Politics and Power

In December of 1981, Baldwin publicly "came out" as a homosexual, effectively ending his professional association with Senator Nunn, who happened to be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Even though he didn't work on that committee, Baldwin was suddenly considered a security risk. "Nunn said, `If my enemies find out that I have a security risk on one of my staffs, it won't matter what committee, they will use it to withhold information from me,'" Baldwin recalls. "He said, `I don't want to destroy your career, I'm not going to fire you, and I'm not going to ask for your resignation, but I do think you should go find another job.'"

End of conversation. End of life in Washington, D.C., and end of marriage for Baldwin, who has two sons, one of whom is now twenty, the other seventeen. Baldwin says that to this day he doesn't understand why a man who was considered good enough to tote an M-16 into battle should be considered a threat to democracy because he sleeps with men, but he has accepted it as a fact of his life.

In 1982 Baldwin came to Miami and got a job here with the U.S. Attorney's Office, even though a background check revealed his sexual orientation and caused some friction. "They found out I was gay and concluded that made me a security risk," he explains. "That one I could fight, and did. And won." In 1986 he left the U.S. Attorney for Holland and Knight, where he was made a partner in 1988. Baldwin says his sexual orientation has never become an issue at the law firm, and has not interfered in his work in gay and lesbian politics and AIDS groups. Since coming to Miami he has helped organize the Health Crisis Network, and was a founding member of both Body Positive and HOPE (Home of Peace Enterprises, which gives emergency cash assistance to people with AIDS).

Baldwin wasn't here in 1977, when Anita Bryant launched the "Save Our Children" campaign that led to the defeat of a countywide gay-rights referendum. But he is keenly aware of the impact it had on the lives of Dade's gays and lesbians. Leading the rancorous battle to pass the referendum was Bob Kunst, executive director of Cure AIDS Now. Kunst, whose stewardship of Cure AIDS Now is currently under investigation for possible misuse of county funds, has said that even in defeat, the campaign was the best thing that ever happened to homosexuals here, galvanizing the community to come out and fight. Baldwin argues that Bryant's gay-bashing had the opposite effect, and if anything at all was galvanized, it was Kunst himself. Through most of the Eighties, Baldwin asserts, Kunst was the principal "spokesman" for Dade's gays and lesbians, simply by default.

"Whenever anybody wanted to know about the gay community, the media went rushing down to Bob Kunst," Baldwin says. "And Kunst, who's an expert in sound bites, would come back with statements -- some of which were good, some bad, and most of which were embarrassing to gays. You'd see him on TV, and under it were those little white letters: `Gay Spokesperson.' And most of the gay and lesbian community would cringe every time we saw it."

No single event since "Save Our Children" has had as significant an effect on gays and lesbians as the turmoil that erupted in the Dade County Commission this past March, after the Miami Herald published several articles revealing unsafe sex practices at Club Body Center on Coral Way. The stories sparked county commissioners to action, and the resulting debate that surrounded efforts to pass a "bathhouse ordinance" was a watershed, according to Baldwin. Members of the homosexual community proved that they had the courage to step forward and speak in a public forum for themselves -- without the intrusion of Bob Kunst.

"The bathhouses had changed or had been closed in many other cities, by public-health authorities or by city zoning, sometimes over the opposition of the gay community, sometimes with the gay community. Here, nothing had happened. We knew in October that this article was being written, and we were concerned, because anything that deals with a gay bathhouse impacts on the gay community, at least from a public relations point of view. There was no question that there was going to be legislation; it was clear something was going to be passed. What happened was, Commissioner Gersten contacted us and said, `Can you all see your way to support this?' We told Gersten that we could only support it if it was from a public-health point of view, and if the law-enforcement aspect was basically health oriented instead of police raids. He said, `You're not going to have any problem with what I write.'

"He sent it over, and we sent it to about a dozen organizations. The feedback we got was that the definition of high-risk sex was so broad as to include any sex, and it was basically an anti-sex ordinance. Nobody would support it in that respect. The other problem was that the enforcement was so vague that conceivably we could have Metro cops rushing in and doing raids. We told Gersten that if he amended it in those two areas, he'd have eight or ten organizations come down and testify on its behalf. But before the ordinance was even drafted, Bob Kunst started screaming that this was gay bashing.

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