News :: Pride

First Lesbian Assembly Speaker Plans SF Visit

by Matthew S. Bajko
Friday May 9, 2014
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 California Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins, left, talks with gay Oakland Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno at a reception held for her last week in downtown Oakland
California Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins, left, talks with gay Oakland Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno at a reception held for her last week in downtown Oakland  (Source:Cynthia Laird)

The first out lesbian lawmaker to hold the powerful California Assembly speaker position plans to be in San Francisco to celebrate Pride this year.

Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) told the Bay Area Reporter that she has accepted an offer to speak during the annual Alice B. Toklas Pride breakfast, which will take place Sunday, June 29.

"I would love to see the Pride parade in San Francisco. Every year I always march in the San Diego Pride parade and never get to see it," Atkins told the B.A.R. while attending a reception in her honor last week in downtown Oakland.

The likelihood, though, is Atkins will end up marching in the San Francisco Pride parade either with Alice’s contingent or at the invitation of a local politician. And Audrey Joseph , who manages Pride’s main stage line-up, is hopeful Atkins will accept an invite to address the crowd this year.

If Atkins does, it would mark the first time an out Assembly speaker has addressed the city’s Pride festival. Outgoing gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) never participated in the Bay Area’s largest LGBT event during his four-year tenure.

His office never accepted Joseph’s invites to speak from Pride’s main stage, and though he had been scheduled to address Alice’s Pride breakfast in 2010, Perez was unable to attend the event.

Atkins will take her oath of office as the state’s 69th Assembly speaker and third woman to hold the post this Monday, May 12, shortly after 1 p.m. in the Assembly chambers inside the state Capitol in Sacramento. In addition to being the first lesbian speaker in the state’s history, Atkins will also be the first from San Diego.

"I am also the first Appalachian speaker," Atkins, 51, who grew up poor in southwestern Virginia, told those gathered at the East Bay reception for her hosted at Clear Channel Outdoor’s offices.

A similar pre-swearing-in event was held in the same location for Perez in 2010. Reprising her role as a co-host was Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who helped elect both Perez and Atkins to the speakership.

"He has been an incredible speaker and we will have a new incredible speaker," said Skinner, whose lesbian daughter, Sirona Skinner Nixon, will be marrying her longtime partner, Sinead O’Rourke class=st>, this summer.

Atkins, who is married to her spouse, Jennifer LeSar , told the B.A.R. that, in terms of the LGBT community, a prime focus for her as speaker will be transgender issues.

"We still have a lot of work to do for our transgender community," said Atkins, who is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1577, the Respect After Death Act, to ensure transgender people have their authentic gender identity reflected on their death certificates.

LGBT data collection is another top priority for Atkins, as without such information it is difficult to target funding to address health disparities among LGBT people.

"For years we have worked on that issue but we have yet been able to convince the governor or various state departments," said Atkins, about how critical it is for state forms and surveys to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Attending the reception was East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club President Brendalynn Goodall, who told the B.A.R. she would like to see Atkins during her speakership tackle employment issues within the LGBT community and housing for LGBT seniors.

"I know there is a great need for services and housing for our elders," said Goodall. "There is also a need for making it safe for LGBT seniors to be in nursing homes."

Also in attendance was El Cerrito resident Gabriel Quinto , a gay man who is a local Democratic Party activist. He said not only does Atkins need to ensure the T in LGBT is being heard but also those in the LGBT community who live in suburban areas of the state.

Her agenda needs to "include communities outside of the bigger cities like San Francisco," Quinto told the B.A.R. "So many of us are moving to the East Bay."

Oakland At-Large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan , who’s known Atkins for several years, going back to when Kaplan first started running for office in the early 2000s, said Oakland’s focus on public safety and the economy will now be heard at the state level.

"I am so happy and proud to have Speaker-elect Atkins be elected, and I am looking forward to working with her," Kaplan, an out lesbian, told the B.A.R. in a brief interview at the reception.

Asked by the B.A.R. about seeing California form a statewide commission on LGBT seniors, similar to one established by Massachusetts, Atkins was amendable to the idea.

"No one has approached me directly on it, but I know there are specific issues related to LGBT seniors we should look at," she said.

Atkins, who is expected to easily win a third and final two-year term this November, will be termed out of the Assembly in December 2016 along with two of her gay colleagues, Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) and state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). She told the B.A.R. that ensuring the longevity of the Legislative LGBT Caucus will also be at the forefront of her priorities in the coming months.

Two of the current eight caucus members are termed out of office this fall - Perez and gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) - and the caucus won’t replenish its ranks this year unless gay non-incumbent Assembly candidates Evan Low and David Campos or gay state Senate candidate Dr. class=st> Vito Imbasciani win their electoral bids.

"I want to make sure the LGBT caucus is strong and that there is also gender parity," said Atkins, pointing out that the Legislature’s female ranks will be decreasing this year. "We have worked so hard to have an LGBT caucus. If we don’t focus on this, we will lose it. It is on my mind that we have to increase our efforts to recruit and train new candidates for state office."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook’s online companion. This week’s column reported on Jo Becker’s local book tour stops for her behind-the-scenes look at the federal Proposition 8 lawsuit.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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