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Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers 2010 Honoree: Toni Atkins

SAN DIEGO -- They make a difference in our lives. Some are well-known activists in San Diego's LGBT community and others are working tirelessly outside the spotlight.

Ten key players in the LGBT community will be honored Feb. 26 at a Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers gala at The Center that is sponsored by Lambda Archives of San Diego (LASD).

The fundraising gala -- which debuted in 2007 -- recognizes individuals, both locally and nationally, who have made a difference in the lives of LGBT persons through their dedication, commitment, financial resources and/or political participation.

Previous honorees include business professionals, activists and people, like state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Cleve Jones, Tom Reise, Fritz Klein and SDGLN contributor Ben Cartwright.

The LASD board chooses honorees based on a criterion that focuses on diversity, by including individuals from diverse segments of the community and from a broad spectrum of individual characteristics such as ethnicity, race, LGBT identification, etc.

As is customary for the board, nominees who have received other major honors this year or who could not attend the event, were held out for future consideration. Although no public call for nominations currently exists, the board considers any nomination from the community to be equal to those made by its members.

In the days leading up to the gala, SDGLN will profile each of these individuals and provide our readers with an inside peak at what this award means to each honoree.

2010 Honoree Toni Atkins

“The Lambda Archives recognition is personally very meaningful to me. It speaks to the work and to the larger LGBT community that I have had the great fortune to be a part of for 25 years,” Atkins said.

Atkins moved from southwestern Virginia to San Diego in 1985, to be with her sister and assist with her newborn baby. She was also in search of a more accepting community. As a politically aware lesbian, Atkins wanted to work on issues of social justice.

Her first employer was the Womancare Health Center, where she served as director of clinic services. Before beginning her political career, she worked on the staff of then-Councilmember Christine Kehoe.

Atkins served two terms on San Diego’s City Council, representing the Third District from 2000 to 2008. When the Mayor’s Office was vacated, she was chosen by her council colleagues to serve as acting mayor from July 25 to Dec. 5, 2005.

As a councilmember, Atkins focused on the issues affecting affordable housing, worker rights, and neighborhood services and revitalization. She also helped push through the city’s first inclusionary housing policy and led the council to approve a living wage ordinance. One of Atkins’ key accomplishments on behalf of the LGBT community, was her work to persuade the City Council and the Mayor to add the City of San Diego to a friend-of-the-court brief in support of marriage equality in 2007.

“I found it all here in San Diego,” Atkins said. “I found incredible mentors from the LGBT community – quite a few that are being honored with me on the 26th— and it is humbling to be recognized at the same time as people like Mel Merrill, Jeri Dilno and others who helped me become active. I’m truly honored.”

Atkins has received dozens of awards for her work both in and out of office, including the Coastal Champion Award by San Diego Coastkeeper; the Historic Preservation Award from the American Institute of Architects; and the San Diego Democratic Club's Doug Scott Award for Political Action.

In 2006, Atkins received the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in honor of her leadership as San Diego’s acting mayor. Since leaving office because of term limits, Toni has joined LeSar Development as a senior policy analyst, where her focus is affordable housing projects. Additionally, she is running for State Assembly in 76th District.

About Lambda Archives of San Diego

LASD’s mission is to collect, preserve and teach the history of LGBT people in the San Diego and Northern Baja California region. Although most of the collections date to post-1970, there are original materials dating back to the 1930s.

LASD believes that history is best served by the records and cultural artifacts of those people who are directly involved in its events, so its staff has dedicated itself to preserving and interpreting this important historical record since its establishment in 1987. LASD is an all-volunteer, nonprofit corporation governed by a volunteer board of directors and has one of the largest collections of LGBT history in the country.

For information about purchasing tickets to the 2010 Gala visit SDGLN's Events Calendar.