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It Started With An Answering Machine... Edit
San Diego's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, which today serves 12,000 people a year, started with a telephone answering machine in Jess Jessop's house in 1971. If you had a question or problem you'd call the number and someone would call you back. A year later a group of dedicated San Diego lesbians and gay men gathered in a private home in Point Loma with the dream of creating a center for the city's lesbian and gay community. They met once a week for two years; everything was decided by consensus. During these two years of preparation, the group traveled to the Los Angeles Center to see how that year-old center operated, how it was financed, and what services it provided.
The answering machine was still around in 1972, but was moved to a room provided by the Metropolitan Community Church. Local bar owners donated money and gave fund-raising parties, and by September 1973, the first center was ready to open. It was originally called The Center for Social Services. The name was chosen because, at the time, it was believed that a name with "gay" in the title could have hurt the organization's ability to get the Internal Revenue Service's not-for-profit status. Also, in those years, donors did not like to write checks using the word "gay."
The Center's first home was a two-story, ten-room house at 2250 B Street in Golden Hill. The answering machine came along, and when a telephone man installed the equipment, he came out to them. Shortly thereafter he became a Center volunteer. From the start, the Gay Center focused primarily on military counseling and running a hotline. During the week, men and women met in self-development groups and one night a week they would party. The Gay Center moved several times. During a lean time, it was forced to move into a vacant garage, but the phone machine was never turned off!
In 1980 The Gay Center, now renamed the Lesbian and Gay Men's Community Center, moved to its home at Fifth Avenue and Robinson. There, over a twelve-year period, The Center grew from one room for phone counseling to 12 rooms with 50 volunteers and a staff of nine serving 1,200 people a month. The problem was that it was bursting at the seams. The happy solution was the move to 3916 Normal Street in September 1992.
After we got situated on Normal Street, we were approached by the Gay and Lesbian Association of North County (GLANC) with the idea of opening a branch in North County. These funds continued to grow over the years with support from the North County Community. There were several large community meetings chaired by GLANC which included members of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) In The Country, Lesbians in North County (LINC), and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG), The Center and other groups interested in seeing the plans move forward.
In 1996, we held an informal meeting in North County to see if there was enough broad-based interest to support expanding The Center into North County. The response was overwhelmingly positive. It was agreed by The Center's Board of Directors that we would need to have most of the first year start-up costs in the bank prior to opening the facility and they also wanted to make sure that we could maintain the facility on an on-going basis. Thus, began a series of house parties to raise the needed start-up monies.
Once fundraising efforts began, GLANC decided to provide a dollar-for-dollar challenge match to the community to increase the fund-raising possibilities. Within months we raised the $70,000 needed to cover the start-up cost and 60% of first year expenses for the space in North County.
In preparing to open our doors in North County, individuals offered their homes and hosted fundraising parties. These house parties were the key to building broad-based support and raised the capital needed to secure the space that would later become The Center North County. Volunteers also provided an important role in opening the doors, starting from numerous office painting parties to developing programs and systems that would ensure day to day operations of our Center.
By late 1998, The Center was again bursting at the seams. Many of the programs had grown beyond our wildest expectations. When the opportunity to purchase the building at 3909 Centre Street came about, it was decided that the extra space was very much in need. In July 1999, we moved from Normal Street to Centre Street.
In July 2000, the Hillcrest Youth Center opened its doors and instantly became a much used resource for youth in the metro San Diego area. This new component of The Center is a safe and appealing place where youth can come and express themselves and meet others as well as gain access to social-service resources.
In March 2001, The Center North County moved to its new convenient location in San Marcos at 370 Mulberry Dr. This new facility allows The Center to continue to provide important services needed by our North County community.
Renovations on our Centre Street facility began in September 2002 and will be an important step in making The Center accessible to all members of our community.
January 2003, The Center began its 30th year of service to the San Diego LGBT community. Click here for a feature article written by the Gay & Lesbian Times.
July 2003, The first floor interior renovations are finally complete and our doors reopened to the public. The first floor is dedicated to providing friendly and inviting spaces for the community to gather. Our new front desk is more convenient and our cozy drop-in center provides a space to hang out and catch up with what's going on. The David Bohnett/Power Up Cyber Center is even larger than before. The new restrooms are fully now ADA compliant, gone are the 1940s fixtures! New meeting rooms are now larger and brighter. The Auditorium has been thoroughly refreshed as well with new lighting, paint and redone hardwood floor. The building's exterior also received a wonderful new paint job that makes our building stand out proudly. The work is not complete, construction on the new front patio continues and when finished will provide a welcoming entrance for all.
Now, The Center serves over 12,000 people each year, with over 400 volunteers and 50 staff. And each day we continue to grow. As always, stop by and see us and find out what The Center has to offer.