For the past two years, I have been invited to attend the U.S. Department of Labor’s LGBT Pride Month event. Not living in Washington D.C., I am not normally able to attend, but this year I was in D.C. for two days of business at the same time. What a privilege to be able to attend this event on June 28, 2016 in our nation’s capital with two outstanding high-ranking U.S. government leaders. [Note: two years earlier I had attended a meeting with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and a dozen other “faith leaders” representing the North Carolina Council of Churches.]
The 45-minute discussion was held like a “town hall meeting” with Secretary Perez starting with a five-minute address and then interviewing Sen. Tammy Baldwin. In his introduction, Mr. Perez quoted author Charles Dickens about it “Being the best of times and the worst of times” eluding to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage a year ago followed by the recent massacre at the Pulse bar in Orlando. He also mentioned the absence of nationwide employment protections for LGBT people and said that a gay person could get married today and then go into work tomorrow and get fired.
Mr. Perez then introduced Sen. Baldwin, the first openly out LGBT U.S. senator. He praised her for what she had done and how she had also done it with “Midwestern kindness” in an overall caustic political climate. Here are some of the key points Sen. Baldwin made her comments:
• She personally realized the importance of universal healthcare coverage for all Americans early in her life. She was raised by her grandparents, and when she suffered through a rare and long childhood serious disease, she was not covered on their insurance since she was a grandchild. Then later in college, she had many classmates who were unable to obtain health insurance.
• She shared her journey as an out lesbian politician — from her county commission to the Wisconsin state house to U.S. House to U.S. Senate. She spoke of the importance of working for all constituents and building relationships. She also mentioned she was very fortunate in that a few out gay politicians helped pave the way for her and served as role models.
• The day before this meeting, she was fortunate to be in Greenwich Village in New York City, where President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn (gay bar in New York City) as an historic National Monument. Stonewall was the location of the 1969 rebellion against police harassment of LGBT people and considered the birthplace of the American gay rights movement. Sen.Baldwin poignantly spoke of how in the gay community, bars are actually places of safety and sanctuary, especially for people rejected by their families and communities for being gay.
Living in North Carolina where our politics are quite regressive, I am encouraged by these excellent diversity- and inclusion-embracing leaders at our national level working for the benefit of all Americans.
On a personal note, once again I got hopelessly lost driving in D.C.and arrived a little late, missing the introduction by Outreach and Recruiter Director for Presidential Personnel Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the White House’s first openly transgender staff member.