As the Nov. 3 presidential election looms less than a week away, last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts are in full force. Last week, Human Rights Campaign teamed up with openly lesbian U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin in a virtual rally to push for the reelection of Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, whose six-year term is slated to end on Jan. 3, 2021. Baldwin began the evening’s discussion with an emphasis on why it’s valuable for LGBTQ voters to see Democrats “flipping” the U.S. Senate.
“Well, while we have seen some incredible votes in the House of Representatives — including passage of the Equality Act for the first time in history — that bill and others like it have come over to the Senate just to gather dust on the desk of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate,” she said. “We’ve got to change that, because there are still many regions of the country, many states in which LGBTQ people do not enjoy full legal protections against legal discrimination in many aspects of their lives and there is continual issues of bias that we have to confront, and we’ve got to change the world. And we’re not going to be able to do that, at least as quickly as we’d like, unless we flip the Senate and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president of the United States.”
Both Peters and Baldwin worked together in the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming allies in the Senate, and Baldwin highlighted areas of progress during their terms together, citing efforts to aid LGBTQ-specific causes in areas of health care, employment and more. However, she warned not to “confuse progress for victory.” Peters agreed, and he shared that issues of equality will be among his top priorities if elected.
“Issues of equality are going to be a fundamental concept of who we are: that everybody in this country, no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter who you love, no matter how you identify — all of those things — we should all be treated equally,” Peters said. “For me, that is the very core concept of this wonderful democratic republic that we have. But we also know that although those are the words that we express that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what happens in reality, which is why we have to keep fighting.”
During his time in office, Peters has helped to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Defense of Marriage Act and now pledges to fight for the Equality Act, a nationwide effort to include protections in all areas of American life for sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That shows pretty dramatically what you get when you have a Democratic majority. It’s not theoretical. It’s real. We will stand up and pass laws and legislation to do that. And given the numbers of what happens to folks in discrimination in employment and accommodations and all of the things that happen in our society, it’s unacceptable,” Peters said. “Look what’s happening right now in the Judiciary Committee in the nominating of the Supreme Court nominee that President Trump is jamming through and Mitch McConnel is jamming through.”
Newly sworn-in Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has undergone intense scrutiny from LGBTQ activists, who say that her track record of conservative judgments could spell trouble for future LGBTQ rights decisions and potentially begin the undoing of decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges, which ensured marriage equality across the U.S., and Roe v. Wade, which gave women access to abortion rights.
During the discussion, Peters was asked about what can be done to prevent the ongoing murders of transgender women, and particularly Black transgender women. Peters, who helps to oversee the Department of Homeland Security said the first steps lie with addressing domestic extremism in hate groups.
“Hate groups that hate the folks who are not like them and the insidious rise of white supremacy, anti-Semitic groups, of anti-government groups. We have to combat this two ways,” he said. “One, we have to root out and focus on those groups that espouse hatred and translate that hatred into violence, and [two], we have to make sure that the Department of Homeland security actually focuses on the true threat on this country.”
Baldwin echoed this sentiment and pointed to potential bright spots for reform in this matter if the Senate could be flipped.
“Brutality and violence that we’re seeing against Black trans women happens at the hands of police, either by overt violence or failing to do one’s job when somebody needs law enforcement help say after experiencing a hate crime,” Baldwin said. “I do think if we can pass the George Floyd justice in policing act, then we can also make some strides to help us be more informed when it comes to hate crimes in the LGBTQ community and especially with Black trans women.”
She then pointed to a cause for celebration, citing a bill she and Peters worked on that the president signed into law that created a three-digit hotline, 988, for suicide prevention that will provide culturally competent care for LGBTQ people.
“It’s going to save lives because people need the resources and it needs to be quick and easy with no hurdles if you’re going to seek the help and support in crisis,” she said. “We know that several groups of Americans disproportionately have thoughts of suicide or die by suicide, and included is veterans and the LGBTQ community.”
Finally, Peters finished the discussion by citing his work to create LGBTQ-specific competent care in disaster relief by adding a team to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can aid survivors who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters.
“Clearly, COVID-19 is a natural disaster, to make sure that communities that are disproportionately affected are understood. We have to make changes in our policies,” he said.
He then reminded the audience that voting absentee and early is safe and secure and expressed hope that he and LGBTQ constituents could celebrate “face-to-face together” after the election.
To learn more about HRC’s get-out-the-vote efforts visit hrc.org.