Republican Aide Should Not Have Insulted Tammy Baldwin For Lesbian Wonder Woman Video

Presidential election season is a time to get to know current legislators and nominees and decide which ones deserve your votes, but it’s also a time to pay attention to the “rising stars” of the scene. The people currently running for seats in the House and Senate are the people who will be voting on the bills that govern our lives, and they often have designs on the White House; it’s a time to look around at governors and senators and hopefuls to see what lies in our future. Some of the faces that loom aren’t much to look forward to, like Chris Christie. But there are also some bright stars on the horizon. For instance: Tammy Baldwin, who seems poised to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.

This has been a strong year overall for queer politicians. Queer Latino/a politicians are taking the legislature by storm, and there’s an important increase in bisexual visibility in the legislature with Kyrsten Sinema and JoCasta Zamarripa. But the first gay US Senator is an even bigger deal – and it seems like this is within Baldwin’s reach. A series of polls are showing Baldwin pulling ahead of her opponent, former governor Tommy Thompson, in Wisconsin’s Senate race. Harvey Milk’s nephew has gone so far as to compare her to his groundbreaking uncle, saying that she’ll “break a glass ceiling that has existed for more than two centuries.”

Baldwin isn’t just making waves in the gay community; she’s been described as “populist,” which is a big deal in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has become one of the most reviled public faces of union-busting. Here’s what Jezebel had to say about her back in April:

To understand how far Baldwin has come, it helps to know that she was raised in Madison by her grandparents, after her mother, who was just 19 when Tammy was born, could not care for her. Baldwin graduated from Smith College, and took an internship in then Wisconsin Governor Tony Earl’s administration. While there, she worked on an initiative to secure equal pay for women, and she told me that experience really stuck with her and taught her how important it was to legislate on behalf of women. She went on to law school, and then was elected to State Assembly in 1993. In 1998, she won her seat in the House of Representatives. At the time, she was a trailblazer because she was both the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin and the first openly gay non-incumbent elected to the House.

So far, Tammy Baldwin has never let any obstacles stand in the way of achieving her goals. Which is perhaps why her opponent Thompson’s aide, named Brian Nemoir, felt threatened enough to tweet a passive-aggressive homophobic joke about her.  Specifically, he linked to a video of Tammy Baldwin at a Pride parade in Madison, Wisconsin, next to Wonder Woman, with the catty comment that “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.”

It’s unclear exactly what part of the video Nemoir found disturbing – the fact that it’s a Pride parade? A woman not wearing full pants? The implausibility of invisible airplanes or truth lassos? Regardless, it seems clear that his low blow is an attempt to reframe the race between his boss and Baldwin as being about who’s more socially normative, and not whose policies are more attractive to voters. But while a Republican aide would imply that someone’s sexual orientation might negatively affect their job performance as an elected official is less than surprising, what happened next is actually a mild shock: Nemoir was reassigned to a different role in the campaign and been rebuked. Thompson was forced to announce that he considers Baldwin’s sexual orientation “a non-issue.”

It may not sound like much. But if you’ve been paying attention to Republican rhetoric over the past five or ten years – or even the last 12 months – it’s pretty astonishing to hear a Republican (especially one with a not-particularly-stellar record on the gays, like Thompson – as Jezebel says, “When he was running for President for a hot second in 2008, he actually said that he thought employers should be allowed to fire gays and lesbians based on their moral feelings about homosexuality.”) say that anyone’s sexuality is a “non-issue.” For perspective, it’s still okay for Mitt Romney to say “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate,” and no one will be “reassigned” because of it, nor did Mitt have to backpedal and explain that Obama’s race is “a non-issue.”

But in contrast to the totally backwards conversations that we will have on candidates’ race, gender, and religion, it’s now apparently at least a faux pas to denigrate an opponent based on their sexual orientation, and perhaps even a risky political move. It’s what’s making it possible for candidates like Richard Tisei, the openly gay Republican candidate for Congress in Massachusetts. Granted, Tisei’s brand of gay-friendly pro-choice Republicanism is probably more welcome in Massachusetts than in most of the rest of the country, but he’s still symbolic of a legislature where whatever other issues we argue about, we can agree that queer people are full humans whose sexual orientation doesn’t make them unfit to serve their countries or your community.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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    Just a quick note from a supportive Wisconsinite – Tammy isn’t dressed as Wonder Woman – she’s the woman in the blue shirt (not in costume) dancing with Wonder Woman. Which makes this even more of a non-issue….for some reason dancing onstage with a band is a thing we should be concerned about?

    Glad to have the Tammy Baldwin sign in my yard.

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    So I’d been hearing about Richard Tisei on my TV screen because I keep getting his and John Tierney’s (his opponent’s) ads even though I’m not in their Congressional district. I kind of wonder how the Republicans can consider him a big hope for keeping the House if he’s not going to vote with them when it comes to the social issues, aka the issues where they’re looking to do the most damage. Or will John Boehner be able to pull him into line anyway? The district is leaning toward Tierney anyway so it’s probably a moot issue, but it’s interesting to ponder.

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    yay Tammy!

    She attended my high school many years before I did, so I am obviously a big fan. I’m glad she is pulling ahead – her opponent was governor of Wisconsin for 14 years, so she is up against some serious competition.

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    That video basically makes me love her.

    And sounds like a lot of Wisconsin agrees. The campaign has been fundraising today off the news that the last 7 public polls in the race show her tied or pulled slightly ahead — a pretty big swing from a few weeks ago.

    Keep dancing, Tammy :)

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