The history of The Center: Part 3

Posted: November 24th, 2017 | Columns, Featured, Profiles in Advocacy | No Comments

Part III: 2001 forward — a place we all call ‘home’

By Ian Morton

[Editor’s note: This is the third and final column in the series.]

The history of the LGBTQ movement has been filled with galvanizing events, and the time leading up to Dr. Delores Jacobs assuming the position of chief executive officer at the San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center), a role she has had for 17 years, was no different.

Due in great part to the work The Center and partner organizations put in to create positive LGBTQ relationships with the broader community, we were seeing advances in equality. This trajectory was dealt a statewide blow with the passing of California Proposition 22 in 2000, declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” It was on the heels of the passage of this proposition, and the defining court case of Lawrence vs. Texas — a case that held national significance when laws criminalizing consensual same-sex intimacy (sodomy laws) were upheld — that The Center entered the 2000s.

(l to r) Fernando Lopez, operations director of San Diego Pride; and Dr. Delores Jacobs, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center; on stage during the 2016 Spirit of Stonewall Rally (Facebook)

In addition to managing a workspace still under construction, Jacobs and the staff of The Center sought to continue the many threads of advocacy that had been the dreams of its founding members. While sitting down with Jacobs to discuss her years at The Center, she emphasized how today’s vast programming is really a reflection of the dreams from those early days.

“The vision for what exists today, existed then,” she said. “They were concerned about the youth and seniors and the LGBTQ members of the military. They were concerned about families — even if the resources to have families didn’t exist as we know it today. They were worried about the fact that the word ‘gay’ somehow implied ‘white,’ even if they knew that not to be true. They were concerned about whether they would have a social and civic voice. Those aspirations are today’s aspirations.”

Like those early days, the expansion of The Center’s services begins with the voice of the community — sometimes just a concerned citizen sitting down with Jacobs or a Center staff member. It is from these initial conversations that programs like Latino services, the Sunburst House youth housing project and other key programs began.

“Every time there was a clear need, a set of staff, community members and sometimes experts would come together and ask, ‘What can we do?’” Jacobs explained. “It was this sort of community teamwork that created the programs that our community uses today.”

Progress also included engaging the community and our allies, and changing hearts and minds, as goals were set in having a stronger civic voice. This led to the establishment of the Public Affairs and Policy advocacy work of The Center, while mobilizing the community.

“We started with the simple act of registering our community and our friends to vote,” Jacobs clarified. “We needed to get on the playing field and build a culture where the LGBTQ community was fully engaged in the political process. The fight has always been for equality, equity and dignity and the right to live as our full, authentic selves. That fight looked different in 2001 than it did last year, or does today. But it is the same fight.”

The Center has prioritized some of the most vulnerable of our community — youth and seniors — through its Hillcrest Youth Center (a drop-in center for teens), independent living resources for at-risk youth at Sunburst House, and work that has led to the establishment of LGBTQ-affirming housing.

In line with these populations, was the establishment of the Young Professionals Council (YPC), a program to “develop and empower young LGBT professionals and their allies.”

“I was — and perhaps some believe I still am — a teacher,” Jacobs declared. “I believe the first and foremost the responsibilities of ‘leaders’ are to teach and mentor upcoming leaders. For me, to sit with a group of 20 younger, intersectional, emerging leaders [during the YPC Academy], and be able to talk with them about how they see the world and ways of achieving social justice, is a time of year that I love. There is something about those moments …”

As Dr. Jacobs completes her final year as executive director, the memories and moments are too myriad to catalog in this column.

At the end of the day, The Center has been a home in which the San Diego LGBT community has shared in celebrations, losses and remembering those who have come before us.

“The moment we were able to open the doors of The Center, as we know it today, it was clear that having a ‘home’ mattered, on a ‘heart’ level,” Jacobs said. “There is a sense of full citizenship when our community had a home built for us — and homes are to be shared. It has been our hope and our work to provide all we can for our most vulnerable — our youth, our seniors, our families, our trans community and all those who are LGBT and of color. Some days we succeed and some days we fall woefully short — but it is always the thing we are striving for.”

That really says it best. The doors of The Center are open to you, with a commitment to be responsive to the community’s needs. Step inside and see how you can be part of a better San Diego!

To all of those who gave their time to be interviewed, thank you so much — from the early 1970s to today — what a journey!

— Ian D. Morton is the director of operations at San Diego Human Dignity Foundation and produces the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ youth conference. To nominate an individual or nonprofit for this column, please email the information to

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