Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Atkins makes history as new Senate pro tem

by Cynthia Laird

Lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins was selected Thursday (December 7) by her colleagues to be the next president pro tem of the Legislature’s upper house.

The longtime state lawmaker made history being the first woman and first LGBT Senate pro tem in California history.

(State Senator Toni Atkins)

(State Senator Toni Atkins)

Atkins, a San Diego Democrat and former Assembly speaker, will assume the post in January.

“Today, I am incredibly humbled by the trust my colleagues have placed in me, and I intend to earn that trust every day by working tirelessly and inclusively to keep California a place of opportunity for everyone,” Atkins said in a statement posted on her website.

Atkins will take over from state Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who is running against U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) next year. De Leon will remain in the state Senate.

Atkins has endorsed de Leon in his Senate bid.

De Leon said that the Senate Democratic Caucus is united behind Atkins’ as president pro tem.

“For nearly four years, it’s been a profound honor to lead a unified, progressive and collaborative California State Senate,” de Leon stated. “Together, we’ve put the public interest over individual ambitions and made enduring progress on behalf of millions of Californians.

“Four years ago, our caucus elected the first Latino leader in over a century to lead the California State Senate – and, next year, Senator Atkins will become our first ever woman to be elected Senate leader,” he added.

A formal vote will occur next month.

Colleagues praised Atkins’ selection.

“Toni Atkins is a fantastic leader for our state,” gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. “She is also a trailblazer for the LGBT community, and I consider her a mentor.”

Wiener said that he has worked with Atkins on a number of initiatives over the years.

“I worked closely with Toni this year on our housing package and on legislation to support transgender and nonbinary people,” Wiener added.

Atkins thanked de Leon for his leadership. “Our collective policy achievements under his leadership have made our state a better place to live, work, raise a family, and attend school, regardless of race, religion, gender, or background,” she stated.

Atkins’ elevation to Senate leadership comes as the Statehouse is rocked by sexual harassment allegations against a number of male lawmakers, one of whom resigned his seat last week, and the Legislature’s current roster of 26 women is the lowest in nearly two decades.

Equality California, the state’s LGBTQ lobbying organization, hailed the selection of Atkins as state Senate leader.

“Senator Toni Atkins is one of the LGBTQ community’s most respected and effective leaders and her upcoming election as the Senate President Pro Tem breaks multiple glass ceilings,” EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement. “Not only will she be the first woman to serve as leader of the California Senate, but Senator Atkins will also be the first LGBTQ person to serve in that role. This follows on her historic career in the Assembly where she became the first lesbian Speaker. Electing role models like Senator Atkins is important to the LGBTQ community because it sends a clear message to our community across the country, particularly LGBTQ youth, that LGBTQ people can achieve anything. By having a seat at the table, LGBTQ elected officials can speak with their colleagues with authenticity and first-hand experience on issues that affect our community.”

Zbur noted some of Atkins’ legislative achievements, such as Senate Bill 179 (Gender Recognition Act of 2017), SB 310 (Name and Dignity Act), AB 1577 (Respect After Death Act), and AB 1211 (Transgender Name Changes, Birth and Death Certificates).

— Cynthia Laird, December 7, 2017 @ 1:04 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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