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Planning Committee History

The San Diego LGBT Center began in 1971 as an answering machine. That answering machine was a twenty-four hour hotline -- people who needed military or LGBT counseling could call the number, leave a message and 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.


Thomas Carey was a principal founder of the Gay Center for Social Services and a lifelong civil rights activist. A tireless promoter of the Center, he attended every meeting and participated in every project. He also contributed artwork and helped construct leaflets for fundraising, then distributed them -- all at the risk of losing his job if his employer discovered he was gay. Thom was also an active member of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego, and marched in the first San Diego LGBT Pride parade.

After leaving academia in the early 1970s, Cluchey joined the women’s movement and was a part of the small-but-dedicated group that participated in the creation of The San Diego LGBT Community Center. She participated in the creation of Las Hermanas Women’s Cultural Center, employing speakers, films and music to educate people on the reality of lesbian lives and politics. And she contributed artwork and researched articles for San Diego counter culture publications that included Feminist Communications and The OB Rag. She was also instrumental in bringing the first Women’s Music Festival to San Diego.

Heathers and Lawrence-Wallace were among the earliest supporters of The San Diego LGBT Community Center as members of the original planning committee in the early 1970s. They also established LAGADU, the Center’s first women’s program. And Heathers organized the women’s caucus for the San Diego Democratic Club. Both were heavily involved in the Blood Sisters program, donating blood to the San Diego Blood Bank in solidarity with their gay brothers. Together, the couple was responsible for the 1986 founding of the San Diego Women’s Chorus, with Heathers serving as its manager.

Robert "Jess" Jessop was one of the group of original founders of the San Diego LGBT Center and the Lesbian and Gay Historical Society of San Diego. He also served as The Center's second executive director. A visionary and an activist, he recognized the needs of the people around him and created ways to provide for them.

Clint Johnson was a successful San Diego nightclub owner, entertainer, fundraiser and community activist. A popular local personality, he was Emperor XIV of the Imperial Court of San Diego and was able in that role to raise desperately needed funds for many AIDS causes and LGBT organizations.

Bernie Michels is one of The Center’s founders. Along with Jess Jessop, he convened the very first planning meetings and went on to serve as the planning committee executive director from 1972-1973.  Michels was the first openly gay student in the SDSU School of Social Work and completed a master’s degree thesis on the San Diego male gay community.  He presented the city’s first LGBT studies course at SDSU in 1974.  Michels was also active in the Metropolitan Community Church, and has been a supporter of Lambda Archives (which houses his papers).

In 1971, Murphy and his then-partner John Eberly moved to San Diego, where they discovered the Metropolitan Community Church. Murphy has since served as a lay minister and deacon for more than 11 years. A founding member of The Center, Murphy has served as a board member, treasurer, member of the senior outreach team and member of the senior housing task force. He is also a founding member of the San Diego Democratic Club, Lambda Archives and the San Diego AIDS Foundation, helping to form the San Diego LGBT community as it exists today.


Gary Rees was a prominent San Diego businessman and a dedicated community member. He was a founding member of The Center during his time in the Navy and helped establish the Military Counseling Program at the Gay Center. Upon his discharge as an officer in 1974, he became The Center’s first executive director, serving until 1975.


Jerry White was an activist in the San Diego LGBT community while still a student in college in the early 1970s. He served on the Founder’s Committee of The Center in his spare time, helping Bernie Michels, Jess Jessop and the other members hold fundraisers at local bars and develop the various services the organization would provide. He also served as a group facilitator and peer counselor on the Men’s Self-Development Committee.