Sen. Dianne Feinstein, pioneering LGBTQ ally, celebrated and mourned in San Francisco

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, pioneering LGBTQ ally, celebrated and mourned in San Francisco

Terry Collins
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Senator Dianne Feinstein dies at 90California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a trailblazer for women in politics, died at age 90.

Outside of San Francisco’s City Hall, several U.S. flags were at half-staff in memoriam Friday of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Inside, a blue and yellow floral arrangement was gently tucked in the left arm of a bust of a smiling Feinstein erected outside the mayor’s office.

Outside Feinstein’s hilly home in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, a makeshift memorial of yellow, pink and white flowers began to accumulate.

And in the city’s Castro District, a historic haven for the LGBTQ+ community, mourners reflected and celebrated the pioneering politician who passed away Thursday night in Washington, D.C. and who was known as an ally and longtime champion for LGBTQ rights.

Sitting in a coffee shop in the Castro, Mike Karpa, 63, of San Francisco, said Friday that he and his older sister and younger brother began sharing their memories of Feinstein in a group text after learning of her passing.

“We had a big party at my house when she won her seat in the Senate in 1992,” Karpa recalled. “It was a really momentous occasion.”

Karpa said his family recalled when Feinstein made history as the city’s first female mayor after the assassinations of then-Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, her historic Senate run, her gun control advocacy by authoring the 1994 assault weapons ban, which then-President Bill Clinton signed into law, and, of course, her fight for same-sex marriage protections. This included voting against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policies that discriminated against same-sex marriage or LGBTQ people in the military.

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“As a gay man, I appreciate what she did to this day,” said Karpa, a writer, teacher and Japanese translator. “I thought that took some courage.”

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who is openly gay and HIV-positive, said he cherished working with Feinstein in his various roles in city government for more than two decades and admired the senator’s determination.

“I come from a generation after Harvey Milk and I don’t know if other generations following me can fully appreciate the bravery it took for Sen. Finestein to stand up for LBGTQ rights and having a bigger budget for AIDS prevention funding that was higher than the federal government when she was the mayor of San Francisco,” Dorsey said. “She was unwavering and fearless when it came to that.” 

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Many national and local LGBTQ+ organizations Friday honored Feinstein.

Feinstein’s passing is “a loss for us all,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, said in a statement. “She was a fearless champion for equality, (a) tireless fighter for justice, and paved the way for a new generation of women in leadership. Her history is our history.”

The organization recognized Feinstein as the original co-sponsor of the Equality Act, which seeks to protect LGBTQ people under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a lead sponsor of the Respect For Marriage Act, which protects interracial and LGBTQ couples, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

“We mourn her loss, but we carry her legacy forward by committing to the fight for equality and justice without exception,” Robinson said.

Feinstein’s support for LGBTQ+ rights “shattered glass ceilings,” Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Joe Hollendoner said.

“I experienced her leadership firsthand during my time at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, witnessing her fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Hollendoner said in a statement. “her fight, her legacy, and her bravery will remain eternal.”

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Closer to home, Okan Sengun, executive director and co-founder of the San Francisco-based LGBT Asylum Project, said Finestein was a strong backer of comprehensive immigration reform and advocated finding a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“She has supported legislation to ensure that LGBTQ+ immigrants are treated fairly and with dignity, including advocating for asylum protections for individuals facing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Sengun said. “Rest in peace, Senator! We will always remember you!”

Feinstein celebrated by people of San Francisco

Many Feinstein fans appreciated her strong persona.

“She was her own person, she didn’t care what anyone thought,” Karpa said. “She could be infuriating at times, but you want a person who has their own mind and can think for themselves.”.

He remembers when Feinstein voted against sending funding to help Ukraine around 20 years ago, but changed her mind after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

“I’m glad she eventually came around,” Karpa said. “It’s good to be inconsistent sometimes.”

Meanwhile, at another coffee shop across the street in the Castro, San Francisco native Carmen Alfaro-Rojas, 45, said Friday she reminisced with her mother on the phone about Feinstein after learning about the senator’s death.

“I’m incredibly sad. As Latinos, we take a lot of pride in a lot of the activism the senator did on our behalf,” said Alfaro-Rojas, whose family migrated to San Francisco from El Salvador in the 1960s. “And as a woman, and as a mother, like myself, she showed that we can be seen and heard as effective leaders. She paved the way.”

An office manager for a local construction company, Alfaro-Rojas said she wasn’t surprised that Feinstein remained in the Senate, despite the constant calls for her to step down, until she took her final breath.

“She wanted to serve her country, state, and even this city no matter what,” Alfaro-Rojas said. “I’m glad she showed the strength and tenacity to hold on, right until the end.”   

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