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Laphonza Butler sworn in, makes history as first Black openly lesbian U.S. Senator

Laphonza Butler was sworn into the Senate Tuesday afternoon, making history as the first openly lesbian Black senator to serve in Congress, and the first openly LGBTQ senator to represent California. She will also be the third Black woman to ever serve in the Senate.

Butler was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to fill late California senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat for the remainder of the term through 2024. Feinstein died Thursday at the age of 90, after a historic career as the longest-serving woman in the Senate. 

Feinstein had declared earlier this year that she would retire after her term end, putting the seat up for election in November 2024. The current candidates for the seat are Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff. Although Butler was not in the running prior to her appointment, it is unclear as of yet whether she will run next year.

Prior to Butler’s appointment, Governor Newsom had specified that his choice would be an ‘interim’ appointment and that he was unlikely to appoint any candidate already running for the position. Schiff and Porter are endorsed by former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), respectively. NBC News reported that The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had urged Newsom to appoint Barbara Lee, a Black woman and California Rep. of 25 years. 

The Congressional Black Caucus held a ceremonial swearing in for Butler earlier Tuesday. Chairman Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev) released a statement saying that the CBC is looking forward to the “much-needed perspective” Butler will bring to the Senate with “her background and years of experience” and as the sole Black woman currently serving in the Senate. 

Butler has a long career as a Democratic strategist, having served as a key advisor for Vice President Kamala Harris in her 2020 presidential campaign. Harris swore in Butler as senator in the official Senate ceremony Tuesday afternoon. 

Although Butler was born in Mississippi and currently resides in Maryland, she owns a home in California and has spent a significant portion of her professional career serving the state. Butler led SEIU Local 2015, the largest union in California, for more than a decade and served on the governing board of the University of California system from 2018 to 2021. As president of the SEIU State Council, she advocated to boost California’s minimum wage requirement. Aside from her career in the public sphere, she has also worked as a director at Airbnb and has advised Uber. 

Butler moved to Maryland in 2021 upon becoming the first Black woman president of Emily’s List, the national political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women in American politics. She held the position from 2021 until this week, when she stepped down to accept the Senate seat. 

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.”

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https://www.cnbc.com/2023/10/03/laphonza-butler-sworn-in-makes-history-as-first-black-openly-lesbian-us-senator.html Laphonza Butler sworn in, makes history as first Black openly lesbian U.S. Senator

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