Lauren Baer Is the LGBTQ+ Mom Running for Congress for Her Daughter
Women Who Run highlights female political candidates on both sides of the aisle who are poised to change the face of local, state, and federal government for the better.
Hot off the heels of a competitive primary win, Lauren Baer, an attorney and former State Department official under the Obama administration, is running to represent Florida’s 18th district this November. And according to Baer, she has “teamwork” and the support of her “rockstar” wife to thank for getting this far.
In a year when more women than ever are running for office and for Congress, specifically, Baer’s campaign is shattering barriers. Not only is she the mother of a not-quite-two-year-old daughter, but if elected, Baer would also be the first LGBTQ+ Congressperson from Florida, and the first member of Congress in a same-sex marriage with a child.
“Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t pass me by that there is something precedent-setting about being an openly gay woman who’s married and has a child, running for office,” Baer says. But she doesn’t necessarily think of her campaign in terms of being the first this or that. Baer says she remains focused on all the issues that matter to her district, while her identity as an LGBTQ+ woman sharpens her determination to be an advocate for all Americans who feel marginalized.
Baer says it was her daughter, who was just two weeks old when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, who inspired her to run for office, and take the plunge from her background in policy into the world of politics.
“My wife and I thought she was being born into one world, and then the morning of Nov. 9th, we found out she was being born into a world that was very different,” Baer says. “That got me thinking incredibly deeply about how to create impact in the age of Donald Trump, and my responsibility to create the kind of world that I want my daughter to live in.”
B+C What inspired you to run for office?
Baer: I never imagined that I would run for office. I’m a lawyer, I spent six years as an official in the State Department during the Obama administration, and I always thought of myself as someone of the world of policy, but not politics.
My daughter, Serena, was born two weeks before Trump won the 2016 presidential election. I wondered what I would do at a time when I thought our values and institutions were really under threat, and I decided that I was going to get in the arena and fight this year.
B+C: What does a day on the campaign trail look like for you?
Baer: Well, no day is the same! Every day is an adventure when you are campaigning and simultaneously a mom to a not-quite-two-year-old and at the same time, trying to take care of [my] own mother who is very sick. For me, a typical day might start getting up at 6 am, when my wife and I make absolutely every effort to be dressed and ready before our daughter wakes up, because if we aren’t ready by then there’s no hope for us pulling ourselves together before she wakes up.
We try to have breakfast as a family, and by a little bit after 8 we’ll be out the door taking my daughter where she’s cared for. And these days, I try to visit my mother in the hospital before I go into my campaign office. I might start the morning with some meetings with my team, meetings with community leaders, or might have a lunch event, and in the afternoon, we might go out canvassing. Usually, if I can, I try to squeeze in some time between 5 and 7 at night to have dinner with my family, help give my daughter a bath, put her to bed. Then it’s usually out on the campaign trail again after she’s asleep at 7. So, maybe that’s a Democratic club meeting or event at a community center. And these days I’ve been closing out my evenings at 9:30, 11 at night to circle back to the hospital, see if my dad needs anything, give my mom a kiss good night, and make my way home, try to clear my inbox, try to get my head on the pillow before midnight — and then we start the day all over again.
B+C: Have you faced any criticism or challenges on the campaign trail as the mother of a young child?
Baer: I recognize fully that it’s unusual to be running for office as a mother, particularly as the mother of a very young child. My daughter is almost two years old now, but she was less than a year old when I started running for office. I’ll be totally honest with you: I found that people didn’t so much question my ability to run for office while having a child, but they did make certain assumptions about the support structure I had around me. Namely, people assumed that because I was running for office and had a very young child, that my wife must be a stay-at-home parent, which she is not.
My wife is a rockstar in her own right, a powerful attorney, and she’s the one who’s our primary breadwinner right now. I think that speaks a lot to assumptions we make overall about the type of support that candidates have around them, and the barrier women have running for office — it’s an incredibly challenging thing to do when you also have a spouse who is working full-time, when you also have other familial obligations outside of your campaign, and that’s part of the reason that I’ve been so committed not only to running a good campaign, but also to talking openly about the barriers faced by all women — mothers included — running for office, so we can start to see more diverse and representative candidates and government officials going forward.
I have been very cognizant about not only running a good strong campaign, but also being very open about the kinds of barriers that have traditionally kept all sorts of women from running for office.
B+C: What did it take to win your primary?
Baer: It took a heck of a lot of teamwork. And a really big team. I think there is this mythical idea in our country of what it takes to run for office and win, in the sense that it is all about being a charismatic individual with great policy ideas, and a lot of appeal on the stump. Certainly charisma and strong policy ideas help, but a lot of winning an election is just the hard work of building a really great network of supporters from the grassroots to the grass-tops, and engaging your community.
And so, my team, for almost a year before the primary, was out there working to bring volunteers to our campaign, get the support of local political leaders, state-wide officials, big federal advocacy groups, and get us all on the same page with respect to the importance of winning this district, and then doing the hard and un-glamorous work of knocking tens of thousands of doors, tens of thousands of phone calls, raising the money to get your message out.
All of that is done not immediately, not over night, not from having a sexy social media profile or a lot of followers on Twitter. It’s done from being in the community and getting people who understand what you’re fighting for and want to fight with you.
B+C: What are some of the issues you would focus on if elected?
Baer: Well, there are a couple of issues which are incredibly important for our community. Foremost among them is the issue of health care and ensuring we are working toward universal health care for everyone, and we’re working to bring costs of care down and quality of care up.
The next thing I would say is the environment, which is critically important in my district. We have a crisis right now where there is toxic algae covering 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee, and that’s flowing out through the Saint Lucie River, which is the lifeblood of our community here. And we’ve got a representative who, during his time in Congress, has taken votes that have lifted environmental protections instead of helping our community.
And then, beyond that I would say we have to look at social security, Medicare, and the implications of the Republican tax bill, which increased our deficit by $1.5 trillion, and is now putting those programs, which hard-working Americans paid into for the entirety of their lives, on the line.
B+C: Ever since Parkland, gun violence has been a contentious issue in Florida. How would you handle this issue if elected?
Baer: This has been a huge issue in Florida, even before Parkland, and Parkland brought gun violence home. It made it clear that it could have been our kids, our schools, and I have been absolutely awed by the strength and resilience and the activism of the young people in our community, dozens of whom have been motivated by what happened at Stoneman Douglas high school, to join our campaign, volunteer, because they understand that if they want to see change in our country, they can’t just march and have to vote.
I’ve been an incredibly strong advocate for common-sense gun safety regulations, the kind of policies that the majority of Americans agree on: things like universal background checks, getting guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and making sure we have weapons of war off our streets, so our kids can be safe in their schools and our communities, our places of worship. And we have, in our sitting Congress member, someone who has made quite a few promises about taking action on gun reform, with absolutely no follow-through, while at the same time receiving tens of thousands of donations from the NRA. And the folks in our community, young and old alike, are sick and tired of the inaction from Congress as a whole, and our representative in particular, and they’re saying enough is enough.
B+C: You have years of experience working in foreign policy for the Obama administration. Do you plan to draw on this experience if elected and if so, how?
Baer: Right now, I think we are seeing in our country the effects of a reckless and dangerous administration, a president who is conducting foreign policy on Twitter without the guidance, insight or wisdom of experts, who know what they’re doing. And in the process, he is systematically undermining the alliances and international institutions that have kept our country safe since World War II. At the end of the day, the most important thing is the safety and security and prosperity of the American people, and that means we need smart, sensible foreign policy in these dangerous and tricky times. So I think now, more than ever, it’s important we’re electing people like myself with real foreign policy experience, people who have seen and understand the inner workings of government and diplomacy, and will know how to do the tough bipartisan work of ensuring we maintain American leadership around the world, and keep our country safe.
B+C: You’re running to be the first LGBTQ+ person Florida sends to Congress, as well as the first mother in a same-sex marriage. This is obviously really exciting — has this affected your mindset on the campaign trail?
Baer: When I wake up, I don’t think about setting precedents. I think about the issues, doing the hard work that needs to be done in order to make Washington work for the people of my district. By and large when I got on the campaign trail, people don’t want to talk to me about my sexuality, but about health care, the environment, our economy and why it isn’t working for working people.
But don’t get me wrong, I am concerned every day about making sure that I’m a strong advocate — not only for the LGBT community, but for all Americans who have ever felt left out, or left behind, or marginalized. We have seen in the past 1.5 years, so many groups whose rights have been put at risk, so many ways in which this administration has undermined the American promise of liberty and justice and equality for all. And for me, being an LGBT candidate means being out there and being a fighter for each and every American.
B+C: This year, women like you are running for office in unprecedented numbers. What advice do you have for young women who see what’s going on and want to get involved in politics?
Baer: My advice for younger women would be, don’t wait for an invitation. If you feel the instinct, the motivation, the desire to get involved in politics, help your community, engage in our public discourse, just do it. For far too long, women have been marginalized in so many spheres, but particularly the sphere of government, because they haven’t been asked to take a seat at the table. And I think what we’re seeing this year is women finally saying, “We don’t need to wait for that invitation. It is our time. We have the skills, we have the ability, we have the insight, we have the empathy, and we are willing to do the hard work that needs to be done for our country to get our government working again, and get our country on the right track.”
So to any young girl, any young woman, who is out there and motivated to go make change, my advice would be just go do it.
B+C: How can people across the country support your campaign?
We love for folks to volunteer, and you can do that even remotely from the comfort of your homes around the country for our campaign through phone banking. And I’d also like to emphasize our campaign is powered by small dollar contributions. I made the decision not to accept any money from corporate PACs because I don’t believe corporate money has a role to play in politics. And that means we rely on the financial backing and support of people in our district in Florida, and around the country who recognize the importance of this race, who believe in what we’re fighting for, and are willing to support us.
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(Photo via Lauren Baer. Design by San Trieu/Brit+Co)