The Center’s 50th anniversary gala promises ‘a journey of emotions’
By Morgan M. Hurley, Editor
The San Diego LGBT Community Center will be celebrating 50 years of serving the local LGBTQ community and being a beacon of safety and support for those just coming out, navigating their twilight years, and everyone in between.
Organizers say they expect the gala – planned for Saturday, Oct. 14 at longtime host the Hilton San Diego Bayfront – to draw 1,000 attendees, some who have supported The Center’s efforts since the very beginning.
Organizers say they expect to draw 1,000 attendees to the gala – planned for Saturday, Oct. 14, at longtime host the Hilton San Diego Bayfront – some who have supported The Center’s efforts since the very beginning.
Starting with Jess Jessop and just a handful of volunteers answering a single telephone in a closet, to the current organization that boasts 35 senior managers, directors and executive staff; an additional 69 full-time employees; 546 volunteers; 10 board members; six physical locations; and an operating budget of $32.3 million (according to their June 2022 annual report); it is safe to say the original “Gay Center” has certainly evolved “out of that closet” over these last 50 years.
Ian Johnson, senior director of development, has evolved right along with The Center, as he began with the organization nearly 20 years ago. He started out as an AIDS Walk San Diego (AWSD) volunteer while still working as a server at Martinis Above Fourth. In 2007, he took a job as “teams coordinator” for AWSD, still juggling his job at Martinis.
“I was content with my restaurant job and honestly thought I would be in the service industry forever,” he continued, saying it was former CEO Delores Jacobs and Donnie Luehring who coaxed him into the position.
“By 2012, things just shifted in my life and I joined The Center as a full-time permanent employee as a special events associate,” he said. “I started as an entry level position and have done nearly every position in my department, which I’m thankful for.”
Gus Hernandez, The Center’s senior director of communications and marketing, joined in 2021, but said there’s been a lot of change in just his two short years on staff and that he sees the gala as a vehicle to “envision what the future holds” for the region’s LGBTQ community.
Johnson, Hernandez, and the entire Center team have been working on plans for the gala for the last six months and Hernandez’ enthusiasm was evident.
“We have an action-packed evening planned,” he said. “From the moment you step into the Gala, you’ll unmistakably know you’re in the right place to celebrate our community’s joy and power.”
The Center’s last gala celebration (45) was in 2017. This year’s milestone event will be held in the Hilton’s newly renovated Indigo Ballroom and Terrace, with panoramic views of San Diego Bay.
”There will be plenty of photo opportunities, so be sure you’re dressed to impress,” Hernandez dished.
The gala’s itinerary starts with a reception on the terrace with music, beverages and hors d’oeuvres, before a seated dinner inside the ballroom. The official program is set to honor “the many struggles and triumphs that got us to where we are today as one of the most impactful and dynamic LGBTQ centers in the country.”
Specific honorees include Dr. Delores Jacobs, the former CEO, as well as The Center’s Stonewall Society Members, and they ask that if you plan to put The Center in your estate plan, to let them know. After the program, the event will open up for a “lively dance party,” where attendees can celebrate the night away.
“The evening is going to take community members through a journey of emotions,” Johnson said. “We will share beautiful moments of community members being interviewed from different parts of the past 50 years and the impact The Center has had on them. There are going to be beautiful nods to our history and we will get an exciting look into The Center’s future that community members can get excited about.
“This isn’t just The Center’s celebration,” Johnson continued. “It is our community’s celebration, a celebration of everyone who made The Center what it is today.”
Johnson also shareds that in the runup to this “historic” event, he’s been reflecting on photos from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and how important the founders and early supporters of The Center through those years were, many who have since been lost to AIDS or the passage of time.
“They didn’t have the opportunity to continue building The Center, growing it to serve more community members,” Johnson said. “It’s an honor to think that I have played a part in what they dreamed of in the early days, and I am now part of a talented and dedicated Center team living out their dreams.”
The Hilton San Diego Bayfront is located at 1 Park Blvd. To purchase tickets or tables for the gala, sponsor a table, make a donation, or RSVP to watch the free online broadcast of the event, visit thecentersd.org/Gala/. Act soon, registration closes Oct. 12.
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