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Gavin Newsom Chooses Queer Democratic Activist Laphonza Butler to Fill Dianne Feinstein’s Senate Seat

Gavin Newsom Chooses Queer Democratic Activist Laphonza Butler to Fill Dianne Feinstein’s Senate Seat

Laphonza Butler
Araya Doheny/Getty Images for EMILYs List

Laphonza Butler makes history as the first out person of color in the Senate.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom has tapped out Democratic strategist Laphonza Butler to fill the Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein, who died on Friday.

Butler will now be the first LGBTQ+ person of color to serve in the U.S Senate. She will serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term, which ends next year.

Newsom’s office confirmed the news of Butler’s selection to the Los Angeles Times. The Democratic governor fulfilled a promise to appoint a Black woman to the seat.

"I'm honored to accept Gov. [Gavin Newsom's] nomination to be U.S. Senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation," Butler wrote in tweet on Monday. She added: "No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California. I am ready to serve."

Butler leads EMILY’s List, a political group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Before becoming president of EMILY’S List, Butler ran a labor union and served as an advisor for Vice President Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Related: Dianne Feinstein: An LGBTQ+ Rights Champion

The Times notes that Butler’s selection is not only historic but it may cause even more complexity in the lead-up to the 2024 election. The outlet reports that Butler has deep connections across the Democratic political sphere in California and could very well fundraise enough to make her another top candidate to succeed Feinstein.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Katie Porter of Irvine, and Adam B. Schiff of Burbank are all running for Feinstein’s Senate seat. Newsom had previously said he would not name one of the candidates to fill Feinstein’s seat — this was before her death and she was experiencing health problems that caused her to be absent from the Senate.

Butler could be sworn in as early as Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Equality California’s executive director Tony Hoang praised Newsom’s choice in selecting Butler.

"Laphonza Butler is eminently qualified to represent California well in the United States Senate and we are thrilled to congratulate her,” Hoang said in a statement. “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.”

Other LGBTQ+ groups also lauded Newsom's choice.

"Butler's appointment is so important for LGBTQ people, Black people, & women not only in California, but throughout the country," GLAAD's CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Our freedoms are under attack to be ourselves, make our own health care decisions, & have our votes and voices secured."

The Human Rights campaign also celebrated the selection.

"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,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “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."

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