Transforming UC San Diego, inside and out

By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy

The specific issue was whether or not a business should have to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. The broader ramifications were whether a privately owned business could deny services based on the patron’s perceived sexuality or gender identity.

The Schlagel family enjoy the San Diego Pride Parade on July 15. (Photo by Kyle Dykes)

As a former pharmacy technician, I remember wondering what would happen if a small town’s local pharmacy or private medical practice were suddenly allowed to deny services or medications based on these factors, and how horrifying that would be for LGBTQ individuals.

Health care, and access to it, is a national hot-button issue right now.

Leading the charge locally for inclusive policies at UC San Diego Health Systems, — with a large campus located in Hillcrest — is the 2017 Spirit of Stonewall “Friend of Pride” awardee Zach Schlagel.

A native of San Diego and a fan of the diverse population, Zach was motivated by the platforms presented in the 2000 elections and ended up transferring to the political science program at UC San Diego from Grossmont College.

This led to an opportunity through the UC – DC program, during which Zach had an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. as an intern for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. After graduating in 2004, he joined Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Oklahoma campaign team, where he saw first-hand the pushback against marriage equality outside of California and the political ramifications for supporting it.

Upon his return to San Diego, he met then-City Councilmember Todd Gloria, and in part through that connection, was linked to Mayor Bob Filner’s office. During Filner’s tenure, there was a push to move the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest to La Jolla, and Zach represented the mayor’s office at many of the accompanying community meetings. Once the plan was pulled in 2007, UC San Diego determined they needed a community affairs liaison, and Zach was well-positioned to serve.

Zach noticed that most of the service models specifically serving the LGBTQ community centered around HIV and the Owen Clinic, but these strategies did not translate to broader healthcare needs. He began seeking out mentors in the community, including Dr. Shaun Travers, director of UC San Diego’s LGBT Resource Center.

“Ever since Zach began at UC San Diego, he has been committed to our community,” Travers said. “He has been involved in almost every committee, working group, and gathering of people where we were discussing LGBT issues in relation to UC San Diego’s medical centers.”

Zach Schlagel receives the “Friend of Pride” award at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally, Friday, July 14. (Photo by Kyle Dykes)

Zach also sought the advice of San Diego LGBT Community Center’s CEO, Dr. Delores Jacobs. While she was very critical of UC San Diego’s lack of inclusion in healthcare policy, she recommended Zach look at the Human Rights Campaign’s Health Equality Index criteria as a roadmap to improvement.

“We took Dr. Jacobs’ words to heart, and to the UCSD leadership’s credit, they gave me carte blanche to make changes,” Zach said. “We overhauled the patient bill of rights, admission and visitation policies, and really instilled the language of equality in those items, which led to UCSD receiving a 100 percent score on the HRC equality index in 2011, and we have maintained that designation every year since.”

Building on this momentum, Zach also began the push for UC San Diego to become more engaged with San Diego LGBT Pride, which the leadership wholeheartedly supported.

Sarafina Scapicchio, former development director for San Diego Pride, spoke to this relationship.

“Zach spearheaded the first-ever hospital sponsorship of the San Diego Pride Parade and Festival in 2011,” Scapicchio said. “He has served as the team captain each and every year since then, bringing over a hundred of their employees, including their CEO, to ride and walk in the Parade. He also ensures that the festival includes free HIV/AIDS screenings every year at the UCSD tent.”

In addition, Zach has coordinated the lighting of the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest in rainbow colors — during June, the official “Month of Pride” — as an outward reflection of their inclusive policies. This year, he was thrilled to bring California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to preside over this tradition.

When not creating positive change at UC San Diego, Zach is also a husband and father, and we spoke about how his professional life has impacted his private life. He reflected on how receiving this award is a chance for him to teach his children about diversity and equality.

“I [was] humbled and excited about the opportunity to take my kids on stage with me for this honor,” Zach explained. “My son is now 5 and a half years of age, and this is a great venue for me to educate him about the values of Pride.”

San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall honorees are nominated by the public, starting in January of each year, and the final awards are selected by Pride’s board of directors.

Ian Morton

The definition of the “Friend of Pride” is an individual who does not identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but who has stalwartly supported the LGBT community over an extended period of years and/or has made an exceptional contribution in the past year. Kathie Moehlig, founder of Trans Family Support Services, also received the “Friend of Pride” honor this year.

For a full list of 2017 Spirit of Stonewall awardees, visit

—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, email the information to

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