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Laphonza Butler Makes History as the First Black Lesbian U.S. Senator

News & Opinion

Tuesday afternoon, Laphonza Butler, 44, made her-story as she was sworn into the United States Senate. Butler is the first openly lesbian senator to serve in Congress and also the first openly LGBTQ+ senator to represent California.


In addition to this, Butler will now be the only Black female senator currently serving in Congress, and the third Black woman to do so in US history.


Butler was appointed into this role by California Governor Gavin Newsom following the death of Dianne Feinstein (90), who had a historic career as the longest-serving woman in the Senate.

Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office alongside Butler's wife, Neneki Lee at the Capitol in Washington yesterday, October 3rd. Butler and her wife have been married for approximately 10 years and have a daughter together.


Governor Newsom announced Butler's appointment on X, previously Twitter, with the following words: "As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people … I have no doubt she will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington."

AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough

Laphonza Butler was born in Magnolia, Mississippi, and attended Jackson State University where she obtained her degree in Political Science. Butler previously served as President of Emily's List - an initiative that "recruits, trains and supports Democratic pro-choice women running for office".


Before her time as president, she served as a key leader and advisor in Kamala Harris' run for vice presidency and also served as former Secretary of State in Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.


"I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom's nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home. I am humbled by the Governor’s trust. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's leadership and legacy are immeasurable. I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and my energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation," Butler said in a statement on Monday.


“For women and girls, for workers and unions, for struggling parents waiting for our leaders to bring opportunity back to their homes, for all of California, I’m ready to serve,” she continued to say.

Laphonza Butler with her daughter, Nylah and her partner, Neneki Lee (via EMILY’s List).
Laphonza Butler with her daughter, Nylah and her partner, Neneki Lee (via EMILY’s List).

The reception surrounding Butler's appointment thus far has been largely positive and is considered a historic win across the LGBTQ+ community, as well as women's rights and abortion-rights advocacy groups.


Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat also from California had the following: "Throughout her career, Laphonza Butler has been a strong voice for working families, LGBTQ rights, and a champion for increasing women's representation in politics;" and that he was "honored to welcome her to the United States Senate."


Similar sentiments have been echoed across the board with Tony Hoang, the executive director of Equality California- an LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group, stating that "this historic appointment by Governor Newsom will give our LGBTQ+ community another voice in Congress at a time when our rights and freedoms are under attack across the country."


President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Jodi Hicks weighed in as well stating that Butler has been "a national leader in the fight for reproductive freedom."


Congratulations to the newly appointed Senator Laphonza Butler! The Gaye Family looks forward to watching you as you continue to make history!


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