Lauren Baer could be the second lesbian elected to Congress, two decades after the first, Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin.
On Tuesday, Baer, an attorney and former Obama administration official, handily won the Democratic primary for U.S. House District 18, which encompasses the northern Palm Beach area in Florida.
She will now compete against Republican incumbent Brian Mast for a seat that could prove pivotal not only in the Democratic effort to retake the House of Representatives, but in furthering LGBT representation on Capitol Hill.
“Certainly, there’s a degree of pressure there,” Baer told The Daily Beast after her primary win. “But it’s also an incredible opportunity and an incredibly exciting position to be in, knowing that we’re going to be at the center of the kind of change that our community and our country so desperately needs.”
For many LGBT Floridians, especially, Baer’s victory would be meaningful: According to Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, Baer would be not only the first openly lesbian woman, but the first openly LGBT person, period, that the Sunshine State has sent to U.S. Congress.
“It’s a breakthrough race for our community,” Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida, told The Daily Beast, calling Baer “one of the most exciting and qualified candidates running for Congress in Florida this year.”
For Baer it is “exciting and humbling to think about being in a history-making position,” calling her potential to make LGBT history both “a great honor and a great responsibility.”
Baer spent six years in D.C. serving as a foreign policy adviser in the State Department under both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. But she says that she never even considered running for office herself—“I was someone who was very much of the world of policy, not politics,” she said—until Trump came along.
“What happened in 2016 was that a presidential election went a direction that was completely unexpected—and two weeks before that, I had given birth to a baby girl,” she told The Daily Beast. “I thought my daughter was being born into one world and she ended up being born into a completely different one.”
Indeed, not only would Baer be the second out-lesbian sent to the House, she would be the first mother in a same-sex marriage elected to Congress.
The candidate said that her young daughter, Serena, is a “constant source of inspiration” who makes her think abut “the world we are leaving for her and her peers.”
Baer, like many Democrats running in 2018, believes that this election is an especially urgent one “to keep Donald Trump in check” on a wide range of issues like health care, gun safety, economic policy, and environmental protections.
Those are the topics that Baer discusses most often in her campaign—and she says that both local media and her potential constituents tend to remain focused on them, too, instead of zeroing in on her sexual orientation.
A recent article in the Palm Beach Postabout Baer’s primary win, for example, mentioned that she would be “the first same-sex married member of Congress” and matter-of-factly noted that she “gave her wife, Emily Meyers, a kiss” after she won—but the bulk of the article was about the race’s significance in the political struggle to control the House.
“For the most part, on the campaign trail, people don’t want to talk about my sexual orientation,” Baer told The Daily Beast. “They want to talk about the issues.”
One of the issues that hits closest to home for Baer is gun violence. In the past few years, her state of Florida has seen major mass shootings at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, at the Fort Lauderdale airport, and, most recently, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Baer supports, among other policies, both universal background checks and an increase of the minimum gun purchase age to 21.
“It’s absolutely devastating that we are still dealing with a gun violence epidemic in our country,” Baer said. “I think we saw with what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that these could have been our kids. This could have been one of our schools. And the time for common-sense gun safety reform is long overdue.”
But while she’s running an issues-focused campaign, Baer is also aware of the important national precedent she could build upon—and of its significance to an LGBT population that is still over 20,000 elected officials away from being equally represented in American politics. For her, she says, it’s not just a matter of boosting numbers but of improving the federal government.
“I think when Congress represents the diversity of our country, we see better policy coming from it,” she told The Daily Beast. “And I think about my responsibility to be a champion not only for the LGBT community but for all people, and for every community who has felt left out, or left behind, or had their rights jeopardized by the policies of this administration.”
As the Trump administration works to unravel LGBT rights, there has indeed been a dearth of LGBT voices in Congress—especially those of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women—to respond to those attacks. If Baer does become the second-out lesbian elected to Congress, that milestone will have been a long time coming.
But so far, apart from the Wisconsin Senator, there hasn’t been a second out lesbian elected to either legislative body. (In fact, there are more openly gay men named Mark currently serving in Congress than there have ever been out lesbians in Congress.)
Krysten Sinema, an openly bisexual candidate who won her primary for a U.S. Senate race in Arizona on Tuesday, is the only other openly LGBT woman to have ever been elected to the House, where she has served since 2013.
According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, an advocacy organization that works to elect LGBT candidates—and has endorsed both Baer and Sinema—lesbian and bisexual women face multiple barriers when running for political office.
“Just two openly LGBTQ women have ever served in Congress—a product of the sexism and homophobia that continue to pervade our politics and create obstacles for our LGBTQ women candidates,” Victory Fund President Annise Parker told The Daily Beast, adding that, come November, there will be more female LGBTQ candidates on the ballot for federal office—a total of five altogether—than “at any other time in history.”
Baer said that she has run into some of these obstacles firsthand.
When asked why two decades have now gone by without another openly lesbian candidate being elected to Congress, she told The Daily Beast about the challenges that many women face in electoral politics, no matter their sexual orientation.
“There are frankly just so many systemic barriers to women, period, running for office,” she said. “It is incredibly challenging to run for office while you’re also trying to be a mother, while you’re also trying to hold down a job, and also while you’re trying to do what I’m doing, which is care for a sick, aging parent at the same time.”
But as the unprecedented number of LGBT women running for office proves, a tide seems to have turned, Baer says. The candidate pointed to the large numbers of women who are now running for office in the Trump era.
“I think what we have seen this year is a recognition among all sorts of women—LGBT women included—that it’s our time,” she told The Daily Beast. “That the stakes are too high. That we can no longer sit on the sidelines.”
Baer added that she’s not worried about facing the sort of attacks that many LGBT candidates face based on their identity, even today—after all, it’s her family that prompted her to run in the first place.
“I am out,” she told The Daily Beast. “I am proud of who I am. I am proud of my family. And I’m proud of what our campaign stands for.”