Toni Atkins sworn in as first lesbian Assembly speakerAround the City, Online Only, Top Highlights Monday, June 9th, 2014
San Diego’s leaders and public officials flooded the hall at the Balboa Park Club Friday as Assemblywoman Toni Atkins was ceremonially sworn in as this city’s first speaker of the assembly and the California State Assembly’s first lesbian speaker.
Even though Atkins’ official swearing in happened last month in Sacramento, a jubilant atmosphere filled the room during her victorious homecoming inauguration here in San Diego.
“It’s a great day for San Diego,” said Atkins during the ceremony. “And it’s a great day for California.”
Some of the dignitaries who offered introductory testimonials of Atkins did note the significance of her being the state’s first lesbian speaker. But it was the fact that the assemblywoman is the first San Diegan to hold the Office of Speaker that took center stage.
Crediting San Diego’s status as a pioneer of electing LGBT people to public office, Atkins herself sounded almost nonplussed about being California’s first lesbian speaker.
“It’s what we know in San Diego,” Atkins told San Diego LGBT Weekly. “We’ve passed that barrier (of LGBTs being elected to public office) long ago. We have so many members of the LGBT community that represent our community and our city. I don’t think we thought that much of it.”
Nevertheless, it was striking to see four powerful lesbian women, including former State Sen. Christine Kehoe, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis (who presented Atkins with the oath of office), business owner and Atkins’ spouse, Jennifer LeSar on stage with the speaker in front of a large projected image of the state seal.
“Whodda thunk it?” Atkins joked in acknowledgement of the historic nature of the gathering.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, UFCW Local 135 President Mickey Kasparian joined with City Council President Todd Gloria, who is openly gay, in congratulating the city for having its first speaker of the Assembly and in thanking Atkins for “decades of selfless service.”
“She always seems to do the right thing,” said Assemblywoman Weber.
Atkins now holds an office that is fourth in the line of succession to fill any unexpected vacancy in the Office of Governor of this, the nation’s most populous state. However, Atkins bristled when LGBT Weekly asked how she felt about being so theoretically close to the governor’s office.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “I’m told it’s important.”
According to former speaker Perez, the LGBT community now “has a seat at the table” of power in California.
Kasparian similarly commended Atkins for ensuring that San Diego’s labor movement has had a voice in the state legislature. He expressed confidence that that will continue with her as speaker.
“She’s one leader who has never been afraid to say the word, ‘union,’” Kasparian said.
A native Virginian, Atkins came to San Diego in 1985. Having served on the city council here, she was also once acting mayor during one of the city’s most turbulent periods after Dick Murphy resigned as mayor in 2005 in the midst of a fiscal debacle that still haunts this city’s political memory.
Earlier, Atkins served as director of clinical services at Womancare Health Services, Atkins is also the namesake of the Toni Atkins Lesbian Health Fund. Her term of office in the Assembly ends in 2016.
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