by Nicole Murray Ramirez
The History of San Diego Pride
After the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, about a dozen LGBTQ organizations there got together the following year, in 1970, to organize the first Pride march/parade. The parade was organized to commemorate the three days of riots and the movement that came about because of them. Other cities across the United States and later around the world also started their own Pride marches and parades.
I lived in Hollywood in the 1960s and early 1970s and met the founders of LA Pride, the late Morris Kight and Pat Rocco, as well as the Rev. Troy Perry [founder of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)].
The late Jess Jessop, a Vietnam veteran and San Diegan, had also become friends with Morris, who was a fellow anti-war activist. When I moved to San Diego in the early 1970s, I met Jess and learned that he and others were trying to establish a “San Diego Gay Center.”
In 1974, Jess and I met with my personal attorney, Tom Homann of the ACLU, about starting a Pride march here, as the Los Angeles organizers had done in Hollywood. We contacted our mutual friend Morris to learn more about how the Pride march in LA had been organized.
Tom suggested we go downtown to the San Diego Police Department and apply for a parade permit to do things legitimately. So, Tom, Jess, and I went to the police headquarters to apply.
To understand the times we were living in then and what happened next, it’s important to know that homosexuality was illegal until 1977. This was 1974.
When we approached the counter for a permit, it was refused and we were told to leave the police station immediately or we would be arrested for being “deviants.”
On our way out the door, a police sergeant at the front desk yelled something at us that I will never forget: “There will never be a gay pride march in San Diego!”
After we left the police station, Tom, Jess and I went to Bradley’s, a bar and restaurant downtown, to discuss what to do next. We decided that we would hold a march anyway, which we would advertise by placing flyers in some of the local bars (some bars refused to post them), and contact the gay and lesbian student organizations at the local colleges. This plan resulted in more than 60 of us gathering together and marching from downtown to Balboa Park – under the threat of arrest – but luckily no one was arrested.
Following this march, Tom (the attorney) threatened an ACLU lawsuit if a Pride march/parade permit was not granted for the following year. The police department did grant a permit in 1975 for a march and parade, which again started downtown and went up to Balboa Park, where a rally was held. I spoke at that first rally, along with gay lobbyist George Raya, State Senator Alan Spear, Barbara Gittings, and others.
For the next few years, the actual San Diego Pride Parade permits were always mailed to Tom’s law office and he told me in those early years he felt like he was “the father” of our parades.
Both Tom and Jess died of AIDS in the 1980s. I vowed to never let our community forget that they were my co-founders of San Diego Pride and I have never stopped telling these stories and that both of these men also made other historic contributions to our LGBTQ community.
Indeed, San Diego Pride stands on the shoulders of many LGBTQ activists over the years – many who are no longer with us.
This year, I’d like to salute and say the names of some of San Diego Pride’s past executive directors and organizational leaders, including: Doug Moore, Jeri Dilno, Big Mike Phillips, Mandy Schultz, Larry Baza, Stan Lewis, Tim Williams, Jim Weatherall, Brenda Schumacher, Barbara Blake, Chris Shaw, Suanne Pauley, Ron deHarte, Dwayne Crenshaw, Tony Zampella, Christine Kehoe, Stephen Whitburn, Alberto Cortes, Joe Mayer, Judi Schaim, Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, Cheli Mohamed, Andrea Villa, January Riddle, Rene Richetts, Bob Leyh, Susan Jester, Herb King, John Keasler, Phyllis Jackson, Scott Fulkerson, Carla Coshow, Rick Cervantes, Albert Bell, Joe Smith, Benny Cartwright, Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, and Fernando Lopez.
As I have been saying for decades: A community inside a movement that does not know where it came from and whose shoulders it stands on, does not really know where it is going! It saddens me when I see so many publications, guides, etc. that are full of ads but not one page of San Diego Pride history and the shoulders we stand on is printed … and that is why I’m writing this column.
Next year will be the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the 50th anniversary of San Diego Pride and I am proud to announce that the San Diego GLBTQ Historic Task Force, along with the financial support of many business people and grants, will be announcing a 2024 year-long project entitled “Remembering San Diego’s LGBTQA+ History.” If you are interested in being a part of this special project, please contact me at [email protected].
Happy Pride to all of you!–Nicole Murray Ramirez is a lifelong Latino and LGBT activist and advocate, a longtime city commissioner, and is the Queen Mother of the International Imperial Court of the Americas. He can be reached at [email protected].