The new Assembly leader may have kissed her spouse on the Assembly floor after being sworn in as one of the state's most powerful politicians, but gay people have not yet attained full equality in California, Speaker Toni Atkins said Tuesday.
"Even in California, there are places and times and ways that I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable taking Jennifer's hand. So we still have work to do," Atkins said as she addressed a crowd of women lobbyists, lawyers and other Capitol power brokers at the She Shares conversation series.
Atkins talked about her upbringing in a poor family in Virginia and touched on her experience of coming out as a lesbian in her late teens. She said she found it easier to be openly gay after leaving a more conservative community for San Diego.
Now that she's risen to such a powerful position in California politics, Atkins said, her hometown is taking notice. She pointed to an article about her in the Roanoke Times that included a picture of her kissing her spouse, Jennifer LeSar, on the day she was sworn in as Assembly speaker.
"For that picture to be in the paper in Virginia is important because it gives permission. The speaker of the California state Assembly can be a lesbian, and it's OK. That's the movement. But it takes a lot of those actions," Atkins said.
She said she hopes her story will help others feel comfortable about being gay, and inspire girls to seize professional opportunities.
"For young women and individuals, not just women, to see that I could be there and and here today is a story that I think is important for everyone. Because it isn't about me. It's about their hope, and their possibility."
PHOTO: Spouses Toni Atkins and Jennifer LeSar kiss after Atkins was sworn in as Assembly speaker on May 12, 2014. Outgoing Speaker John A. Perez and Atkins' nephew Thomas Phillips stand next to them. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua