Harvey Milk & Tammy Baldwin – Brief Article
THE FIRST OUT CONGRESSWOMAN ON THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK AND THE LOCAL POLITICIANS WHO PAVED HER WAY
I came out just a few years before running for the Dane County, Wis., board of supervisors in 1986. I won election in April of that year. At that point in my political career, there were two groups of gay politicians who were tremendously important to me–and who remain so to this day.
Harvey Milk and the group of activists who helped make his election happen in San Francisco were inspiring. These were people who believed that what was perceived to be impossible could actually happen. It was a lesson I’d never forget: In a democracy we decide what’s possible.
The second group that inspired me was the local gay community in the college town of Madison, where I would run for office. Though I knew I had a difficult task in front of me, I was conscious that I was living in a tolerant part of the state. By the time I joined the Dane County board, two openly gay people were on it, Dick Wagner and Kathleen Nichols. They were my role models. One of the many gifts they gave me was access to their wisdom, even though I was just a freshman and they had greater seniority.
As the man who popularized the idea “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Harvey Milk has been my inspiration in a more global way. Because I’ve had the fortune of being openly lesbian in my political life, I’ve had the privilege of being able to carry Harvey’s message forward even when he no longer could. The fundamental lesson of the civil rights movement is that coming out–whether as an individual, part of a same-sex couple, or as a straight ally–is crucial.
There are risks and opportunities presented to every gay or lesbian person who makes a statement. Despite what happened to Harvey, I’ve always believed that the benefits outweigh the risks. From the day Harvey Milk won election, nobody could say a gay or lesbian person couldn’t do it. He wasn’t the first openly gay elected official, but he changed the reality for the rest of us–it’s transformational politics at its best. For all those people who say they have to wait until it’s safe to do x, y, or z, Harvey taught us that if you simply start doing x, y, or z, it will become safe. Someone else who fights for custodial rights makes it safe for the rest of us. Someone who fights to be able to walk down the street hand in hand with a same-sex partner makes it safe for the rest of us–and so on and so on. We now work in a world where you can run and win as an openly gay person.
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