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Arts | Culture

Makers of San Diego History event honors two LGBTQ advocates

On Saturday, March 23, the San Diego History Museum will host its annual event entitled “Makers of San Diego History,” and will honor California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and former California senator, assemblywoman and member of the San Diego City Council. Hon. Christine Kehoe.

Both have made California history, with Atkins as the first openly gay Senate leader in the state’s history, and Kehoe as the first openly LGBTQ city councilwoman in San Diego County’s history. In addition, when Kehoe rose to state legislature, she was only the second woman to ever serve as the Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore, and she became the chair founder of the LGBT Legislative Caucus.

Speaking about the honor, Bill Lawrence, San Diego History Center’s executive director and CEO, stated, “As we look forward to what we want our community to look like in the future, we are honoring the struggles and triumphs of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community along with two of our civic leaders who have made history in their own time by furthering inclusion and diversity.”

PACIFIC reached out to both Kehoe and Atkins to get their reactions on being honored with the Makers award.

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PACIFIC: How does it feel to be honored with the Makers Award?

CHRISTINE KEHOE: The San Diego History Center Makers Award is a wonderful recognition of my public service. To me, it marks my winning the 1993 San Diego City Council race becoming the first openly LGBTQ person elected to public office in the county.

TONI ATKINS: It’s an incredible honor, particularly to be acknowledged alongside my political mentor, Christine Kehoe, who paved the way for so many to follow. And I am grateful to the San Diego History Center for shining a light on the achievements and struggles of our local LGBTQ community.

What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve faced as a LGBTQ person in life or in politics?

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KEHOE: I have been very lucky in my life in the LGBTQ community. I came out in my 20s. I had moved to San Diego and found a thriving and vibrant gay community here.  The AIDS crisis was coming on strong in the 1980s and I lost many friends but the activism that came about because of that scourge created real change and helped many people survive. 

The community courage and strength that the crisis engendered resulted in more awareness, more medical research and better treatment for people living with AIDS.  That activism and political power we uncovered helped focus the community on the importance of demanding a seat at the table where political and policy decisions are made. And it launched many openly LGBTQ candidates for political office, myself included. The right to serve in the military, to marry, to prohibit anti-gay bias in housing, jobs and healthcare — all of that started with the fight against AIDS.

ATKINS: When I came out in college, I lost a friend or two who couldn’t accept me for who I really was. But mostly my experience has been all positive. I was never shunned by my family — I always felt their love. I think I’ve had to overcome assumptions about who people “think” I am, or will be, because I’m LGBTQ.

And I do think people in my community have had to work doubly hard to be successful. I truly believe some did wait to see what our “gay agenda” would be. As members of the LGBTQ community, we’ve always understood that we had to work harder and be even more prepared.

What’s one message you would like to send out there to the LGBTQ community?

KEHOE: Come out, come out, wherever you are! It is always a personal decision and for many people even today it is a difficult, perhaps dangerous step to take. I respect the individual’s right to choose the right time to come out. But when you are ready, please come out. It is the most empowering, most inspirational action you can take to strengthen your self-esteem. Always be proud of who you are.

ATKINS: We have persevered through so much — it is our unity and coming together at critical times that has sustained us and given us successes and advancements. Our love and tolerance must remain at our core. We must stay vigilant.

The event’s Master of Ceremonies will be community leader and philanthropist Robert Gleason. Event co-chairs are Kristi Pieper and Julie Cowan Novak. The March 23 event will begin with a champagne reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. A program, dinner and live auction will follow from 7-9 p.m. at the Grand Balroom of The Prado at Balboa Park. Tickets can be purchased at sandiegohistory.org/event/makers-2019

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