Political Notes: LGBTQ leaders post remembrances of late senator Feinstein

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday September 29, 2023
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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, left, posed with a young José Luis Solache, now a Lynwood, California city councilmember, that was taken when he took a field trip to Washington, D.C. Photo: Courtesy José Luis Solache
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, left, posed with a young José Luis Solache, now a Lynwood, California city councilmember, that was taken when he took a field trip to Washington, D.C. Photo: Courtesy José Luis Solache

Dressed in a suit and tie, a beaming teenage José Luis Solache poses with a smiling U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose left hand embraces him on his shoulder. Behind them hanging on the wall is the seal of California.

Solache, a gay man who now serves on the city council in the Los Angeles County city of Lynwood, posted the photo Friday in tribute to Feinstein, who died September 28 at the age of 90. The picture was taken during his first trip to Washington, D.C. during which he was able to meet the pioneering Democratic politician in her Senate office.

"May our California U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein rest in power!" wrote Solache, who is seeking the state's Assembly District 62 seat next year.

He was one of numerous LGBTQ leaders across the Golden State who woke up Friday morning to the news of Feinstein's passing and took to social media to post tributes to her and express their condolences. Gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres, a longtime Democratic Party official in the South Bay, also posted on his personal Facebook page a photo of himself with Feinstein taken during a political event in the early 2000s.

"Rest in Peace Senator Dianne Feinstein. You were a trailblazer," wrote Torres. "You inspired millions of women to lead. Lastly, you were the biggest ally for our LGBTQ+ community, especially in the the early days of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, when our community did not have many allies. Thank you for courage and leadership Dianne."

Lesbian West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, who in 2020 became the first known queer Iranian to be elected to public office, posted a tribute to Feinstein on X (formerly Twitter) in which she also called her a "trailblazer" for other women and the LGBTQ community.

"She will be remembered as a mother, a trailblazer and an inspiration of what is possible for so many," wrote Shyne, who is seeking to be elected to the U.S. House seat being vacated next year by Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), as he is running in 2024 for Feinstein's U.S. Senate seat. (Feinstein had announced in February that she would not seek reelection next year.)

In a statement gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) expressed his deep sadness to learn of the passing of "the indomitable" Feinstein.

"As the first openly gay person from California to serve in Congress, and as someone who was publicly outed in 1994, her leadership was personal to me," wrote Takano. "Senator Feinstein was one of only fourteen Senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that denied my community the right to marry. She spent her 30 years in the halls of Congress and decades in the streets of San Francisco taking on bigoted polices and moving the needle on LGBTQI+ equality."

In a tweet gay Congressmember Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach) called Feinstein "an icon who represented California valiantly throughout her career. Her legacy of progressive leadership on LGBTQ+ rights forged a path for a more equal country. She was a hero to our community and I'm incredibly saddened by this loss for our nation."

Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) described Feinstein as "a California legend" in a Facebook post. He shared a photo of him talking with her in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood following a devastating fire there in 2017.

"I worked together with her on California issues for a long time - particularly during my tenure as Secretary for Natural Resources, a subject area she was deeply passionate about," wrote Laird, who was named to the state post by then-governor Jerry Brown. "As California's longest serving United States Senator, she tirelessly advocated for our state's fair share of federal support, championed the assault weapons ban, and blazed a trail for gender equality. My thoughts are with her family during this difficult time of loss."

Gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) was among the many out electeds to share photos of their younger selves with Feinstein and to thank her for her leadership. He wrote in a tweet Friday that he first met her during a week he spent in Washington, D.C. as part of the Presidential Classroom program for high school students.

"That meeting certainly sparked an interest for me in public service," wrote Low, who added a lighting bolt emoji before the word "sparked."

In her own post on X bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege noted that she was just 7 years old in 1992 when Feinstein was first elected to serve in the Senate. It left a lasting impact on her, wrote Holstege, who is running for a state Assembly seat in 2024 and hopes to be one of the first bisexual women elected to the state Legislature.

"Because of her, I grew up seeing a California woman holding the powerful to account, and showing little girls that there was no limit to how we could shape the world," wrote Holstege. "Her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come, and her impact on our nation and the state of California will never be forgotten."

Alhambra City Councilmember Sasha Renée Pérez, aiming to be the first bisexual woman elected to the state Senate next year, praised Feinstein, a former San Francisco supervisor and mayor, in a statement.

"She blazed a trail for women in public service and shined a light on issues too often ignored at the time such as HIV/AIDS, gun violence, and public land conservation," stated Pérez. "She fought for greater visibility for LGBTQ+ people and gender equity. Her leadership created a path for a new generation of women to follow in her footsteps as leaders in their communities. May her memory be a blessing and an inspiration to all."

Gay former Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen, now running to be mayor of his city, called Feinstein's death "a huge loss for California" in a post on Threads.

"Sen. Feinstein was a profile in courage from the killing of Milk & Moscone to her leadership on gun control & more. She was a hero," he wrote, referring to the deaths of the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk and then-mayor George Moscone in 1978, which led to Feinstein's becoming mayor. "My condolences to her family, her staff, and all who loved her."

Former KPIX-TV reporter Hank Plante, left, shared this photo of him with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein taken outside San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Courtesy Hank Plante  

Gay former KPIX-TV reporter Hank Plante, who covered the AIDS epidemic for the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco, was back on his station Friday to recall Feinstein and her legacy. On Facebook, he posted a photo of himself with Feinstein at San Francisco City Hall that the political leader had signed for him, calling him "a great reporter who can give a subject a headache! (Once in a while.)"

"Above all the clutter I hope people will remember this: Mayor Dianne Feinstein's AIDS budget for the City of San Francisco was bigger than President Reagan's AIDS budget was for the entire United States. I was honored to report on her and to really know who she was," wrote Plante, who now lives in Palm Springs.

One of the few LGBTQ leaders to acknowledge their conflicted feelings about Feinstein and her legacy was Gabriel Haaland, a trans man who in 2003 served as president of the progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club in San Francisco and had sought a supervisor seat in 2004. He noted in a Facebook post that Feinstein's "opposition to most of San Francisco's progressive issues left me with a lot of complicated feelings."

Added Haaland, "I can respect her work on the gun ban but I still remember her mean comments to young climate activists. She was a force of nature, and at times she was a force of nature against workers rights, rent control, immigration rights, and yes, even LGBT rights for many years, although eventually she came around."

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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