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It Started With An Answering Machine...

In the early 1970's, our world was a very different place. Being “out” simply wasn’t an option for many. Just being a member of the LGBT community could be dangerous. You could be fired, denied housing and worse, and there was no one to turn to for help.

The San Diego LGBT Center began as an answering machine. The answering machine was a twenty-four hour hotline -- people who needed military or LGBT counseling could call the number, leave a message and Jess Jessop or one of a small group, named “the Planning Committee,” would call them back. The initial 1972 planning committee for what would become The Center for Social Services, Inc. included Patricia Byers, Thom Carey, Patricia Cluchey, Peggy Heathers, Jess Jessop, Clint Johnson, Bernie Michels, George Murphy, Jerry Peterson, Gary Rees, John Senter, Cynthia Wallace and Jerry White. This group knew that the LGBT community needed more than phone counseling, and worked to open an organization that could provide for the community's particular education, health and social needs.

Incorporated as a 501c3 in 1973, just as the American psychological and psychiatric communities removed homosexuality from the diagnostic manuals as a disorder, The Center provided community members with professional, culturally-affirmative mental health services and continues to provide those services today.

We are proud of the history of The Center’s service. From an answering machine in a borrowed closet that served as a lifeline for those frightened, lonely and looking for compassionate connection to today, the nation’s second oldest and one of the largest LGBT Community Centers. The incredible dedication of 1000 volunteers, 15 board members and 50 staff who spend every day attempting to serve the full diversity of our community – youth, seniors, families, men, women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian-Americans, those struggling with HIV/AIDS – makes it possible for us to provide more than 60,000 service hours each year.

From protecting our youth from the all-too-common bullying and harassment in their schools and providing shelter for the 40% of homeless youth who are LGBT to finding safe retirement and care environments for our trail-blazing generation of seniors, the staff at The Center give everything they have to make a difference in real lives every day. They care for those whose life circumstances leave them vulnerable to the small hearted forces of ignorance and hate and for those whose lives continue to be filled with silence and fear.

With your ongoing support, The Center will continue to create, empower and sustain San Diego’s LGBT and HIV communities.

Center timeline:

1971 – Jess Jessop set up an answering machine help line for San Diego's LGBT community.

1972  – The planning committee formed to develop what would eventually grow to become The Center. Committee members included Patricia Byers, Thom Carey, Patricia Cluche, Peggy Heathers, Jess Jessop, Clint Johnson, Bernie Michels, George Murphy, Jerry Peterson, Gary Rees, John Senter, Cynthia Wallace and Jerry White. (Find more information about the planning committee here.) Bernie Michels served as the first executive director.

1973 – The Center for Social Services was incorporated as a 501c3. Jess Jessop served as executive director.

1975 - Jeri Dilno became the first female executive director - and the first paid.

1978 - Richard Burhenne was named executive director.

1979 - Rob Shepard was named executive director.

1980 – The Center for Social Services became the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center. Carolyn Innes became executive director.

1980 – The Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center moved to Fifth Avenue and Robinson.

1987 - Pam Ware was named executive director.

1988 - Scott Fulkerson was named executive director.

1992 – The Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center moved to Normal Street.

1993 - Karen Marshall was named executive director.

1999 – The Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center moved from Normal Street to Centre Street and began plans for renovations. Art Thompson was named executive director.

2000 – The Hillcrest Youth Center opened its doors and became a critical resource for LGBTQ youth in San Diego.

2001 - Dr. Delores Jacobs was named executive director.

2002 – The Lesbian and Gay Men’s Center was renamed the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center.

2003 – Renovations were completed.
The Women’s Resource Center was established, providing LBT women and their allies access to important health and social resources and referrals.
Senior Services and 50 and Better Together were established, providing important health, financial and social resources for LGBT seniors.

2004 – Latino Services was established, providing culturally-affirming drop-in space, support groups and social programs for LGBT Latinos and their families.

2004 – AIDS Walk San Diego requested and returned to The Center as a Center program.

2006 – Sunburst Youth Housing Project opened, providing supportive housing for 23 homeless LGBT and HIV+ youth, ages 18-24.

2007 – Family programming was established at The Center, providing programs and services for LGBT-headed families and those considering parenthood.

2008 – The Center Advocacy Project was established, a nonpartisan 501(c)4  whose mission is to secure equal civil and human rights for the LGBT and allied communities through public education and issue advocacy.

2009 – A global financial crisis triggered the “great recession,” impacting many nonprofits locally and nationally. The Center responded quickly with financial cuts that allowed the agency to survive and move forward quickly.

2010 – The Center board adopted a position supporting intersectionality and an ongoing agency focus in outreach and programs on portions of the community that face multiple disparities, such as transgender and genderqueer community members, communities of color and community members with fewer financial resources.

2010 – The Center board adopted a position in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

2010 – The Center became a monthly distribution site for the San Diego Food Bank. This program expanded to include an additional monthly distribution specifically for seniors.

2010 – The Equality Voters program was established to encourage community-wide voter registration and participation in elections.

2011 – Engage San Diego was established as a Center sponsored program consisting of a nonprofit network of local civil rights, social justice, health and environmental organizations focused on nonpartisan civic engagement.

2012 – The Benjamin F. Dillingham III and Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor was established to celebrate LGBT veterans who have served honorably and with distinction.

2012 – The Center began working with Community Housing Works to establish an LGBT-welcoming affordable senior housing project in San Diego.

2013 – Project TRANS was established to provide services designed specifically for San Diego’s transgender and genderqueer community.

2016 – The LGBT-welcoming affordable senior housing project broke ground.

National timeline:

1869 – The term "homosexual" was first used by Austrian Karl Kertbeny in a tract pleading for social tolerance.

1924 – The Society for Human Rights, America's first known "gay rights" organization, was established in Chicago. It lasted less than a year.

1940-1945 – During World War II thousands of Americans experienced new cultures and sexual mores overseas. The U.S. Military began a dedicated campaign to expel soldiers thought to be homosexual.

1948 – The publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred Kinsey broadcast the news that one in 10 males admitted to having had at least one sexual experience with another male.

1950 – The Mattachine Society was founded in Los Angeles by Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowlands, James Gruber, Dale Jennings and Konrad Stevens.

1955 – Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization, was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco.

1965 – The first public protest by gays took place outside the Pentagon and White House.

June 28, 1969 – Stonewall riots occur over several nights in New York City in response to harassment by police.

1969-1970 – Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, National Gay Task Force, and many other activist organizations were formed.

1973 – The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of diseases and disorders.

1977 – In Dade County, FL, Anita Bryant began her crusade to save America's children from homosexuals.

1978 – In November, Harvey Milk, an openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Supervisor Dan White.

1979 – The first March on Washington for Gay Rights attracted approximately 100,000 marchers.

1981 – The first cases of Gay Cancer, later named AIDS, are found in New York City.

1980's – The growth of civil disobedience as political activism led to the founding of groups like ACT UP, Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation.

1989 – Denmark was the first nation to legalize gay marriage.

1990's – The LGBT community develops growing political influence in presidential campaigns.

2000 – Vermont was the first state to pass legislation regarding Civil Unions for same sex couples.

2000 – California Domestic Partnership Registration becomes available with the passage of AB 26. Califonia becomes the second state in the Union to legally recognize same-sex relationships.

2003 – The United States Supreme Court on June 26, 2003 struck down Texas's Homosexual Conduct law and all sodomy laws across the nation. This landmark decision was among the most significant rulings ever for LGBT Americans and civil rights.

2005 and 2007 – Twice the California Legislature passed a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill both times.

2008 – On May 15, the California Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the California Constitution. Same-sex couples in California were able to legally marry from June 15 to November 4.

2008 – On November 4, Proposition 8 passed by a narrow margin and the California Constitution was amended to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. On November 5, Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU filed Strauss v. Horton with the California Supreme Court, challenging the validity of Proposition 8.

2009 – The California State Supreme Court heard oral arguments, with a final ruling due within 90 days.

2009 – On March 5, the California Supreme Court upheld the voter-approved constitutional ban in Strauss v. Horton. Proposition 8 then was challenged in federal court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

2010 – On August 4, 2010, a federal judge ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. On August 12 he ruled that marriages could resume on August 18, 2010, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed the ruling pending appeal.

2010 – In December the US House of Representatives and the US Senate passed a stand-alone bill repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. President Obama signed the bill into law on December 29.

2011 – The Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act

2012 – Tammy Baldwin became the first openly LGBT candidate elected to the U.S. Senate

2012 – Marriage equality was approved by popular vote for the first time in the U.S. when Maine and Maryland vote in favor 

2013 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional

2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry and that states must recognize those marriages

2015 – The Pentagon lifted the military ban on transgender service members

For more photos and details of San Diego's LGBT community history, visit Lambda Archives.