San Diego LGBT Pride celebrates 34 years
Published Thursday, 17-Jul-2008 in issue 1073
Pride is more than a raucous celebration of civil rights and sexual liberation. It’s a time to commiserate, build community and honor the trailblazers of our community’s civil rights movement.
San Diego LGBT Pride has fostered the celebration and recognition of our community’s leaders for 34 years; Pride spotlights individuals and organizations who contribute to the community through their leadership, activism and fund-raising efforts.
The community has the opportunity to nominate recipients for the annual Spirit of Stonewall Awards, which are presented by the San Diego Pride board of directors in four categories: group or organization community service; individual community service; Champion of Pride; and Friend of the Year. Pride also recognizes two Inspirational Couples and the parade’s Grand Marshals.
2008 Spirit of Stonewall Service Award: Wells Fargo
The 2008 Spirit of Stonewall Service Award is presented to Wells Fargo, a longtime supporter of the San Diego GLBT community. The award recognizes a group or organization that has consistently supported the community during the years or has made exceptional contributions in the past year.
The Wells Fargo Foundation is the giving arm of the North American financial institution Wells Fargo & Co. Wells Fargo has donated more than $15 million to GLBT nonprofits and has been recognized for six years in a row by DiversityInc as one of the top 50 companies for diversity.
Wells Fargo supports a number of GLBT causes in the community, including AIDS Walk, San Diego Pride, Mama’s Kitchen and The San Diego LGBT Community Center. For more than 20 years, Wells Fargo has worked to foster relationships within the community and actively seeks new employees through GLBT career forums. Additionally, many employees serve on boards of nonprofit organizations throughout the city. As a corporate citizen who is actively involved in the community and who has set the standard for safe and equitable workplaces, Wells Fargo is the deserving recipient of this year’s Spirit of Stonewall Service Award, San Diego Pride says.
Additionally, through its exceptional involvement in the community, Wells Fargo has earned a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
According to the Wells Fargo Web site, “Wells Fargo is proud to support organizations working to strengthen our communities. Through the efforts of our enthusiastic team member/volunteers and our contributions, we share our success within our communities by giving back to nonprofits and educational institutions that address vital community needs and issues.”
2008 Spirit of Stonewall Community Service Award: Laura Mustari
With more than 25 years experience in the nonprofit sector, Home Start CEO Laura Mustari was a key member of the steering committee that helped launch The Center’s new youth housing project. This talented and motivated community leader also served as the first female president of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation’s (SDHDF) board of directors.
This award is bestowed each year to an individual or couple recognized as an up-and-coming leader within the community or whose contribution to the community in the past year was of particular significance. Mustari’s long track record of philanthropy, advocacy and leadership make her a prime example of what the Spirit of Stonewall Community Service Award stands for.
“I was very surprised when I found out I was selected for this great award,” Mustari said. “I am truly honored and humbled to be in the company of so many amazing people in our community who have given so much to San Diego.”
For Mustari, Pride has added significance.
“Pride is so relevant today because it is about celebrating the lives and gains of our community,” Mustari said. “It stands for human rights and the fact that every one of us should be valued as a child of God, in the broadest sense of human goodness.”
Mustari recalled her first Pride experience and how it shaped her vision of what Pride is.
“My first Pride experience was nearly 20 years ago here in San Diego,” Mustari said. “It was really surprising to me how much diversity there was both in the parade itself and with the crowd of people who were watching and cheering. It clearly was an event for the entire San Diego community to enjoy – it was a much smaller crowd than what we have today, but the spirit was very exciting.
“What struck me then and what continues to do so every year was the PFLAG contingent. Seeing the parents, brothers and sisters, and friends holding up supportive signs such as, ‘I love my gay sons’ and ‘My lesbian sister is the best’ really choked me up. I still tear up seeing the love and support expressed so outwardly and unconditionally.”
Mustari’s service to the community extends past her work with The Center and the SDHDF; she is a social leader with the YMCA’s Youth and Family Services, of which she served as executive director for 12 years. She currently remains active with the SDHDF by serving on the advisory board for its BCAUSE fund (Breast Cancer Alliance to Unite, Support and Educate). Mustari is also the CEO of Home Start, a 35-year-old organization dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of children while focusing on child-abuse treatment in San Diego County.
2008 Spirit of Stonewall Champion of Pride: Dr. Keith D. Vrhel
San Diego AIDS Project co-founder Dr. Keith D. Vrhel will be honored as this year’s recipient of the Spirit of Stonewall Champion of Pride award for his longtime activism in GLBT healthcare.
In a medical career spanning nearly 30 years, Vrhel opened his practice to patients suffering from HIV/AIDS at the start of the crisis, at a time when other doctors feared treating patients with the disease. A leader in the medical community, Vrhel has treated thousands of patients, promoted HIV/AIDS research in San Diego County and abroad, and trained hundreds of interns and residents in progressive HIV/AIDS therapies that incorporate respect and compassion toward patients.
Over the past 30 years, Vrhel has sacrificed countless hours to the cause, through education, advocacy and community leadership. According to San Diego Pride, his integrity and strength deserves recognition and respect for overcoming great milestones in the HIV/AIDS crisis in Southern California.
Co-founder of the San Diego AIDS Project, San Diego’s first HIV/AIDS organization, Vrhel’s work provided full-service community education and client-centered social service programs to the AIDS-affected community. The San Diego AIDS Project’s purpose is to improve HIV/AIDS outreach, primary care services and education to those who live in the county. Since its inception, the AIDS Project has assisted countless individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS and served as an advocate for public education and social services for this demographic.
However, Vrhel’s activism does not stop with the San Diego AIDS Project. His outreach extends to numerous organizations, including the San Diego County Task Force on AIDS, the California Medical Association and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. He is also a founding member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and a charter member of the Greater San Diego Business Association.
A board-certified physician in internal medicine and HIV/AIDS, Vrhel is also an associate professor of medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital. In 2002, Scripps opened Mercy Gardens to house HIV/AIDS patients, providing full-service care for those suffering from the disease.
In the past four years alone, nearly 2,000 San Diego County residents have been diagnosed with AIDS. Four hundred thirty-eight new cases were reported in 2007, resulting in 13,436 cumulative cases in the county, according to the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s 2008 Annual Report.
However, reported AIDS cases in San Diego County have dropped dramatically in the past 15 years; 1991-1993 witnessed a huge spike in diagnosed cases in the county, and that number has been halved since 1997.
Community effort and dedicated work by people like Vrhel have influenced these significant milestones in battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
2008 Spirit of Stonewall Friend of the Year: Mayor Jerry Sanders
In the face of intense opposition last year over an appeal on a same-sex marriage license ban to the California Supreme Court, Mayor Jerry Sanders boldly supported GLBT rights by signing an amicus brief championed by City Councilmember Toni Atkins in support of marriage equality. The action was followed by an emotional press conference given by Sanders, which attracted national media attention on the issue and his support for San Diego’s GLBT community.
In the press conference, Sanders explained he can no longer oppose same-sex marriage because he does not want to deny justice to people like his daughter, who is a lesbian.
“I decided to lead with my heart, which is probably obvious at the moment,” said Sanders, during the press conference in September. “In the end, I couldn’t look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships, their very lives, were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife, Rana.”
The Republican mayor has taken part in Pride rallies and parades since he was elected to office in 2005. Additionally, during his tenure as police chief from 1993 to 1999, he marched each year in the Pride parade. As mayor of San Diego, he participated in The Center’s Annual Gala, San Diego AIDS Walk and many additional GLBT events in the community.
San Diego Pride also recognizes Sanders’ efforts to educate San Diego Police Department officers on hate crimes. Sanders was quoted following a violent attack on six men after they left the Pride festival in 2006 saying, “You are cowards. Make no mistake about it – if you commit such a crime, we will do everything within our power to catch you.”
Reliable, passionate and an ally of the GLBT community, Sanders is the well-deserved recipient of the Spirit of Stonewall Friend of the Year award.
2008 San Diego Pride Grand Marshals: Peter Tatchell, Ruth Henricks and Gilbert Baker
This year’s Pride parade on July 19 will feature three grand marshals representing both the local and international GLBT quest for equal rights.
Australian-born Londonite Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for GLBT freedom since 1969. Tatchell was a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970s, co-founded U.K. queer-rights direct action group OutRage! in 1990 and is currently the British Green Party’s human rights spokesperson and parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Oxford East.
“My first Pride march was in London in 1972,” Tatchell said. “It was the first Pride held in the U.K. and I was one of the members of the Gay Liberation Front who helped to organize it. Only 700 people turned up; many of my friends were scared to march. They feared we’d all be beaten up and arrested. That didn’t happen, but we were swamped by a very heavy, aggressive police presence. They treated us like criminals.”
Despite police intimidation, Tatchell found his first Pride to be both exciting and fun.
“It was both a celebration and a protest,” he said. “We received mixed reactions from the public – some hostility but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never seen an openly LGBT person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand freedom.
“Our demand was liberation. We wanted to change society, not conform to it. Our radical, idealistic vision was to create a new sexual democracy, without homophobia and misogyny. Erotic shame would be banished, together with compulsory monogamy, gender roles and the nuclear family. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight. Our message was ‘innovate, don’t assimilate.’”
Tatchell believes that the LGBT community still faces significant challenges in the march toward true equality.
“Our biggest challenge is to universalize and internationalize the struggle for LGBT human rights,” Tachtell said. “In particular, rich western LGBT movements need to do much more to support LGBT movements in poorer-developing countries, which are often under-resourced and working in adverse conditions of religious intimidation and political dictatorship. I’d like to see a much bigger effort to help fund queer-rights groups in severely homophobic countries like Jamaica, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.”
Grand Marshal Ruth Henricks hopes to see greater leadership in the GLBT community. “Years ago, within the gay and AIDS communities, there were many people who stand out in my mind; people who stood up in their own ways to support AIDS services as well as LGBT rights,” Henricks said. “The AIDS community had people like Albert Bell, Ron Gagne, Mark Mischan, Queen Eddie, Joy Galloway, just to name a few – special people who were my friends and who were out openly representing the needs of our community. We all felt a special unity and love for our community and for each other. I don’t see anyone taking up where these people have left off. This comes to my mind as a real void in our community.”
Henricks is the founder of Special Delivery and co-founder and chairperson of the Board of Townspeople, which provides affordable and safe housing to people living with HIV/AIDS. She is also co-founder and board member of Something Special Food Pantry and active with ACCESS San Diego, an organization that brings clinical trials to San Diego.
“In 1990 I began seeing very sick people who seemed to be wasting away to nothing right before my eyes – I learned that this dreaded disease was called AIDS,” Henricks said. “Many other patrons [of my restaurant] were dying from malnutrition. I knew how to cook, so then and there I decided I could do something in my little community to fight back against this terrible plague. In 1991, I started Special Delivery San Diego, creating an all-volunteer agency that could help meet the nutritional needs of people living with AIDS. Now, over 17 years later, we remain committed to providing food security to persons suffering from AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.”
Since founding Special Delivery in 1991, she has rallied more than 150 volunteers to carry out the effort, which operates Monday through Friday on a nonprofit basis.
Henricks is modest about her selection as Grand Marshal.
“I feel there are hundreds of people more qualified than me to be honored in this way,” she said. “I guess I was selected because I have been relentless in my mission of providing an all-volunteer, home-delivered meal service helping to provide food security with what God-given talents I have been given.
“People living with AIDS are my heroes. They get up every morning knowing what they have to face: medications, nausea, loss of appetite, loss of energy, loss of income, living at sub-poverty levels, neuropathy – and the list goes on. It is the least I can do to provide these dear ones with three meals a day, hoping that this delivery made with love will make a difference in their lives.”
San Diego Pride’s celebrity Grand Marshal is Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag. A dedicated activist, Baker in 1974 put forth the colorful symbol that is embraced by millions within our community as a visible call for equal rights.
After being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1972, just as the gay liberation movement began emerging, Baker taught himself to sew and put his skill to work making banners for gay marches. His rainbow flags debuted at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978, with the late gay activist and city politician Harvey Milk ranking among the participants waving the flag triumphantly.
In 2003, Baker constructed the largest Pride flag ever – stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West. A 300-foot section of this flag will be carried in this year’s Pride parade as part of a Human Rights March to Balboa Park on July 19.
2008 San Diego Pride Honors Two Inspirational Couples
San Diego Pride will honor two longtime, same-sex couples in its annual parade July 19. Pride’s inspirational couples reflect the many fulfilling partnerships that exist throughout the GLBT community and they cast a human light on achieving full equality for all people. The honor is a show of support for the scores of committed couples within the GLBT community.
“Pride has recognized loving couples who have waited many years for marriage equality for the last three years. This year, the celebration takes on greater significance with the pending statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would end recognition of our marriages,” said Ron deHarte, executive director of San Diego Pride.
The honorees are John Dapper and Lyman Hallowell, who will celebrate their 63rd anniversary in August, and Donna Phillips and Gladys Langford, who have been together for 45 years.
Dapper and Hallowell met while employed at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. After leaving the studio more than 50 years ago, they continued their careers as independent contractors for a variety of movie and stage productions such as Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma and The Crooked Man. Dapper later focused his talents on painting and has watercolors installed at the University of Hawaii. In addition to his work as a film editor, Hallowell also served as an Air Force pilot in World War II.
Phillips and Langford met at a gay bar in Hillcrest, where Phillips was an employee. Langsford had just moved from Canada to San Diego, working for Bell Telephone. Phillips also served in the Air Force, but was discharged on account of her sexual orientation. She currently works for Borders Books in Mission Valley.
The Inspirational Couples will appear at the front of the procession, along with other lesbian and gay couples who will be celebrating the rights of same-sex couples in California who now have the freedom to marry.