This trip to my archives was inspired by Tammy Baldwin being elected to the United States Senate. Among the people who were elected to the seat she now occupies was Senator Gaylord Nelson, who served in the Senate from 1962 until 1980. My first paying job was working for Senator Nelson as a clerical assistant from April of 1972 until September of 1979. One of the people who worked in our office was hired by Senator Biden so I became good friends with several people on his staff.
To say that I was in the closet at this time would be a very vast understatement. I believed that I was the only person in the world attracted to people of the same sex. I also believed that if I were to look someone in the eye they would be able to tell and that wouldn’t be a good thing. I can now look back and realize how incredibly naïve I was, but at the time it was very painful trying to find a way to fit in.
Senator Biden campaigning for the Presidency in 2008
If we were walking in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building I could show you the exact spot were I was when I realized that I could look people in the eye and still keep my secret. While the phrase, “I never thought I would live to see…” is overused, it fits in this case because the memories are so recent and so real.
Tammy Baldwin and Zoe Dunning pose during a reception in San Francisco.
There is always a special burden placed on anyone who is the first of any category to assume an office. Senator Baldwin has prepared herself well serving in Congress as a Representative from Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district. I hope that she will enjoy a long tenure in the Senate like Senator Biden who spent more than thirty years in the Senate before being elected Vice President.
The Vice –President of the United States swears in Tammy Baldwin as a United States Senator.
Before January 21 this is where my article would have ended. However as a gay man listening to President Obama use his second inaugural speech to connect Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall was a very powerful affirmation. That very frightened young man who spent seven years walking the halls of the Senate in fear now knows he isn’t alone. Future generations of similar young people will never have to doubt their worth and someday will live with equal treatment.