6 Black queer women changing the face of American politics

Satana Deberry
Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Satana Deberry Photo: Campaign Photo

As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s especially important to call out the Black queer leaders who inspire us all in their fight for a more just and representative democracy. Black queer women have long been at the forefront of important social movements that have expanded our country’s vision for who belongs. We want to highlight Black queer women in particular because – despite record gains in recent election cycles – the fact remains that Black queer women are woefully underrepresented in government bodies everywhere.

With primaries well underway, the U.S. has kicked off the most consequential election cycle in generations. We must do all we can to ensure our institutions represent the people they serve and put more leaders like these six Black queer and trans women in the halls of power.

Pennsylvania State Rep. La’Tasha Mayes

La’Tasha D. Mayes
La’Tasha D. Mayes/Facebook

When Democrats won back the Pennsylvania House in 2022, the diverse new majority caucus included a record five out LGBTQ+ members, including lesbian reproductive rights activist La’Tasha D. Mayes. (Total LGBTQ+ membership grew to six following the 2023 special election victory of Victory Fund-endorsed Rep. Abigail Salisbury.)

During her first term in office, Mayes has been an outspoken leader on LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive freedom, championing measures to improve maternal health, safeguard access to abortion, ban hairstyle discrimination that largely affects Black Americans and enshrine anti-discrimination for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians into law. She serves as co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and is the founder and former president of New Voices for Reproductive Justice.

Senator Laphonza Butler

Laphonza Butler
LGBTQ+ Victory Institute

In a move that few expected, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) chose political strategist Laphonza Butler (D) to fill the Golden State’s vacant seat in the U.S. Senate following the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D). Though she chose not to launch a candidacy for a full term (which is on the ballot this year), Butler’s selection makes her the highest-ranking Black LGBTQ+ official in American politics. She’s also the only Black woman currently serving in the United States Senate and just the third in history.

Since taking office, Butler has stepped into Feinstein’s seat on the Judiciary Committee, ending the logjam of judicial confirmations. Butler used her maiden speech on the Senate floor to uplift young activists, saying “Whether it’s the movements for gun reform, environmental protection, racial justice, or your local baristas fight to join a union, young people are demonstrating their willingness to be the force, the energy, and the face of change.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

Karine Jean-Pierre
LGBTQ+ Victory Fund

Karine Jean-Pierre – a longtime strategist and spokesperson for progressive candidates and causes – became one of the most visible LGBTQ+ people in the world when she became White House press secretary. Jean-Pierre’s impressive résumé includes work for the Obama administration, Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign and MoveOn.org before she became deputy White House press secretary at the beginning of the Biden administration.

As press secretary, Jean-Pierre serves as the administration’s frontline spokesperson on all issues, including LGBTQ+ equality. During her remarks on Lesbian Visibility Day last year, she reaffirmed the Biden White House’s commitment to LGBTQ+ young people, saying, “But LGBTQI+ youth are resilient — and you’ve heard me say this before, you’ve heard the President say this before. They are fierce. They fight back. They aren’t going anywhere.”

Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins
Clarissa Villondo LGBTQ+ Victory Fund

Best known as the first out Black transgender woman to win public office in U.S. history, Andrea Jenkins won her 2023 re-election to represent Ward 8 on the Minneapolis City Council, where she also serves as Council president. She represents the district where George Floyd was murdered in 2020 and led Minneapolis in passing broad reforms to its police system. Minneapolis became one of the largest cities to outlaw LGBTQ+ “conversion therapy” practices under her leadership in 2019, when it passed the ordinance she co-authored with Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham, who is also Black and trans.

Rhode Island State Senator Tiara Mack

Tiara Mack
Langston Bowen Photography Campaign Photo

In 2020, Tiara Mack unseated an anti-equality and anti-choice Democratic state senator and became the first Black queer woman elected to serve in Rhode Island’s legislature. Since then, she’s shepherded through bills ranging from a measure providing abortion access for state employees and Medicaid recipients to one making Juneteenth a paid state holiday. She’s a particularly effective member of the State Senate’s Housing and Municipal Committee, Commerce Committee and Education Committee, and she has passed bills on tenant rights and lead safety. Mack is the youngest member of the Rhode Island Senate.

Durham County, NC District Attorney Satana Deberry

Satana Deberry
Campaign Photo

Satana Deberry is an elected prosecutor in one of North Carolina’s largest counties, placing her among the most visible queer people in the state. Her career has included serving as General Counsel for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Executive Director of the nonprofit North Carolina Housing Coalition before being elected to her first term as Durham County District Attorney in 2019.

In office, she’s outpaced all other prosecutors in the state in going after “cold case” sexual assaults and eliminating the backlog for processing rape kits. A progressive prosecutor, Deberry is a Democratic candidate for North Carolina Attorney General this year. She is a recipient of the North Carolina Justice Center’s 2020 Defender of Justice Award for Litigation, the Duke Law Alumni Association’s 2020 Charles S. Murphy Award for Civic Service, and Attorney General Josh Stein’s Dogwood Award.

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