Barbara Lee was born in El Paso, Texas in 1946. Growing up in the segregated Southwest, Barbara learned at an early age the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs and of fighting for equality for all.
Barbara’s family moved to California in 1960, where she honed her leadership for social change. In high school, Barbara successfully challenged a school district policy that prevented her from joining the cheerleading team because of her race. With the help of the NAACP, Barbara Lee’s activism changed this discriminatory rule and she became the first black cheerleader in the history of her school district.
Barbara later moved to the San Francisco bay area so that she could attend Mills College in Oakland. During college, she quickly became a leader in the region’s vibrant civil rights movement—being elected president of the Black Student Union. Her commitment as a community activist led her to get involved in Representative Shirley Chisholm’s campaign for president. Acting on the advice she received from Representative Chisholm to “get involved”, Barbara served as an intern in then-Congressman Ron Dellums’ office—a place she would spend the next decade of her life in service to her community.
Upon the retirement of Congressman Dellums in February 1998, Barbara Lee ran to succeed her former boss in the House of Representatives. In a special election held in April 1998, she won convincingly, receiving over 67% of the vote.
Since her time in the California legislature, Congresswoman Lee has been a fierce advocate for ending HIV and ensuring an AIDS-free generation. Since entering Congress, she has authored or co-authored every major piece of HIV/AIDS legislation including the legislative frameworks for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Congresswoman Lee’s legislation establishing a USAID special advisor for orphans and vulnerable children was enacted into law in 2009. In 2011, Congresswoman Lee formed the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, which she co-chairs.
Currently, Congresswoman Lee serves on the Budget Committee and the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversees all federal government spending. She serves on three subcommittees (Chair, State and Foreign Operations; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education; and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration) of the Appropriations Committee.
This Congressional session, Congresswoman Lee was appointed as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS). She is the first African American Member of Congress to serve as Chair of the subcommittee, which funds many of the nondefense international affairs activities of the United States.
Congresswoman Lee is the highest ranking Woman of Color in Democratic Leadership, serving as Co-Chair of the Policy and Steering Committee. As Co-Chair, Rep. Lee works to ensure that committees reflect the diversity, dynamism, and integrity of the Democratic Caucus. She also works to advance the policies that comprise the Democratic “For the People” agenda. In addition, she currently serves as the Chair of the Majority Leader’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, Co-Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, and Co-Chair of the Cannabis Caucus. She is the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (111th Congress) and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (109th & 110th Congresses).