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Five Things You Didn’t Know About Gay San Diego

A quick primer on the history and hierarchy of Hillcrest and beyond

Aaron Heier

Aaron Heier

New in town? Just visiting? Maybe you’ve lived here for years but aren’t really connected to the gay community, outside of navigating to your favorite Hillcrest watering hole? 10 years ago, that was me. I had no idea what the LGBT community had to offer besides bars and nightclubs in the gayborhood. I knew there had to be more to San Diego’s gay community than a pocket of gay bars and tchotchke shops selling rainbow flags and adult videos. I started networking with a few people who pointed me in the direction of the LGBT Community Center, and wow did I get schooled – on everything. My curiosity eventually led to doing some PR work for the Center, which lead to volunteering that further lead to a staff position and continued volunteer work. I’ve been involved with the Center in some capacity now for almost a decade and what I’ve learned through the years is that Gay San Diego is a rather extended network of community members, activists, philanthropists, organizations, social groups, businesses and events that continues to evolve and progress every year.

One of my New Year’s Intentions for 2011 is to continue to help educate & enlighten people. If you’re not familiar with ‘New Year’s Intentions’ you can watch my twice-weekly online talk show He Said / sHe Said where my co-host, Ophelia, and I explain why we set ‘intentions’ rather than ‘resolutions.’ So, here are five things about San Diego’s LGBT community that you may not know, but really should.

 

1.      San Diego is home to the second oldest & third largest LGBT Community Center in the U.S. – Originally opened in 1973 as the Center for Social Services on B Street in Golden Hill, the San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center at right) in Hillcrest serves more than 45,000 people each year with the help of 40 paid staff and more than 800 volunteers assisting the Center with its twin goals of promoting LGBT health and human rights.

 

2.      San Diego’s first gay bar, opened in 1958, is still open today. That’s right, the Brass Rail opened its doors downtown at Sixth and B Streets catering primarily to closeted gay & lesbian servicemembers. Six years later, the owners moved the bar to Robinson and Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, where it’s remained open since.

 

3.      The reigning monarch of one of the world’s oldest LGBT charitable organizations calls San Diego home. Full of glamour, crowns, pomp and circumstance, the International Court System (ICS), the umbrella organization of the Imperial Court, started in 1965 with one Jose Sarria proclaiming herself the Empress of San Francisco. Sarria’s heir apparent, San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, now leads the ICS and its 65 chapters throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. The Imperial Court, a monarch-like organization headed by Emperors, Empresses and their cabinets of royals, can easily be described as the drag equivalent of the Shriners. Their purpose: dress up, drag out, follow protocol and raise money for the LGBT community. In 45 years, ICS has raised millions of dollars for innumerable LGBT and associated causes around the globe.

 

4.      San Diego is the first U.S. city to elect an openly gay District Attorney – In 2002, Bonnie Dumanis, openly lesbian candidate for San Diego County District Attorney wins the seat and becomes the first openly LGBT District Attorney elected to office in U.S. history.

 

5.      Gay San Diegans LOVE their sports…all of them. From freestyle wresting and flag football to skiing and snowboarding to lawn bowling and yoga. If it’s a sport – any kind of sport – there’s an active LGBT group out there just for you. Many meet daily or weekly, like Front Runners running club or Great Outdoors hiking group. If it’s beer and bowling, the High Rollers might be up your alley. Or, get your scrum on with the San Diego Armada Rugby Team. Trust me, if you can play it, you can ‘gay’ it.

 

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Edit ModuleOut in San Diego provides a GLBT perspective on life in San Diego. Watch for everything from interviews and restaurant reviews to news and community events posted here by blogger Aaron Heier.

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