More needs to be done to promote tolerance of gays & lesbians: Toni Atkins

More needs to be done to promote tolerance of gays & lesbians: Toni Atkins

There is a need to do more to promote tolerance of gays and lesbians, particularly in rural regions of the United States, California's new Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said.

Atkins, the first lesbian to lead a house of the state legislature, said that the "most profound" way to advance equality was coming out. She was speaking at the She Shares women's leadership conference in the state capital on Tuesday.

She noted that actions such as her kiss with her spouse Jennifer LeSar when she was sworn in as speaker of the California Assembly last month were validating being gay.

Speaking on the controversial topic, Atkins said, "Even in California, there are places and times and ways that I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable taking Jennifer's hand. We still have work to do."

She added that it was much easier to be openly gay in California than other places in the country, such as rural Virginia, where she grew up in poverty.

However, even Californians do not accept lesbians completely. In 2010, a couple of years before Atkins won a seat in the Legislature, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 8 that put a ban on same-sex marriage. However, the legislation was later overturned by the federal courts.

She has carried some measures favoring lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, including a bill that would enable transgender people's death certificates to be a sign of the gender they lived as.

Atkins also stressed that affordable housing and health care would be among her priorities that she would work for. The San Diego Democrat said that her priorities were motivated by her roots growing up in a poor family that lacked running water and health insurance.

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