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Toni Atkins: This year, I will be parading my Pride for an LGBT pioneer

San Diego’s Pride Parade is almost 40 years old. Its exact birthday depends on whether you count the first parade with a permit in 1975 or the informal takeover of the streets by those who were denied a permit the year before.

But one thing I am virtually certain of – there were no elected officials in the parade either year.

This year, 10 elected officials will march in the parade and in past years there have been even more, including the entire San Diego City Council one year. And four out of this year’s 10 are members of the LGBT community. Our recent ascent in the political arena seems almost breathtaking, but in reality it is the outcome of many decades of hard work by our pioneers.

This year, a leader who has inspired us all will leave public office. It is almost impossible to envision the word “retire” applying to state Sen. Christine Kehoe, so instead I think of it as a change of venue. But on the occasion of Senator Kehoe’s last year in the legislature, I find myself reminiscing.

Christine was in the lead for almost every milestone our community has achieved in the past three decades. She managed the campaign of one of the first open LGBT candidates for San Diego City Council, Neil Good, and was among the very first visible LGBT staff members at City Hall.

Following in Neil’s footsteps, Christine decided to run for City Council herself in 1993. As a powerful symbol of change and a great grassroots candidate, Christine’s candidacy galvanized our community, which helped her raise more money than any other candidate running for an open seat that year.

And it wasn’t just our money that we gave – it was shoe leather, and tongues dry from licking envelopes, and dawn forays on Election Day to deliver get-out-the-vote messages. And on Nov. 2, 1993, about 20 years after our first Pride Parade, Christine became our own Harvey Milk – the first LGBT elected official in San Diego.

Not surprisingly, many people immediately started watching for signs of the “gay agenda” in action. Those of us who knew Christine knew that her real agenda was responsive government – government that provides the infrastructure and services we all need to live quality daily lives.

And Christine knew how to listen to people, one of the most important qualities an elected official can have. I was lucky enough to be invited to join Christine’s City Council staff and she has continued since that time to be a mentor to me, including now as I serve in the state legislature. Chris helped me understand (whether as staff or elected) what an honor it is to serve and how important it is to respect communities and constituents. They are the reason we are there! She also taught me that there is no such thing as “a no brainer” issue -- every issue has multiple paths to consider – and it always matters to someone!

With this as her philosophy, Christine secured streets and libraries and police sub-stations for the older, and sometimes poorer, neighborhoods of her council district. When she became an Assemblymember, she obtained increased protections for water quality and urban canyons, both of which San Diegans care deeply about. In the state Senate, as a member of the Energy Committee, she oversees legislation about the resources we need for transportation and to light and heat our homes, with a close eye on the environmental impact of all of our energy choices.

But I don’t want to imply that there wasn’t a “gay agenda” because Christine has achieved so much for the LGBT community:

* She secured domestic partnership benefits for City workers.

* She helped to establish the State Legislative LGBT Caucus – and served as its first chair.

* She authored an equal benefits ordinance for state contractors and carried legislation to make the property tax code treat domestic partners like married spouses.

* She worked with the Insurance Commissioner and Equality California to pass the California Insurance Equality Act.

* She authored legislative resolutions calling for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And she led a successful effort to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation in the California National Guard.

So, during this year’s Pride Parade, I’ll be thinking about Christine Kehoe’s legacy as a community activist, city councilmember, state assemblymember and state senator. I hope as she passes by in her “Champion of Pride” convertible, you’ll join me in yelling loud and long … KEHOE, KEHOE, KEHOE ... as a tribute to a fine San Diegan who has served us well.