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Dianne Feinstein dies at 90

Calif. Democrat elected to U.S. Senate in 1992

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Sept. 4, 2018, to consider the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has died at the age of 90.

Her office in a statement said the California Democrat, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1992, passed away at her Washington home on Thursday night.

Feinstein in 1978 became San Francisco’s mayor after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk. 

“Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving,” reads the statement that Feinstein’s office released.

“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” it added. “At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.”

President Joe Biden, who served alongside Feinstein in the Senate from 1992 to 2009, released a statement calling her “a pioneering American,” “a true trailblazer,” and “for Jill and me, a cherished friend.”

“In San Francisco, she showed enormous poise and courage in the wake of tragedy, and became a powerful voice for American values. Serving in the Senate together for more than 15 years, I had a front row seat to what Dianne was able to accomplish. It’s why I recruited her to serve on the Judiciary Committee when I was Chairman – I knew what she was made of, and I wanted her on our team.

“There’s no better example of her skillful legislating and sheer force of will than when she turned passion into purpose, and led the fight to ban assault weapons. Dianne made her mark on everything from national security to the environment to protecting civil liberties. She’s made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations.

“Often the only woman in the room, Dianne was a role model for so many Americans – a job she took seriously by mentoring countless public servants, many of whom now serve in my Administration. She had an immense impact on younger female leaders for whom she generously opened doors. Dianne was tough, sharp, always prepared, and never pulled a punch, but she was also a kind and loyal friend, and that’s what Jill and I will miss the most.

As we mourn with her daughter Katherine and the Feinstein family, her team in the Senate, and the people of California, we take comfort that Dianne is reunited again with her beloved Richard. May God Bless Dianne Feinstein.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, who served alongside Feinstein as U.S. Senator for California from 2017 to 2021 and, previously, was California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, issued the following statement:

“Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the greatest public servants that California and our nation has ever known.

“As the first woman president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco, and the longest-tenured woman to serve in the United States Senate, Dianne Feinstein broke barriers, inspired generations of women to run for office, and improved the lives of millions of Americans through her vision, courage, and leadership.

“From her work to help pass the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, to her work to safeguard California’s public lands, and her longstanding advocacy for reproductive rights, marriage equality, and LGBTQ+ rights, Senator Feinstein helped build a better America.

“For years, I witnessed Senator Feinstein’s leadership, when the cameras were on and when they were off. In 2008, when I was re-elected District Attorney of San Francisco, it was Senator Feinstein who swore me in. As a United States Senator, it was my honor to serve the people of California alongside Senator Feinstein.

“On the Senate Intelligence Committee, we spent a great deal of time together—in classified, bipartisan briefings and hearings—working on issues critical to America’s national security and the stability of the world. Senator Feinstein and I shared a fundamental belief in the importance of strong American leadership. And I saw firsthand how she worked courageously to ensure that our leadership was guided by our nation’s values.

“In the tradition of so many great Senators from California, she was not only a leader for our state, but for our nation and our world. Through her long career, Senator Feinstein worked across the aisle to help our nation live up to its promise.

“Doug and I send our prayers to Senator Feinstein’s family.”

The Vice President of the United States, Kamala D. Harris & U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) (Official White House photo)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom shared a statment on X.

Addressing the Senate floor on Friday, California Sen. Alex Padilla (D) said, “long before being able to serve together here in the Senate, Diane gave me one of my first jobs in politics in her Los Angeles office. At a time early in my career, when I was looking to make a difference for my community, and for our state. It’s in part thanks to her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day not just work for her but work alongside her to keep up the fight for the American dream.”

Padilla also shared an anecdote about how Feinstein showed him a photograph, from her archives, of the AIDS Walk San Francisco in 1987, which she had inscribed with a handwritten note.

Also speaking from the floor in tribute to their late colleague following an address from the Senate Chaplain and a moment of silence were Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The statement by U.S. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touched on the senator’s early career in Democratic politics: “Dianne was a pioneering woman leader, who served as San Francisco’s first female Mayor with unmatched courage, poise and grace.  Standing strong amid horror and heartbreak – from the brutal murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone to the deadly HIV/AIDs epidemic – she offered our City a beacon of strength and hope.”

“Personally, it was a great honor to serve alongside Dianne for decades – from the hilly streets of San Francisco to the hallowed halls of Congress,” Pelosi said. “We were not only colleagues, but neighbors and friends.”

She added, “My daughter, Nancy Corinne, has long been an admirer and devoted friend of Senator Feinstein, and we were all close friends with her and her late husband, Richard.”

LGBTQ groups issue statements on Feinstein’s passing

“Senator Dianne Feinstein’s passing is a loss for us all,” tweeted Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “Her steadfast support for the LGBTQ+ community and the fight for justice will be remembered. We carry her legacy forward in our relentless pursuit of equality without exception.”

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, released a statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang on Friday. “Senator Feinstein devoted her life to serving the people of California and our nation, championing LGBTQ+ civil rights, reproductive freedom, gun safety reform and democracy throughout her remarkable career. Senator Feinstein stood with our community back when few others did, fighting for funding and action to combat the AIDS crisis when most elected officials chose to look away.”

“On the Board of Supervisors and then as Mayor, she played a crucial role in uniting San Francisco after the horrific assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, demonstrating exceptional leadership and compassion at a time when our LGBTQ+ community needed it most,” the group wrote.

“Her role in American history is unmistakably intertwined with LGBTQ+ history and the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk,” Brian K. Bond, CEO of PFLAG National, said. “She had been a constant and strident advocate for LGBTQ+ rights ever since, supporting marriage equality, military service for LGBTQ+ people, the Equality Act, and so much more.

“PFLAG families in California and across the country mourn the loss of this stalwart advocate who worked to make our laws just and equitable so every LGBTQ+ person could live with dignity and respect.”

“Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk posted “After the assassination of Uncle Harvey – Senator Feinstein rose to national attention – determined, unwavering champion on women’s rights, gun control & eventually a consistent supporter of LGBTQ inclusion,” Stuart Milk, co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, posted on X. “She is the patron of the USNS Harvey Milk -deep condolences Godspeed Dianne,” he wrote, referring to the U.S. Navy ship named for the late gay rights pioneer.

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson said, “The loss of Senator Feinstein’s voice as an advocate and champion is immeasurable. Our hearts are with her family during this time. She was a champion for those who call California home and those seeking justice everywhere.”

“She was a trailblazer who paved the way for so many. Her deep roots in the queer community, forged as a city councilmember in San Francisco and shaped by her relationship with Harvey Milk, contributed to her unwavering supporting for LGBTQ people,” Johnson said.

She added that Feinstein was “a leader who took risks. She was an original cosponsor of the Equality Act and a key champion for legislation like the Violence Against Women Act. She is succeeded by and undoubtedly inspired a deep bench of congress people like Tammy Baldwin who are bold and  unapologetic freedom fighters who are unrelenting in their quest for freedom and justice for all! She will be deeply missed.”

A look back at Feinstein’s career

A native San Franciscan born in the city on June 22, 1933, she first attended San Francisco public schools and then graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in 1951.

She earned her degree at Stanford University in Palo Alto in 1955 and became actively involved in government service first serving as a member of the California Women’s Board of Terms and Parole 1960-1966.

In her first foray into city politics she won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing the Marina neighborhood, serving from 1970-1978, and as president 1970-1971, 1974-1975, 1978.

In 1978 Feinstein was thrust into the state and national political spotlight when on November 27, 1978 she became the mayor of San Francisco, after disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White entered City Hall and assassinated Mayor George Moscone after Moscone refused to appoint White back into his seat he had resigned from days before. White then also murdered openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk who had sparred with White over gay rights and had opposed White getting his seat back.

Feinstein served as mayor for ten years from 1978-1988 then she served on the board as a director of the Bank of California 1988-1989 at which point she made an unsuccessful run as a candidate for Governor of California in 1990.

After losing that race for governor in 1990, Feinstein later won a special election on November 3, 1992, as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The special election was triggered by the resignation of Pete Wilson, who had defeated her in the 1990 gubernatorial election. She took office on November 4, 1992, and was subsequently reelected in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012, and again in 2018 for the term ending January 3, 2025.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Photo Credit: Rick Gerharter/Bay Area Reporter)

Feinstein’s record on LGBTQ+ rights was mixed

Senator Feinstein’s record on LGBTQ+ rights was mixed as reported on by San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ newspaper The Bay Area Reporter’s Assistant Editor John Ferrannini who noted:

Earlier in that campaign [1979] she’d faced some opposition from members of the LGBTQ community after she made remarks to Ladies’ Home Journal perceived as homophobic, but later won community support after gay candidate David Scott endorsed her in a runoff against independent Quentin Kopp. Scott endorsed Feinstein after she committed to appoint a gay person to the police oversight panel, which Feinstein followed through on with her appointment of lesbian Jo Daly.

Feinstein’s veto of city employee benefits for domestic partners led to a recall effort in 1983, though she won 81% to 18%.

[…]

 In the Senate she was one of the few Democratic members who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which had been supported by then-senator and current President Joe Biden (D). The last vestiges of DOMA were formally repealed in December when Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. DOMA had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges).

Feinstein was never without controversy though, and in 2004 upset more progressive Democrats when she said then-mayor and now Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to order San Francisco officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was “too much, too fast, too soon.”

[…]

She was criticized in 2020 when she said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing was “one of the best” and hugged Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barrett’s vote last June on the Supreme Court was key for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion as a constitutional right, a key issue for Feinstein.

In 2017 the Senator openly criticized then President Trump’s ban on trans military service.

Feinstein in February announced her decision to retire at the end of her term. “I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” she said in a statement.

Out gay California state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) wrote on Twitter:

“Dianne Feinstein has been a trailblazer for more than 50 years,” he stated. “Her accomplishments are legion. We’re so proud of her in San Francisco & grateful for her service to our city & our state.”

Equality California released a statement from Hoang:

“Throughout her storied political career, Dianne Feinstein has been a champion for LGBTQ+ rights – from her early days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors serving alongside Harvey Milk, to her historic service as the first woman Mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to represent California in the United States Senate.

“From being one of only 14 Senators to oppose the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 to being the lead Senate sponsor on the recently-signed Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed DOMA, Senator Feinstein has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of not only her constituents, but all LGBTQ+ Americans.

“She has supported landmark federal hate crime legislation, fought for access to life-saving treatment for people living with HIV, sponsored the Equality Act, spoken out in support of LGBTQ+ service members before and after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, and has stood up for our community – even before it was popular to do so and when it presented significant political risks. Senator Feinstein has also been a leading champion in the fight against gun violence, recently reintroducing legislation to ban high-capacity magazines in the wake of deadly mass shootings like those at Club Q – an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado.  Equality California has been proud to call her a friend and ally –we are eternally grateful for her service and will continue to work with her as she finishes out her term.”

Additional reporting by Michael Lavers and Brody Levesque

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Congress

Garcia slams effort to ban drag shows as GOP passes NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

Equality Caucus denounces anti-LGBTQ amendments

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”
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Congress

Merkley, joined by Advocates for Trans Equality, makes Equality Act push

Ore. senator said ‘our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year’

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Biden-Harris campaign debuts ads targeting LGBTQ voters

Ads to begin running Tuesday

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Pride month ad (Photo courtesy of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign)

The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month ahead of November’s election.

“These ads will be featured across national and battleground LGBTQ+ media outlets, and will run throughout the month,” the campaign explained in a press release.

The aim is to “uplift” Biden’s record as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history” while also highlighting “Donald Trump’s history of attacking their rights and his plans to go further.”

One ad that was previewed exclusively by the Washington Blade reads, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are fighting for the LGBTQ community!” with a photo of the president and vice president.

Another, formatted for social media, features a photo of Pride flags atop a quote from the “PBS NewsHour”: “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been outlining what he plans to do if elected in November. That includes rolling back the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people. It’s part of a wider playbook to undo many civil rights advances for minority groups.”

“This Pride is an important time to remember the progress we’ve made for our community under President Biden, and the stakes of this election for LGBTQ+ Americans as Trump proudly runs to strip us of our rights,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson Kevin Munoz, who is gay.

“From threatening IVF treatments to threatening LGBTQ+ marriages, Trump’s Project 2025 agenda would rip away our rights, and sow needless hate and division for Trump’s political gain,” he said. “LGBTQ+ Americans deserve to hear from us about these stakes, and this buy shows we will continue to show up and make our case to them in this election.”

The ad blitz on Tuesday comes after the campaign’s announcement of a paid media and organizing push for Pride month, which includes sizable investments in courting LGBTQ voters in battleground states.

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