This last fall, Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away at the age of 90. The first woman to represent the state of California, Feinstein’s seat was filled a week later by another woman making some firsts of her own. Labor leader, political strategist and advocate Laphonza Butler was appointed to fill Feinstein’s seat about a week after her passing. She is now the sole Black woman serving in Congress as a U.S. Senator, the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate, and the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history. She is also one of the few Black women to represent the state of California following Vice President Kamala Harris.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Butler is a prominent figure in the labor movement and an advocate for women’s rights. After moving to California in 2009, Butler became the president of the biggest union in California and the largest homecare workers union, SEIU Local 2015. She was elected to this position at just 30 years old, one of the youngest to take on the role and was responsible for raising the minimum wage rate to $15 an hour in the first state to do so. Including her experiences with SEIU, Butler now holds nearly 20 years of experience working within the labor movement.
Butler has also become a highly regarded strategist for electoral campaigns with the Democratic party. In 2018, she became a partner at SCRB Strategies. At this political consulting firm, she served as the senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in California during the primary and general elections. A longtime supporter of Kamala Harris, Butler has also advocated for many of Harris’ elections, acting as the senior advisor to her presidential campaign before Harris became the vice president. Most recently, Butler was a campaign operative behind the campaign to make the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors all-women for the first time in its history with the election of Holly Mitchell.
Before coming to the Senate, Butler became the third president of EMILYs List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics. She also served as the director of public policy and campaigns for Airbnb in North America. Butler has been a member of the University of California Board of Regents and the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund and BLACK PAC.
As the first openly lesbian Black woman to serve in Congress, her presence in the Senate has been widely celebrated, especially amongst the LGBTQ+ community. As California is the home to a large percentage of the country’s LGBTQ+ community, Butler’s presence in the Senate is expected to bring a louder voice to issues concerning the rights of the LGBTQ+ community on a state and national level.
“I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home,” Butler stated in a press release with EMILYs List. “I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation.”