Recent Comments


    Laphonza Butler Makes History as the First Black Lesbian to Serve Openly in the U.S. Congress

    Governor Gavin Newsom on October 1, 2023, announced the selection of Laphonza Butler—the President of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to electing women, EMILY’s List—to complete the United States Senate term of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, which runs through 2024.

    Butler, a longtime senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, labor leader, and advocate for women and working people, is now the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate. She is also be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate following Vice President Kamala Harris.

    “An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” said Governor Newsom. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for—reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence—have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington, D.C.”

    Laphonza Butler with Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and campaign workers.

    Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Kelley Robinson said, “The appointment of Laphonza Butler to the Senate is a landmark moment in the fight for social, racial, and economic justice. As the first Black lesbian to represent California in the United States Senate, Laphonza brings a compelling voice for abortion rights, the labor movement, and civil rights into Congress. Her leadership is a testament to the legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s strong record of pro-LGBTQ+ support.”

    Robinson added, “The threats to reproductive freedoms and LGBTQ+ families emanating from the Supreme Court and anti-equality politicians are twin crises that require immediate attention, and Laphonza Butler is an exceptional advocate on both of these issues. We thank Governor Newsom for making an excellent choice in Laphonza Butler to succeed Senator Feinstein.”

    Actor and LGBTQ activist George Takei wrote, “This is a proud moment for the LGBTQ+ community because Butler is a prominent Black lesbian political organizer! A former labor leader and a well-regarded figure in state politics for nearly 15 years, Butler was the former leader of California’s largest labor union and an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris. In 2021, she took the helm at EMILY’s List to help elect female candidates and supporters of reproductive rights.”

    Laphonza Butler on stage at an Emily’s List conference

    Butler comes from a working-class family. Her father, who was a small-business owner, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died when Butler was 16 years old. Her mother was the household’s sole provider, working as a classroom aide, a home care provider, a security guard, and a bookkeeper to provide for Butler and her two siblings.

    With her selection to the Senate, Butler has stepped down from her role as President of EMILY’s List, where she was the first woman of color and mother to lead the organization. Prior to joining EMILY’s List, Butler ran political campaigns and led strategy efforts for numerous companies, organizations, and elected leaders—including for Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Butler was a key leader of Vice President Harris’ presidential campaign. For more than a decade, she served as the president of the largest labor union in California—SEIU Local 2015—a union representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers throughout the state.

    Previously, Butler served as President of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW) and also as SEIU’s Property Services Division Director, in which she was responsible for the strategic direction of organizing on behalf of more than 250,000 janitors, security officers, window cleaners, and food service workers across the country. Butler also served as an SEIU International Vice President and President of the SEIU California State Council.


    President of the SEIU Local 2015, Arnulfo De La Cruz, issued the following statement on October 1 concerning the appointment of Butler to the Senate: “Today is a proud day for SEIU 2015 and hundreds of thousands of caregivers across California as our dynamic and inspiring former President of over a decade, Laphonza Butler, was appointed by Governor Newsom to fill the seat of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.”

    He continued, “Laphonza has been steadfast in her dedication to improving the lives of everyday Americans and bringing long-term care workers, women of color, and immigrants out of the shadows and to the forefront of our national conscience where they belong. Laphonza will bring a fresh perspective to the U.S. Senate from her decades of experience in the labor movement fighting for racial and economic justice, as well as her experience being a mother and serving as an inspiration for young women of color everywhere.”

    “Laphonza’s tenure as President of SEIU 2015 and SEIU California was inspirational and impactful—she achieved historic victories, including the passage of the nation’s first $15 statewide minimum wage that changed the lives of millions of Californians, for which Laphonza’s leadership was honored by President Obama,” he added. “At this pivotal moment, pro-worker voices like Laphonza Butler are absolutely imperative to ensure progress for working families. We look forward to seeing the impact we know Laphonza will have in her new role.”

    Butler was the former Director of the Board of Governors of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve System. In 2018, she was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents by Governor Jerry Brown, where she served until 2021. She served in various other roles, including as a board member for the National Children’s Defense Fund, BLACK PAC, and the Bay Area Economic Council Institute, and as a fellow for the MIT Community Innovators Lab. As De La Cruz indicated, Butler was named a “Champion for Change” by President Barack Obama.

    Butler received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Jackson State University. She is married to her wife, Neneki Lee, and together they have an 8-year-old daughter, Nylah.

    Published on October 5, 2023