The LGBTQ Caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday was a clear celebration of Wisconsin. Naturally, the first speaker was Sen. Tammy Baldwin and the second up was Rep. Mark Pocan. It didn’t stop there. The third speaker was the secretary of the DNC Jason Rae — also a Wisconsinite.
“You may notice a theme since the beginning of this caucus meeting — its focus on Wisconsin, because we’re in Milwaukee in spirit, so we want to reflect those Milwaukee values,” said Earl Fowlkes, the caucus chair and moderator for the event.
Before turning it over to the speakers, Fowlkes welcomed the group and viewers to “the gayest political convention in history.” He noted there were 365 LGBTQ delegates, the highest number ever” who were gathering virtually to nominate “the most pro-LGBTQ+ equality ticket in the history of this great republic with Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.”
Indeed a number of the speakers and panelists recalled Biden coming out in support of gay marriage in 2012 on Meet the Press, before the White House officially shifted its policy. “That began a transformation that was unquestionably one of the key moments in moving towards full marriage equality,” said Baldwin.
The celebratory tone and the emphatic calls to action were paused as the group observed a moment of silence to remember the transgender people who have been murdered in the United States and around the world. “ Can we imagine a world where transphobia doesn’t exist? Yes,” said Fowlkes.
Baldwin began her remarks with “a little bit of bragging about my home state” and its historic firsts.
“Believe it or not, Wisconsin was the first state in the Union to pass legislation protecting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation in matters of employment, education, public accommodations and housing,” Baldwin said. “And we were very proud of that distinction, it was back in 1982. And it was actually passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor. Who today can imagine that sort of bipartisan cooperation, etc. as things have only gotten more polarized.”
To that end, the senator praised the United States Supreme Court decision that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes protections for transgender workers, but noted they are limited to employment. That underscores the necessity of passing the Equality Act, she asserted, which has passed the House but has not moved in the Senate. And, added Baldwin, there needs to be a president who will sign this legislation, which also covers housing, credit, facilities, education and more.
That brought her to the topic of Joe Biden. Baldwin recalled seeing him at the signing of every landmark piece of legislation on LGBTQ rights, including her top three: the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Affordable Care Act, which contains “the strongest anti-discrimination provisions we’ve ever seen, made a part of our national health laws.” (She also brought up how Biden leaned over whispering into Barack Obama’s ear, “This is a big f—-ing deal,” not knowing the mike was hot.)
Baldwin’s recollection of her friend Sen. Kamala Harris was attending a Pride festival with her on Summerfest grounds in 2018, where she said they had a great deal of fun together.
Speaking second was Congressman Mark Pocan, who noted he’s “been out in elected office since 1991,” when he was on the Dane County Board with Baldwin. At the time, he bragged on behalf of Wisconsin, “there were more out, elected officials from Dane County than the entire state of California. So we have this long tradition we’re very proud of in Wisconsin.”
Pocan turned from bragging to going right after Donald Trump — and the Log Cabin Republicans as well.
“There’s a lot at stake, coming up with this election,” Pocan said. “The Trump administration has been anti-equality at every turn, from military service to right-to-discriminate laws, this president has not been a friend of the LGBT community, which always makes me wonder why the Log Cabin Republicans continue to support Donald Trump. But I guess I should assume any group that has their name date back to log cabins — that’s probably their political relevance too.”
He also promoted the Equality Act, deeming it necessary because it would ban discrimination in all states that do not have their own non-discrimination laws covering the LGBTQ community.
“You can get married on a Saturday, post your pictures on Facebook on a Sunday and lose your job on Monday in the majority of states in this country,” said Pocan. The bill that protects people nationwide, he added, ending state-by-state discrimination “will pass early in a Biden administration.”
Rae, who announced the delegate role call on Tuesday evening, was the first to name Vice President Mike Pence, who once said gay couples signaled a ‘societal collapse.’
“The stakes can’t be higher,” stressed Rae. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have really given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and have rolled back critical protections for our community.”
Also addressing the group were Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Rep. Mark Takano (the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress eight years ago), among others.
If caucus viewers wondered why Mayor Pete Buttigieg — a gay man who ran for president as a team with his husband Chasten Buttigieg, shattering barriers — didn’t come up more often, it became obvious that the couple’s appearance was being saved as a high point for the caucus meeting.
“You’ve given so many young LGBTQ people and many national young people the hope that they, too, could be President of the United States,” said Fowlkes, noting they may yet be the president and first gentleman some day.
Buttigieg echoed calls by other speakers to not only align with LGBTQ people of color, but to be true allies to the Black Lives Matter movement — something he faced criticism for not doing well enough as mayor of South Bend, where allegations of police abuse caused trouble for his presidential campaign. “That’s something we’re being reminded of in our need to be allies to everyone, raising voices to insist that this country will live up to the truth that Black Lives Matter,” he added.
The former mayor also emphasized the importance of local government. While having a national LGBTQ presence is important, he said, a lot of decisions get made and power is held on the local level, including on school boards. It’s also where diverse representation often begins — but is far from equitable. “It would actually take another 22,000 out elected officials for there to be true proportional representation of our LGBTQ communities in offices,” he said.
Currently, according to the Out for America Census of LGBTQ elected officials nationwide, 843 are in public office — a number that has more than doubled since Trump was elected. And there are 850 LGBTQ people running for office this year.
The LGBTQ Caucus meeting featured one of those local leaders — state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, from Pennsylvania. In his talk to the group he did not mince words, nor did he hold back despite being a young state official in a group that included many federal officials and veterans like Pocan and Baldwin.
He called Trump “dangerously dumb.”
“We are sitting here right now on a Zoom call instead of all being together in Milwaukee, because of his complete inability to manage this crisis — his complete and utter lack of competence,” said Kenyatta. “And not only does he not know anything, but he gets rid of anybody around him who actually knows something.”
In contrast, he described Biden launching his campaign in Philadelphia, where ideals of freedom, equality and justice were enshrined. “He talked about this idea of fighting for the soul of the nation. I know some folks said, ‘Oh that sounds a little cheesy.’ But it is deadly serious,” he stressed.
Trump, Kenyatta pointed out, campaigned saying he was going to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community as “the most pro-equality president we’ve ever seen.”
He listed several ways Trump betrayed that promise: removing all LGBTQ content from federal websites, actively opposing passage the Equality Act and making it “impossible for a trans/non-binary service members to serve honorably in our armed services.”
His most memorable story about Biden started on what Kenyatta said was his worst day as a state representative. He received a call that a young kid he called “Little Phil,” age 11, had died by suicide. In response he crafted a bill that “completely changed” the way mental health services were provided to young people in the state, mandating reports on ratios of counselors to kids. When he met Biden, he told him about the experience.
“I talked to Vice President Biden about this and when the vice president rolled out his LGBTQ plan, Phillip’s Law was front and center as one of the things he wanted to use as a national model. Joe Biden is somebody who listens, as well as leads. And I think that ability for a leader to listen, has been something we have completely underrated.”
He ended with a point that’s been made more than a few times at the convention, although not perhaps in these exact words.
“If we vote,” said Kenyatta, “and if we vote like we’ve lost our mind, not only will we beat Donald Trump, but we will beat him in historic fashion. And I’m looking forward to doing that.”