a city job training program with an outreach to the transgender community; and Peter Rosenstein, executive director of a national non-profit organization, Blade columnist and gay Democratic activist.

Members of the Gray Pride Committee include transgender activists Alexandra Beninda, Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes, Bobbi Elaine Strang, Ruby Corado, and Julius Agers; and gay or lesbian activists Brian Goldthorpe, Consuella Lopez, A. Cornelius Baker, Edgardo Guerrero, Ian Hedges, Jose Gutierrez, Justin Hill, Matt Ashburn, Miguel Ayala, Patricia Hawkins, Paul Kuntzler, Paul Morengo and Ted Eytan, M.D.

31
Mar
2014

Baldwin leads call for HHS to reevaluate gay blood ban

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

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading 85 lawmakers in a call for HHS to reevaluate its gay blood ban. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading a new effort to call on the Department of Health & Human Services for an update on the process with which reviewing its regulatory ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

In a public letter dated Aug. 2, Baldwin as part of 86 members of the House and Senate asks Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for an update on the previously announced reevaluation of the policy, saying they’re “deeply concerned about the timeline of such research.”

“Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” the letter states. “Further, the existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from HIV testing and treatment services.”

Under current regulation, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 — even once — aren’t eligible to donate blood. The policy was set up administratively in 1985 at the height of the AIDS crisis, but could be overturned at any time without a change in law.

Others who have signed the bipartisan letter include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Wis.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) as well as Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Other signers are openly gay members of the U.S. House: Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) isn’t yet a signer.

Baldwin supplemented the letter to the Department of Health & Human Services with a message via Twitter drawing attention to the current policy on gay blood donation.

The letter takes HHS to task for not moving quickly in the wake of announced plans to reevaluate existing policy. As the Washington Blade reported in 2010, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability voted 9-6 against lifting the ban, but recommended additional research to support a change that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.

According to the letter, HHS informed the committee last month that three studies are underway as well as a task force to help inform policy changes. The Quarantine Release Error Task Force is due to release a white paper this month, while the REDS-II, and Donor History Questionnaire studies are both scheduled to report results in October. The REDS-III study will be completed in August 2014.

The letter also notes, as the Washington Blade reported last year, HHS announced in March 2012 it’s seeking comments on a plan to design a pilot study to establish “alternative donor deferral criteria” that would enable gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Among the suggested changes is having them go through additional screening so they can be allowed to donate, although the notice admits such a policy may be seen as discriminatory.

According to the letter, HHS informed the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability that the RFI has received 11 responses to this proposal and a report to HHS senior leadership is scheduled for next month. According to public record, 10 responses were received from 10 different organizations, totaling 75 pages, including support documents.

The letter enumerates four things on which lawmakers seek clarity from HHS in reassessing blood donation criteria for men who have sex with men:

• The criteria used to assess the 75 pages of comments and what the assessment activities took place from June 2012 to July 2013;

• A copy of the July 2013 report to leadership on the response to the RFI on pilot study design;

• A detailed plan and a timeline for how results from the Quarantine Release Error Task Force, the Donor History Questionnaire Study; the REDS-II and REDS-III studies will be used to inform changes to the blood donation criteria; and

• Whether HHS plans to leverage data from other countries that currently allow MSM to donate to inform analysis of an alternative policy, and if not, why not.

In response to the letter, an HHS spokesperson pointed to the decision adopted by the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety & Availability in 2010 without providing an update on the research.

“The committee found the current donor deferral policies to be suboptimal in permitting some potentially high risk donations while preventing some potentially low risk donations, but voted in favor of retaining the existing policy, and identified areas requiring further research,” the HHS spokesperson said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, deferred comment to HHS on the issue.

As noted in the letter, the American Medical Association in June adopted a resolution in opposition to the gay blood ban in favor of a policy that weighs individual risks other than sexual orientation.

AMA board member Dr. William Kobler at the time said the lifetime ban on gay blood donations “is discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

“This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone,” Kobler said.

02
Aug
2013

DP benefits bill for fed’l workers reintroduced

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

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is set to reintroduce the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate introduced on Thursday a bill that would ensure gay federal workers would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they’re not legally married.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act was introduced in the House by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and in the Senate by lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Under the bill, a federal employee could gain access to health and pension benefits for a same-sex partner if the employee submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management certifying the relationship.

The Obama administration has determined that gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages are eligible for these benefits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of DOMA. Moreover, OPM determined gay federal employees would be eligible for these benefits even if they reside in non-marriage equality states.

Still, that implementation of the ruling didn’t cover couples living in civil unions or domestic partnerships, or those unable to travel to gain access to a same-sex marriage. It only applies to federal employees working in states where marriage equality isn’t currently recognized.

In a statement, Pocan said the legislation would ensure the federal government will “continue to lead” in providing equal rights and benefits for civil servants.

“Passage of our bipartisan legislation will remove discriminatory practices that punish certain federal employees merely for whom they love and where they live,” Pocan said. “As the private sector has shown, policies that promote equality are not only the right thing to do, they also allow you to compete for the best and brightest employees.”

Among the current 53 co-sponsors in the House are Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Ileana Ros-Lentinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joins Baldwin in introducing the bill.

Ros-Lehtinen said the legislation would the bring the federal government into alignment with other LGBT success in the past year.

“It has been a banner year for equality for all Americans but the Federal government still has much work to do,” she said. “This is why my colleagues and I will present this bipartisan bill to ensure that employees in same sex domestic partnerships have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples.”

One LGBT advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Baldwin wanted to reintroduce the legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA to ensure gay federal employees have partner benefits even if they live in non-marriage equality states.

“Sen. Baldwin felt strongly that until all same-sex couples have the opportunity to live in marriage states, a variety of relationship recognition opportunities should be made available so that the greatest number of federal employees could access important benefits,” the advocate said.

Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is “about the basic concept of fairness in the workplace.”

“Corporate America has led the charge in offering equal pay for equal work, and the U.S. Supreme Court sent a message this summer that the Federal government should follow their lead,” Herwitt said. “Equal workplace policies, like those DPBO would enact, will help attract and retain the best and brightest talent, which is exactly what our federal workforce needs.”

Pocan sits on the House Committee on Oversight & Reform and Baldwin sits on the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee – which both had jurisdiction on the legislation in previous years.

Both lawmakers also represent Wisconsin in Congress. That state has limited domestic partnerships, but not same-sex marriage.

UPDATE: This posting has been updated in the wake of news statements from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the Human Rights Campaign providing more information.

19
Sep
2013

Baldwin delivers stirring Pride speech

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a DOJ Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) delivered a stirring keynote address Tuesday on advancing LGBT rights as the nation awaits Supreme Court decisions that could potentially advance marriage equality throughout the country.

In an address in the Great Hall of the U.S. Justice Department where employees commemorated June as the month of Pride, the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate spoke about the importance of continuing to advance LGBT rights.

Recalling her attendance for oral arguments on DOMA before the Supreme Court, Baldwin said much attention was devoted to federalism and standing, but the debate on marriage equality “isn’t really about any of those things.”

“It’s about fairness, it’s about whether gay and lesbian Americans deserve to be treated just like our family members, our friends and our neighbors,” Baldwin said. “It’s about opportunity, about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, choose the same ambitions and have the same shot … And it’s about freedom: the freedom to love, the freedom to commit, the freedom to build a family.”

Baldwin spoke on stage at a podium next to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who delivered opening remarks prior to her speech, and lesbian signer Melissa Ethridge. Baldwin’s office said her complete remarks weren’t available.

Invoking former Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s work in diversifying the Justice Department as the black civil rights movement unfolded in the 1960s, Baldwin said the LGBT movement is the current battle for equality and noted the importance of pending court cases on marriage.

“Of course, as much progress as that generation made in fulfilling the promises America makes about fairness and equality, there was plenty left to do for generations that followed,” Baldwin said. “But we gather today, at another moment of great progress in the area of civil rights — this time for LGBT Americans.”

She also reflected on the progress on LGBT issues in recent years, which she said has taken place because more Americans “have decided that they want to leave to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less.”

“That, along with the hard work of so many champions of equality — from the president to the activists in all our 50 states — that is why we have so many firsts to celebrate today,” Baldwin said. “And that’s why the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act is on the books — and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ isn’t.”

Baldwin also ticked off numerous pending LGBT bills — saying she’s “even more excited about the progress that’s in our reach” with President Obama in the White House — even progress on legislation that often isn’t given considerable attention.

“Progress like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so that we don’t have to contend with the … reality that in more than two dozen states, it’s to legal to discriminate against LGBT employees,” Baldwin said. “And progress like the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, so that LGBT students can go to school worried about math tests and swim meets, and not about bullying and harassment. Progress like the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, so that LGBT Americans who work to support their families in the civil service can be rest assured that their partners can enjoy benefits like health insurance and retirement.”

But Baldwin concluded by saying the LGBT rights movement is actually about working toward a cultural change to ensure LGBT people are treated fairly.

“But we don’t want to just live in a country where our rights our respected under the law, we want to live in a country where we are respected for who were are, where we enjoy the freedom and opportunity not because the Supreme Court gave us permission, but because we’re Americans, and that’s all there is to it,” Baldwin said.

The speech elicited considerable excitement from the audience. After she spoke, Holder stood up on stage and said, “Wow!” and “That was good!”

Chris Hook, a Justice Department attorney and secretary for the LGBT affinity group DOJ Pride, said Baldwin struck an emotional chord with the audience.

“Part of it is, she’s achieved so much within our own community, and it’s really great to see her supporting and championing causes not only for the LGBT community, but as Americans writ large,” Hook said.

18
Jun
2013

Night OUT

Team DC sponsored an annual LGBT community outing to Nationals Park for the Washington Nationals vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks game on Tuesday. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by openly gay Division I football player Alan Gendreau, the National Anthem was performed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, White House Associate Director of Public Engagement for LGBT Issues Gautam Raghavan participated in the lineup card delivery and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) announced “play ball” from the microphone. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 

26
Jun
2013

Baldwin joins ‘Night Out’ at Nationals Stadium

Tammy Baldwin, Night Out at the Washington Nationals LGBT event

Joined by Team D.C.’s Les Johnson (left), U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin greets fans as she prepares to proclaim ‘Play Ball!’ at the 9th annual Night Out at the Washington Nationals Stadium LGBT event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the nation’s first openly gay senator, delivered the ceremonial announcement to “play ball” at the start of the 9th Annual LGBT Night Out at Washington Nationals Stadium Tuesday night.

Just under 4,000 people from the LGBT community bought tickets to attend the game, according to Brent Minor, executive director of Team D.C., the local LGBT sports group that organizes the ‘Night Out’ event.

The Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-5.

Prior to the start of the game, Alan Gendreau, a gay Division I football player who has hopes of becoming the first out player in the National Football League, threw the ceremonial first pitch of the game.

Gautham Raghavan, the White House Associate Director of Public Engagement for LGBT issues, joined Nationals manager Davey Johnson in bringing the official lineup card of Nationals players to the umpires. Participating in this ceremonial task has been considered a tradition of Major League Baseball used to honor a public official or community leader.

For the eighth year in a row, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington sang the National Anthem at the ‘Night Out’ game, drawing enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Among those attending the event was gay rights attorney Paul Smith, who argued the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas in which the court overturned state sodomy laws exactly 10 years ago.

Smith joined many of the LGBT activists attending the ‘Night Out’ game in expressing optimism that the Supreme Court would issue favorable rulings the next day in two more landmark gay rights cases dealing with same-sex marriage.

26
Jun
2013

Baldwin sworn in as first openly gay U.S. senator

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

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) speaks at a reception following her swearing-in ceremony. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a historic day at the start of the 113th Congress, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was sworn into office on Thursday as the junior U.S. senator from Wisconsin, officially becoming the first openly gay senator.

At a reception that followed in the Russell Senate Office Building, Baldwin thanked more than 100 supporters and Democratic donors in attendance and called on them to continue the fight to enact change for the country.

“I am proud to have the honor to have been sworn in an hour or so ago as the first woman senator for the state of Wisconsin and as the first openly gay member to serve in the United States Senate in our nation’s history,” Baldwin said, eliciting applause from the audience.

Baldwin attended the reception after being sworn in on the Senate floor by Vice President Joseph Biden along with other freshman senators and colleagues who were re-elected. The room erupted in cheers and applause as she entered after being sworn in as a U.S. senator.

Also attending the reception was Baldwin’s mother, Pam Bin-Rella. As Baldwin began to speak, Bin-Rella was standing with a cane near the podium before Baldwin. The new senator said she had to address a “little logistical matter” before she continued, then positioned a wheelchair nearby for her mother to take a seat.

“I’m going to thank you the best way that any public official knows how to thank you: I’m going to ask you to do more,” she continued. “As I ran to make a difference, I intend to make a difference. Just like nobody wins a Senate seat alone, nobody moves a state or a country forward alone.”

Baldwin was sworn in on Thursday on the same day as the entire membership of the U.S. House for the 113th Congress. That includes openly gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

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Sen. Herb Kohl (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Introducing Baldwin at the reception was outgoing Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), whom Baldwin will replace in the U.S. Senate after his 24 years in Congress. Kohl said Baldwin has “all the qualities I, and I know, so many others look for in somebody to represent us all across the state of Wisconsin.”

“After I got elected, as a senator from Wisconsin, I got a phone call from my predecessor, Sen. [William] Proxmire,” Kohl said. “And he was effusive in his praise of me, and he predicted that I will be a model senator. He said that several times, and he was very careful in his use of words, so I couldn’t forget that he used the word ‘model,’ and I wondered why he used that word specifically. So, I went to the dictionary and looked up that word: ‘model — a model is a small replica of the real thing.’ So, I’m not going to tell Tammy that she’s going to be a ‘model’ senator.”

At the event, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told the Washington Blade that Baldwin’s swearing in as a U.S. senator marked “a real historic day.”

“Having Tammy Baldwin serve in the United States Senate is historic,” Griffin said. “To have one of us inside the chamber is meaningful for a number of reasons because we have a champion now that’s one of us in the Senate. But it also makes it more difficult for those who are against us to look at our colleague in the eye and to talk negatively about LGBT people, so I’m so excited to be able to work with Tammy as she begins today as a United States senator.”

Other LGBT notables at the event were Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; Brian Bond, director of constituency outreach for the Democratic National Committee; and Peter Rosenstein, a D.C.-based Democratic activist. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillbrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) also made appearances.

Baldwin’s staff said the senator wasn’t taking questions at the reception. She’s yet to participate in an interview with the Washington Blade since her election, despite numerous requests to her transition team.

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Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin speaking with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

Paul Ryan mingles with Baldwin supporters at reception

Another notable guest at the reception was fellow Wisconsinite and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year. He attended the reception early on and left before Baldwin made her appearance.

Ryan’s appearance at a reception largely attended by Baldwin supporters — many of whom are LGBT — is noteworthy because of his anti-gay voting record. Ryan was a keynote speaker during the annual Value Voters Summit last year, which was hosted by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

At the reception, Ryan declined to take questions from the Blade, saying he wasn’t speaking to the media at the occasion.

Griffin was seen talking briefly with Ryan at the reception. Later, Griffin told the Blade he wanted to speak with him because LGBT advocates can’t only engage with their allies.

“Look, it’s just as important that we talk to our friends as it is that we talk to those who are often against us,” Griffin said. “And so, I introduced myself and thanked him for being here at Tammy’s event and told them I hope we can find some things together to work together on.”

Asked for specifics on what they could find in common, Griffin replied, “It was a private conversation. So, I’ll leave it at that. But it was general conversation about my desire to find some common ground on things.”

Ryan, who’s still considered a rising star within the GOP, posed for photos with attendees. Among them was Jo Deutsch, the federal director for the New York-based LGBT group Freedom to Marry. At a point while taking photos, Ryan declared, “We’re all personal friends,” although it’s unclear to whom he was referring.

Kevin Seifert, a Ryan spokesperson, said in response to a request for comment that the congressman was “pleased to attend” the Baldwin reception.

“Congressman Ryan has served with Senator Baldwin for years and he wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate her as the next senator from the great state of Wisconsin,” Seifert added. “As to the conversation with Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, it was a private conversation and I do not have any further information about the nature of their discussion.”

The former vice presidential candidate voted against hate crimes protection and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and voted on two separate occasions for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Still, he was among a handful of Republicans who voted for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007, although he previously voted in favor of a motion to recommit to scuttle the bill on the House floor.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article mistakenly identified Jo Deutsch as a Republican. The Blade regrets the error.

04
Jan
2013