Rep. Tammy Baldwin On Fight For Gay Rights The only openly gay woman in Congress, Tammy Baldwin, wasn't marching in Washington on Sunday; she was back in her home state of Wisconsin. But she tells host Guy Raz that the marchers sent an important message — and that the battle now moves off the streets and into the halls of the Capitol.
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Rep. Tammy Baldwin On Fight For Gay Rights

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Rep. Tammy Baldwin On Fight For Gay Rights

Rep. Tammy Baldwin On Fight For Gay Rights

Rep. Tammy Baldwin On Fight For Gay Rights

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The only openly gay woman in Congress, Tammy Baldwin, wasn't marching in Washington on Sunday; she was back in her home state of Wisconsin. But she tells host Guy Raz that the marchers sent an important message — and that the battle now moves off the streets and into the halls of the Capitol.

GUY RAZ, Host:

I asked Tammy Baldwin whether it's realistic for some activists to demand that Congress amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gays and lesbians.

TAMMY BALDWIN: I think that Congress is not known for acting with lightning speed. And any new measure, especially one as significant as we're talking about, would require time to educate members to gain political support and traction. And so, I think we have some more immediate victories that are in store, with passage of the Employment Non- Discrimination Act. We will probably see passage of a Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act. And perhaps not too long from now, we will see the repeal of the very discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation.

RAZ: You marched for gay rights right here in Washington in 1987. You were 25 years old. You had just been elected to local office in Dane County, Wisconsin. Take us back to that march. What was it like to be there?

BALDWIN: Oh, it was very, very exciting. I think of being able to go up on stage with all of my fellow, openly gay and lesbian elected officials across the country, and there were very few of us at that time. And seeing so many people who were speaking out and being visible was just very inspiring.

RAZ: What's keeping you from the march this year?

BALDWIN: Well, I would say, mostly, the activities we have on the calendar here at home. But I do think that the march has created national attention and will serve an important purpose as we look back upon it.

RAZ: One of your colleagues in the House of Representatives, Congressman Barney Frank, who is also openly gay, told NPR this week that he didn't think the march is such a good use of time for gay rights supporters. Here's what he said.

BARNEY FRANK: I think too many people, frankly, who share my view that this is going to be a waste of time are afraid to say so because they'll be considered insufficiently devoted to the cause. The most successful, militant, political organization in America is the National Rifle Association. And they've never had a march, they've never had a shoot-in, they don't do anything other than lobby members. They write, and they call, and they talk to members.

RAZ: Congresswoman Baldwin, would you agree with that, that this march might be a waste of time?

BALDWIN: I would not agree. I think that if you look particularly at civil rights movements over time, marching, demonstrations have been key elements of those. But it is only one aspect of moving forward. It plays a role of visibility, of inspiring new generations of activists, and yet it is not the only way we press forward. And as my colleague, Chairman Frank, says, a lot of the hard work is face-to-face meetings with members of Congress, writing letters and organizing in other ways.

RAZ: Congresswoman Baldwin, many in the gay community have expressed frustration with President Obama, that in their view, he hasn't moved fast enough on gay rights issue. Do you agree with that?

BALDWIN: I disagree with that. I certainly, as a lesbian myself, feel frustration and impatience with the pace of change, but I don't lay that at the feet of our new president. He cannot, with a wave of a magic wand, change law. Congress must do that. We have to use the legislative process. We have to pass legislation and send it to this president.

RAZ: Congresswoman Baldwin, thanks so much.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

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