By Ily Goyanes
Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) is a pioneer. Rep. Baldwin, 48, was the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Wisconsin. She is also the first openly gay, non-incumbent candidate to be elected to Congress in the United States.
After fifteen years together, Baldwin and her partner, Lauren Azar, are separating. Baldwin and Azar were among the first couples to register as domestic partners in Wisconsin in 2009. Wisconsin’s domestic partnership legislation offers registered couples benefits such as hospital visitation rights.
As far as the separation goes, the former couple has kept mainly silent.
An announcement issued through Baldwin’s office has been the only public statement regarding the break-up. “Accordingly, they will also terminate their Wisconsin domestic partnership,” the announcement says. “Neither Tammy nor Lauren will have any further public comment on this very private matter.”
An avid reader, Baldwin used literature to ease the coming-out process in college. “Books played an important role in giving context to a topic rarely discussed in schools or around the dinner table.” Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, and the works of Professor John Boswell and Rita Mae Brown, helped her realize that a lesbian can take an active role in shaping public policy.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1999, Baldwin has been an avid champion of universal healthcare and LGBT rights. She has also played a huge part in orchestrating passage of the Domestic Partnership and Obligations Act, a bill that she co-sponsored in the House with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), also a champion of LGBT rights. The bill ensures that the partners of federal employees receive federal benefits, such as health insurance.
After coming out as a lesbian in college, Baldwin has never looked back. While running for office, she decided that she would run a truthful campaign—and that meant being open about her sexual orientation. She never hid the fact that she was a lesbian. “But there was also, believe it or not, an advantage to being open and honest about who I am. In a world too full of half-truths and whole lies, those of us who are “out” are perceived as being honest–of having integrity,” says Baldwin on her website.
“When I ran for the Wisconsin Assembly in 1992, people told me time and time again that my integrity mattered. I remember being approached by a gentleman who I wouldn’t have picked to be a big supporter. But he got up to me and said, ‘Gosh, Lady, you’ve sure got guts. If you can be honest about that, you’ll probably be honest about everything.’ I got his vote!”
Baldwin’s political career began inauspiciously. As a middle-school student, she ran for Student Council President and lost. She also lost elections in high school and college, failing to become the high school graduation speaker and college class president. Despite these early losses, she forged ahead to pave the way for American women and lesbians interested in politics. “I hope that’s a lesson for other people, young and older, who are dreaming big dreams!”