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Lesbian senator barnstorms in Bay Area

by Matthew S. Bajko

Senator Tammy Baldwin speaks at Equality California's San Francisco gala May 12. Photo: Chris Schmitt Photography
Senator Tammy Baldwin speaks at Equality California's San Francisco gala May 12. Photo: Chris Schmitt Photography  

With conservative donors bankrolling a multimillion-dollar effort to defeat her come November, lesbian U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) barnstormed through the Bay Area last weekend to bolster her own campaign coffers.

The various local fundraisers Baldwin held coincided with her receiving an award from Equality California at its annual gala in San Francisco held Saturday, May 12. The statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization presented Baldwin, the first openly LGBTQ person to serve in the United States Senate, with its Equality Leadership Award.

"We better work our tail off to re-elect her in November because of all that toxic money against her," said gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in introducing Baldwin.

Saying she was "so humbled" to receive EQCA's honor, Baldwin spoke to the power of having LGBT people serve in elected office, as they serve as role models and are a sign of the "tangible progress" that the LGBT community has made in recent decades. When she first ran for a U.S. House seat in 1998, Baldwin noted how just being an out candidate was seen as progress.

"If you don't have a seat at the table you are probably on the menu," said Baldwin, adding that, "being in the halls of power is at the heart of our power to make real change."

The same day as Baldwin was being honored, Republicans back in Wisconsin endorsed conservative state Senator Leah Vukmir in their party's August 14 primary that will decide who competes against Baldwin in the fall. National LGBT rights group the Human Rights Campaign, which endorsed Baldwin, criticized the state party for backing "an anti-LGBTQ extremist."

HRC Wisconsin state manager Wendy Strout stated that Vukmir "has no place in the United States Senate" and predicted that "Wisconsinites will not stand for a candidate who is a threat to our progress and the values we hold dear."

In an email to its supporters, Baldwin's campaign pointed out that, "From supporting tax breaks for the rich to restricting a woman's access to health care, Vukmir has a long record of touting dangerous and out-of-touch policies."

Honored by EQCA with its Amplify Equality Award, gay Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside) used his address at the gala to also beseech the audience to support Baldwin's bid for a second term in the Senate. Noting how they are two of just seven LGBT people in Congress, Takano called Baldwin "a trailblazer and a hero to millions" who is helping lead the resistance in Washington, D.C. to the homophobic policies of the Trump administration.

"This year we all must fight for her. We have to have her back," said Takano, the first openly LGBTQ Californian and first openly LGBTQ person of color to serve in Congress. "Re-electing Tammy Baldwin to the Senate must remain a priority."

Also receiving Equality Trailblazer Awards from EQCA at the gala were the regional Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and local business leader LaVerda Allen, 86, co-founder of the Allen Group, for their support of LGBT rights in the workplace. In 1994, BART became the second transit agency in the country to provide domestic partner benefits, while Allen has been a straight ally and pioneering African-American, woman contractor.

According to EQCA, this year marked the first time the San Francisco gala sold out. EQCA raised more than $500,000 at the event.

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