Lesbian US Senator Butler meets with SF youth

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Saturday January 27, 2024
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U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler spoke to an audience of youth and community leaders Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco's Don Fisher Clubhouse. Photo: Rick Gerharter
U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler spoke to an audience of youth and community leaders Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco's Don Fisher Clubhouse. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, during her first official community event in San Francisco as California's junior senator, met with youth leaders Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco's Don Fisher Clubhouse near City Hall. It was part of a Northern California barnstorm that also had her in Fresno on Friday.

"I have a responsibility in this moment to make sure I am in service of those generations coming after me," said Butler. "There are those who believe the biggest threat to our democracy is happening in November. I think the biggest threat is happening in high schools and colleges. That threat is their cynicism about the effectiveness of government."

Her visit to the youth services organization's building on Fulton Street bordering San Francisco's Hayes Valley and Fillmore districts included a private 90-minute roundtable discussion with young people from the boy's and girl club and University of San Francisco on topics including reproductive rights, jobs, and the economy.

"It was a great discussion," said Krisabelle Zhao, 18, the Excelsior Clubhouse 2023 Youth of the Year, of the time spent with Butler.

Talking about reproductive rights was particularly relevant, she added, since she wants to be an OB-GYN. The San Francisco native is currently enrolled at City College and plans to transfer to a four-year college as she pursues a career in the medical field.

"I felt very privileged and honored to be given this opportunity," said Zhao, who told the Bay Area Reporter it was her first time meeting face to face with a U.S. senator.

Afterward Butler addressed a crowd of youth and local community leaders, including San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, followed by a brief press gaggle with local media. She noted it was her fourth such event, having also met with youth at open houses in Los Angeles and San Diego.

"What I am truly trying to accomplish is to make sure that whoever is our elected official knows that your voice is heard," said Butler. "In opening the house the intention is truly to open the house of government and invite you into the center."

Butler explained she wanted to hold such events with youth to counter the cynicism younger people may feel about their government, leading them to vote less frequently than older Americans and feel elected leaders are not concerned about their futures. Her staff used the event to inform the youth what services they can access via the senator's office.

"Unless we open the house and truly give you the information you need to make it work for you, we are not really building that participatory government," said Butler.

In the audience was gay Oakland resident Sean Sullivan, who owns several LGBTQ nighttime venues in the East Bay city. He attended Butler's event due to his involvement with the youth services and housing provider Covenant House, where he once worked and continues to support. With 40% of homeless youth LGBTQ, Sullivan told the B.A.R. it is important to highlight that fact for the senator as she works to address the state's housing crisis.

"I think it is awesome the senator is making it a hallmark of her short tenure to reach out and talk to young people," said Sullivan, adding that her making herself accessible to them and emphasizing that "no one has it figured out is really important."

Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco President Rob Connolly welcomed Butler at the start of the public portion of her open house. He thanked her for taking the time to meet with and hear directly from youth about what concerns they have.

"I am really pleased to have met the senator today. She is incredibly approachable and an incredibly personable woman," said Connolly.

Following the death last fall of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), who had occupied her Senate seat for decades, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Butler, 44, to serve out the remainder of Feinstein's term through early 2025. The second Black woman to represent the Golden State in the U.S. Senate — Vice President Kamala Harris was the first — and the first LGBTQ person to do so, Butler subsequently decided against seeking election this year for a full six-year term.

"If I can, and we can together choose together, to open the doors of this office to ensure this is not my seat but our seat, not my voice but our voice, then no matter who is in this seat, or whatever seat we are talking about, will have elevated the conversation," said Butler.

As Feinstein, who had been suffering from various health issues, also had announced early last year she would not run for reelection, several Democratic members of the state's House delegation seek to succeed her. Southern California Congressmembers Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine, and Bay Area Congressmember Barbara Lee of Oakland all hope to survive the March 5 primary where the top two vote-getters regardless of party will advance to the November ballot.

San Francisco's main LGBTQ Democratic Clubs, Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk, both endorsed Lee in the race. The B.A.R. also endorsed Lee this week, joining other news organizations like the Sacramento Bee and Modesto Bee in backing the Black progressive politician.

Butler has yet to endorse in the contest.

The immediate past president of Emily's List, which works to elect more women to public office, Butler recently marked her first 100 days in her federal position. This month she co-authored legislation to provide tax relief for those affected by natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.

Earlier this week Butler joined with her Democratic colleagues to reiterate their support for the U.S. having a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

"The end to decades of conflict can only come ultimately with a solution that both ensures Israel's security and a state for the Palestinian people," stated Butler in a January 24 news release. "These two objectives can coexist, and any effort to delegitimize either side moves us away from a lasting peace. Our democratic and American values point us to what we already know to be true: every human being deserves to live in safety with freedom and dignity."

Toward the end of her event, noting that San Francisco "is the heart of California politics," Butler pledged it wouldn't be the last time she met with her constituents in the city.

"It is great this is the first time we got together. Let's make sure this is not the last time," said Butler.

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