Dave Schwab | Uptown News
New Speaker celebrates fellow LGBT triumphs at The Center
It marked the dawn of a new political era as Toni G. Atkins, the first openly lesbian and first San Diegan to serve as Speaker of the California State Assembly, returned home in triumph to The San Diego LGBT Community Center June 27.
The occasion was an acknowledgment by her peers of the Democrat’s political career and accomplishments.
“We want the Speaker to know she’s loved and respected and we’re really honored to be here celebrating,” said Brandon Tate, the Center’s director of development.
Council President and recent Interim Mayor Todd Gloria hailed Atkins as a “role model for every citizen, but particularly in the LGBT community.”
“I’m proud to call Toni a friend and stand alongside her and support her every step of the way as she leads our great state,” Gloria added.
Presented with a flower bouquet, Atkins quipped “there’s nothing like a gay floral arrangement.”
The Assembly Speaker then turned serious giving kudos to Gloria, District 3’s City Council representative and a rising star from the LGBT community on the political scene.
Noting everyone suspected Gloria would go far, Atkins added no one thought it would happen so quickly.
“He has really just surpassed our hopes and dreams,” she said noting gay politicians in California are following in the footsteps of icons like Harvey Milk of San Francisco and, more recently, John Perez of Los Angeles, Atkins’ liberal predecessor as Speaker of the State Assembly from the 53rd District.
“We have done so much in this community, we are just examples of what we’ve been able to do throughout California,” Atkins said.
Turning to the budget, the Assembly Speaker said the state has “turned the corner” on its finances.
“We’ve been able to actually reinvest in California,” she said noting the state previously had a $26 billion deficit followed by a year of “no spending.”
“Thanks to voters who passed Proposition 30 (a 2012 sales and income tax increase initiative) we’ve been able to pass our fourth on-time budget,” Atkins said.
Promising she could tell “cocktail stories” about her budget negotiations with Governor Jerry Brown, Atkins said she told him, “I’m not going to be easy, I want what I want and I intend to get it.”
To which Atkins said Brown replied, “I understand that.”
Atkins pointed out she and the eight other openly gay politicians in the State Assembly “stand on the shoulders” of others both yesterday and today.
“A lot of people in this room helped us create this infrastructure,” Atkins said adding the San Diego LGBT community “really has come together.”
Gay politicians making their political mark means “we now have a place in the history book in California,” Atkins said over the crowd’s applause.
With the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on June 28 coming up, Atkins said “there are so many young people who have rights and abilities and opportunities we never had,” pointing out “at the same time we have a ways to go.”
Honored to be the grand marshal of San Diego’s upcoming Pride Parade, Atkins vowed to continue to press the fight for equality until “everyone in our community has an equal — and a safe — place in our society, and that no one gets left behind.”
“I want to thank you for sharing this with me,” Atkins told the packed house at The LGBT Center, imploring them to “be who you are going forward.”
Atkins closed with a call to action for the LGBT community.
“We have the power. We have the strength. We have the commitment,” she said. “I know we’re up for the fight. We’re geared to do it — and we will.
“It’s so wonderful to be in this moment with all of you,” concluded Atkins.
A native Virginian whose father was a miner and mother was a seamstress, Atkins was elected by the Assembly’s Democratic caucus in January 2014 to be the next speaker of the Assembly and on March 17, 2014, she was unanimously elected Speaker by the full Assembly. She is the third woman and the first acknowledged lesbian to be elected to that position.
She formerly served on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008, including a brief period as Interim Mayor.