san diego
Annual dinner celebrates 20 years
Dinner was founded in 1988 for AIDS community
Published Thursday, 27-Nov-2008 in issue 1092
In the last 20 years, Dak Thomsen-Bousquet has seen the demographics affected by HIV/AIDS change.
In 1988, when he and Scott Carlson co-founded the AIDS Community Thanksgiving Dinner, the clients who joined them were, primarily, gay men.
Now, the faces in line at the annual Thanksgiving Day event reflect the widespread reach of HIV/AIDS in the local and global communities; more women, children and teens attend, and the disease crosses all ethnic lines.
“The face of AIDS now is incredibly different,” said Thomsen-Bousquet, who, along with the Imperial Court de San Diego and the First Unitarian Universalist Church is hosting the 20-year anniversary of the annual dinner – now named the Scott Carlson Thanksgiving Dinner, in honor of the late co-founder, who was also an AIDS activist and the founder of Being Alive.
Despite the changing clientele, one thing remains the same year in and year out: the need.
In 1988, Thomsen-Bousquet and Carlson organized the event for members of the HIV/AIDS community, who, in some cases, were shunned by family or too sick to cook for themselves. They created the dinner to allow members of the HIV/AIDS community to have fellowship and a sense of community during the holidays.
That first year, the founders gathered white table linens and china, and collected donations of food and money from local businesses to host the event. They spared no expense to make diners feel at home. Thomsen-Bousquet, a banker at the time, reached out to clients in the gay community to help fund the dinner.
“No one said no,” he said.
The next year, 1989, organizers also started delivering Thanksgiving dinners to HIV/AIDS patients in local hospitals and group homes. Over time, organizers cut costs, and began funding the event – using paper plates and plastic ware in lieu of linens and china.
After Carlson’s death the third year, the dinner was named for him, and the Imperial Court and the First Unitarian Universalist Church took the reigns. Thomsen-Bousquet stepped back from chairing the event to care for his partner, who died in 1993.
Thomsen-Bousquet realized this year the dinner would celebrate a milestone – two decades serving Thanksgiving meals to people in the HIV/AIDS community, their friends and family members. A longtime member of the Imperial Court, he asked to co-chair the event to recreate the first dinner 20 years ago.
Along with Linny Thomas, also a member of the court, Thomsen-Bousquet mobilized donors, and plans to set the tables with linens and china – just the way the dinner was served in 1988.
“I want to make it as much as possible like the first,” Thomsen-Bousquet said.
So far, so good – nearly every one of the 1988’s dinner’s original donors have stepped up to give, impressing the co-chairs with their generosity.
“We’re really seeing people come together and volunteers coming out of the woodwork and everything falling into place – it’s an amazing thing,” Thomas said.
The dinner reminds some of what the holiday season is all about – giving, not receiving, Thomsen-Bousquet said.
“The Scott Carlson Thanksgiving Dinner reminds me of what we have to be thankful for in our community,” said president emeritus and Queen Mother of the Americas of the Imperial Court system, Nicole Murray-Ramirez. “I marvel at the dozens of community members, our allies and families who volunteer to spend the day with those who are less fortunate.”
Organizers have never turned someone away from the dinner, and say this year, with a sour economy, they expect to serve a high volume of diners.
The First Unitarian Universalist Church will host the 20th anniversary of the Scott Carlson Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. Dinner will be served from noon to 2:30 p.m. For more information, including contact information for volunteer opportunities, visit
“Everyone in this wins – the volunteers feel good they gave back to the community, the clientele feels good because they’ve enjoyed fellowship and a good feast, and the organizations and the church can feel proud because they’ve stepped up to the plate,” Thomsen-Bousquet said.

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