In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Tammy Baldwin is a Democratic U.S. senator representing Wisconsin. In 1998, Baldwin became the first out gay woman and first out LGBT non-incumbent elected to Congress, as well as the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in Congress. In 2012, Baldwin became the first out LGBT person elected to the Senate.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of it?
I was just a kid when the Stonewall Riots happened, but when I was in college as part of my coming out process, I took the time to learn about the history of the LGBTQ community and the fight for full equality for our community. Growing up, I didn’t learn about Stonewall in history class, so I wanted to learn more about my community and the LGBTQ rights movement, and the Stonewall Riots were a big part of that.
What is their significance for you?
Stonewall is a story of those who came before us and let their voices be heard. Those that bravely stood up and spoke out so that others wouldn’t feel compelled to live in silence. When we look back at the Stonewall Riots and activism that grew out of that moment, even the most basic progress seemed like it would take a revolution to achieve. So we had one. And that’s how we’ve made such enormous progress over the last 50 years. Today, we should remain inspired by the courage of this story, the story of Stonewall.
How far have we LGBT people come since 1969?
I remember getting involved in political life in 1986—we would see slow progress and setbacks. At times the pace has been really slow, with small victories and some steps backwards—but then in eight years of the Obama administration, we saw so much progress for the LGBTQ community, starting with the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the marriage equality decision.
Each of those victories was so important, but we cannot mistake progress for victory, and we have to keep marching forward toward full equality and justice for all.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
In a majority of states, LGBTQ Americans live without fully inclusive non-discrimination laws in vital areas of daily life, such as employment, housing, and the public marketplace. Because there is no explicit, uniform federal law protecting LGBTQ people from these types of discrimination, too many Americans are at the mercy of an inadequate patchwork of state and local laws.
Every American deserves the freedom and opportunity to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success. Everyone should have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including the LGBTQ community.
It’s time to take bold legislative action. The Equality Act will be a critical tool to fight discrimination against LGBTQ Americans and help us ensure that we are passing on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less. Passing the Equality Act in the House was an important step forward, and highlighted how important it is to take back the Senate and the White House in 2020.