California Governor Gavin Newsom has nominated a 44-year-old Black lesbian, Laphonza Butler, to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by the death of a Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, on Thursday.
Butler will become the only Black woman in the Senate and only the third in U.S. history. She will also be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the Senate, according to Newsom.
Butler will serve through the end of Feinstein’s six-year term in January 2025. She will join the Democrats, who have a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, including three independents who vote with them.
Butler is the president of EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect to office Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights. She became the organization’s third president in 2021. She was the first Black woman and the first mother to lead it.
She has also been a senior adviser to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, and the president of the largest labor union in California, representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers throughout the state.
“Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people,” Newsom, a leading Democrat, said in a social media post on Sunday.
Butler was born in Magnolia, Mississippi, the youngest of three children. Her father died of heart disease when she was 16 years old. She attended South Pike High School in Magnolia and Jackson State University.
She and her partner, Neneki Lee, have a daughter and were living together in Maryland, before the appointment. She had since relocated to California to register as a voter.