Sen. Toni Atkins
Sen. Toni Atkins speaks during a press conference to promote her Senate Bill 447. With her are Assemblymember Chris Ward (left), Sen. Steve Padilla and Fernando Lopez, executive director of San Diego Pride. Photo by Chris Jennewein

State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins welcomed San Diego Pride on Friday with with an emotional pitch for legislation that would enable California to lead the nation in expanding acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community

Senate Bill 447 would lift California’s ban on travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ policies and put in its place a nonpartisan outreach campaign to encourage acceptance of the community.

“We’ve seen a rise in division and hateful rhetoric, further isolating our LGBTQ+ community in more conservative parts of our nation, and even in pockets of California,” said Atkins at a press conference. “This bill aims to cut through some of that divisiveness, and encourage acceptance and understanding.”

She said that California’s travel ban, enacted in 2016, had sent a message to conservative states, but is losing effectiveness with the list having grown to 26. Instead, she said, California must now champion compassion and build bridges to unify communities.

Atkins, who is the first openly gay person to lead the state Senate, recounted her experience growing up in rural, southwestern Virginia.

“I was isolated and didn’t have many role models in the LGBTQ+ community to look up to. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was,” she recalled.

Under SB 447, California could help questioning youth in conservative states by setting an national example. Her legislation is known the BRIDGE Project — “building and reinforcing inclusive, diverse, gender-supportive equality.”

Atkins was joined by other gay lawmakers and LGBTQ+ community activists, including Sen. Steve Padilla, Assemblymember Chris Ward and Fernando Lopez, executive director of San Diego Pride.

“It is time to pivot our strategy so that instead of a hard line of no contact, we have a direct line to reach people in the LGBTQ+ community where they are,” said Ward. “Senate Bill 447 is the vehicle for the change we need.”

SB 447 passed the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy on a 6-1 vote Tuesday and now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.