The San Diego LGBT Community Center has has been a part of my life since I moved to San Diego in 1992. The first time I remember going to the Center was on 4th Avenue behind the Brass Rail. It wasn't the nicest location, it was by no means the lovely buildings that subsequently came along later. But it was ours and we weren't hiding, it was there for everyone to see.
Over the years I have both been frustrated with the Center and also applauded them for the wonderful way they would put out the call for us to gather to empower us, help us mourn, celebrate our victories and comfort us in our times of struggle.. The frustration came in the early days when the Center was in a beautiful brand new building that the LGBT community was so proud of on Normal Street. To me it had the feel of an "elitist" social club. You had to be buzzed in by the front desk and given the third degree as to why you were there. It just didn't seem like a welcoming place for everyone. Back then the "drop in" center was part employee kitchen, part area to disperse information for the community and a pay phone. It was a very sterile and cold environment. There were nice meeting rooms which we most definitely utilized. The "auditorium" was a decent sized room however any larger rallies, etc had to be held in the parking lot to accommodate everyone. Most of the time who ever was speaking would have to stand on the stairs above the crowd for everyone to hear. I remember the candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard. I remember just holding on to my friend Tomas and both of us crying our eyes out.
We held our March on Washington meetings at the Center on Normal Street, Usually upstairs if I recall. I was a National Delegate so I would meet with the San Diego group to take their ideas and concerns back to the national board. Jim Cua was the President of the San Diego group, and I remember him fondly. Thanks to Jim a lot of good ideas came from those meetings.
A chapter of GLAAD was formed in San Diego by the handsome and sexy David Hill (can you tell I had a thing for him) I was a founding member of the organization. and the group elected me fundraising chair as well. We held most of our meetings at the Center in one of the smaller rooms downstairs. That is until GLAAD/LA asked us to close our chapter and absorb into theirs. Still today I think that was a mistake, but it was out of our hands.
We have certainly come a long way since those days. We allow everyone to walk through our doors and offer a friendly hello. Our auditorium today is beautiful! We have a wall honoring LGBT Veterans, a wall of Honor for all the LGBT "pioneers" in our community, and more wall space to fill to honor more beloved members of our community.
When the Center moved to its current location everyone was so excited, it was a great big beautiful building only one block away from its former location. After getting somewhat settled in, the real work had to begin, there were many structural changes needed to the building to accommodate the needs of the community. When we found out how much money was needed for repairs. The community began to push back a little. I guess we didn't have the vision of how wonderful the finished product would be. There were rumors the Center might have to close and, and all kinds of other nasty things started being said. But instead of being angry, the community rolled up its sleeves and help build The Center "brick by brick" through sponsorship and corporate donations, some city funds earmarked for community centers.. Heck if there was a spot on a wall for a tile or a staircase, or hallway to be named after someone it was done.
The Imperial Court raised tens of thousands of dollars for The Center back in those days. I remember at the beginning of my reign as Empress, the Board President, Nicole "asked us" to pledge to raise $25,000 during our reign. My Emperor wasn't always the most pleasant of people so he bitched and moaned about how much money the organization had already given them so Nicole raised that figure to $50,000. Between the three monarchs and the Board of Directors that year we reached that goal. Even before reaching that goal we were honored at the Center Gala with a very nice award. Nicole snatched it out of my Emperors hand and gave it to me. I still have that award and it means a great deal to me, it represents pride in my community, pride in my center, and pride in myself for obtaining the goal with the help of the entire membership of the Imperial Court.
I was so excited when I became part of the planning committee for the next Center Gala, I attended a few meetings but unfortunately a new job conflicted with meeting times and I had to bow out. That really bummed me out. But then a great honor was presented to me. I (Summer Meadows) was asked to be on stage at the Gala with Center Board member, and a dear friend, John Laird to do the live auction. My Center called ME and asked for my help. WOW that meant a lot to me. I never had felt like a bigger part of the community as I did then.
Today the Center has grown into a community center for ALL. There are programs for seniors, women, LGBT families, Transgender groups, AIDS WALK San Diego, there is a free food distribution each month for the entire community, not just the LGBT community, Latin@ Services, sports groups, HIV Services including free testing 5 days a week Organizations of all kinds utilize the many meeting spaces. There is a very successful psychological counseling program, we have a wonderful lending library with hundreds of LGBT themed books, a computer lab where people can use computers for free 5 days a week. we have Sunburst Youth Housing, a housing project for teens that have been living on the streets and/or kicked out of their home because of their sexual orientation. Not only do i participate in the Center's counseling program, I also attend rallies to motivate us to fight for our basic human rights, Town Hall type meetings, celebrations and even memorials.
So, What Does My LGBT Center Mean to me?
The Center continues to be a place where people come to feel like they are in a safe haven. I know when I walk through those doors I feel empowered and protected and a part of a group of people that truly care about the community. Ive been volunteering at the front desk of the center off and on for 2-3 years now, Ive worked with Family Matters, and the monthly food distribution. Currently I am working on other projects that will benefit the center and the community, because The Center is always growing and changing to accommodate our communities needs. I am proud to be a part of it, no matter what capacity.