Laphonza Butler sworn in as first Black lesbian senator in Congress: ‘California will be better-served’ 

Vice president Harris swears in Laphonza Butler

Laphonza Butler has become the first out person of colour in the US senate, and only the third Black woman in the chamber ever.

She was chosen by California governor Gavin Newsom to replace Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in history, who died aged 90 last week. 

Butler, 44, was sworn in on Tuesday (3 October) by US vice-president Kamala Harris, who is embarking on a tour of universities, encouraging young people to get involved in politics and register to vote.

Harris was a US senator for California from 2017 to 2021, with the only other Black woman in the senate being Carol Moseley Braun, of Illinois, who held office from 1993 until 1999.

Butler’s appointment brings the number of current Black senators to four – an all-time high. She joins fellow Democrats Cory Booker, of New Jersey, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott. 

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On X, formerly called Twitter, Harris wrote that she was honoured to swear in Butler, who she believes will “serve Californians with grit and grace”. 

Butler, a mother-of-one, took to her X account on 2 October to write that she is ready to serve, adding: “No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honour her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents and all of California.” 

The Congressional Black Caucus also held a ceremonial swearing-in for the new senator. 

In a comment about the ceremony, the group wrote: “Our caucus and the state of California will be better-served because of Senator Butler’s years of leadership, and we are immensely honoured to add her expertise to our ranks.”

The group added that, thanks to her years of advocacy, Butler is “uniquely positioned to serve the people of California and our nation at a time when the rights of women, Black Americans, workers and LGBTQ+ people are under attack”. 

Laphonza Butler (L) next to her wife, Neneki Lee, with her mother and vice-president Kamala Harris (R) after the historic swearing-in ceremony in Washington DC. (Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)

In announcing Butler’s appointment to serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term, which runs until 2025, Newsom described her as a staunch leader who will represent the state “proudly” and “carry the baton” in fighting for “all Californians in Washington DC”. 

She was the Democratic strategist and advisor to Harris during the 2020 presidential campaign and is also the president of Emily’s List, where she was the first woman of colour and mother to lead the political action committee which focuses on getting Democratic pro-choice women elected to office.