I was 23 years old when I attended the Millennium March on Washington for LGBT rights. The world was a different place then. If we wanted to be affectionate with our partners, we scurried off to Provincetown or Key West or San Francisco, where it was safe. We would vacation in these safe zones, and be filled with pride as we held hands walking down Commercial St., Duval St. or through the Castro. It was an electrifying feeling, and we could hardly imagine living in a world where we could one day hold hands walking through the Main Streets of our home towns. Today, however, many of us do live in that world.
I was very hesitant to come out in the workplace many years ago. I had witnessed people fired for being gay. I had heard stories of glass ceilings. I had listened to coworkers telling me that gay people should be put on an island, and that island should be blown up. I called my girlfriend my roommate. If I were to pinpoint the day that changed, I think it would be the day I heard U.S. House of Representatives member Tammy Baldwin speak.
We had gathered in Washington to march for equality as we entered this new Millennium. We cheered on Ellen and Anne Heche and so many others, but the show stopper was most definitely Tammy Baldwin. I immediately started living my life by the challenges she laid out in her speech. Her words and inspiration truly changed my life. I have quoted parts of her speech hundreds of times since I first heard them, and I still get chills every time. From that point on, I lived outwardly, unapologetically. I was met with more acceptance and compassion than I ever could have imagined.
From where I was standing as we entered this millennium, I never would have believed that we would have come so far, so fast. Equality is not only in our reach, it is here. Some of the courts are still catching up, and we will continue to help them get there. Now is our time.
I am so proud of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, our nation's first gay Senator. Her passion, brilliance and fearlessness have made our country stronger. Below, I include the transcripts from her speech that day in Washington. I hope you will gain the inspiration I did, as we take a look back in time to read the words of a woman ahead of her time:
If I close my eyes, I can remember being here in 1987. I came to this city, this historic place, these steps. Why did I march? I was 25 years old and just one year into my first term in elective office. I was OUT. I was at the point in my life where I had just realized that I did not have to choose between being honest about who I am and pursuing the career of my dreams. I could do both. And that moment of decision was, at once, one of the most terrifying and one of the most freeing of my life. So I marched... to replace my fear with courage, my isolation with belonging, my anger with hope.
If I close my eyes, I can remember being here in 1993. I came to this city, this historic place, these steps. Why did I march? I was thirty-one years old and had just been elected to the Wisconsin State Legislature. I had just gotten a touching glimpse of the power of our visibility. After a statewide news story announced that I was the first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected to state-level office in Wisconsin, I received a telephone call from a young man. His voice was wavering. He was from Northern Wisconsin and he said, "I read the story and I feel differently about myself today." So I marched...so that he and others might be able to replace fear with courage, isolation with belonging, anger with hope.
If I close my eyes again, I can remember coming to this city, this historic place, these steps in January, 1999. Only this time, I climbed these steps to take the oath of office. And as I climbed those steps, I remembered all those who had marched and mobilized -- those who helped pave the way for my election and the election of those who will come after me. You are with me every time I pass through those doors. And the lessons learned from you, from my participation in this civil rights movement, and from organizing against AIDS are now being applied, empowering me as I fight everyday the battle for health care for all, increasing educational opportunities, and fighting for many others who lack a voice in our democracy.
Now, with open eyes, I am experiencing this march. I come to this city, this historic place, these steps. I'm 38 years old and I'm a Member of Congress. Why do I march? I march to challenge the naysayers, the cynics, and the keepers of the status quo. And I march for a promising, inspiring, and incredible new generation...so they might replace their fear with courage, their isolation with belonging, their anger with hope. And I can say with conviction: Never doubt that there is reason to be hopeful.
NEVER DOUBT that Congress will pass legislation that expands the definition of hate crimes.
NEVER DOUBT that the states will grant us equal rights, including all the rights afforded couples through marriage.
NEVER DOUBT that we will enact legislation ensuring non-discrimination in the workplace.
NEVER DOUBT that America will one day realize that her gay, bisexual, and transgendered sons and daughters want nothing more -- and nothing less -- than the rights accorded every other citizen.
BUT WE MUST MAKE IT SO -- by daring to dream of a world in which we are free. So, if you dream of a world in which you can put your partner's picture on your desk, then put his picture on your desk... and you will live in such a world.
And if you dream of a world in which you can walk down the street holding your partner's hand, then hold her hand... and you will live in such a world.
If you dream of a world in which there are more openly gay elected officials, then run for office... and you will live in such a world.
And if you dream of a world in which you can take your partner to the office party, even if your office is the U.S. House of Representatives, then take her to the party. I do, and now I live in such a world.
Remember, there are two things that keep us oppressed...them and us. We are half of the equation. There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it's now OK to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly...first in small numbers, then in greater numbers, until it's simply the way things are and no one thinks twice.
NEVER DOUBT that we will create this world, because, my friends, we are fortunate to live in a democracy; and in a democracy, WE decide what's possible!
~Tammy Baldwin's March on Washington speech, 2000
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