SDDC HISTORY 1975–90
The club was founded in late 1975 and I did not join until 1977. At that time, the club was still quite small, and met monthly on Sunday afternoons in members’ homes (most often Bob Lynn’s or Al Smithson’s). As I recall, Gloria Johnson and Jeri Dilno were about the only active women members. We had five officers: President, Vice-President, two Secretaries (recording and corresponding) and Treasurer. As I know from being Treasurer much later, the bank account in those days rarely had more than a few hundred dollars. The mailing list of members and interested parties had about 100–150 names. Bob Lynn sometimes gave Saturday morning seminars in his law office to teach us what he had learned about the structure and operation of the Democratic Party statewide.
It was hard to get many politicians interested in visiting our meetings. At the first meeting I attended, Evonne Schulze was running for City Council and spoke to us. Three members of the Board of Supervisors (Jim Bates, Roger Hedgecock, Lucille Moore) visited at various times in connection with our project to pass a non-discrimination ordinance at the county level. I believe Charlie McKain contributed the first proposed draft. All three of these supervisors made supporting noises for the ordinance, but when Lucille got up the courage to introduce it at the Board, she could not get a second to her motion, and the project went no further.
Other early visitors included City Councilman Leon Williams and Assemblyman Larry Kapiloff. Larry had recently defeated a far-right lunatic ex–Navy chaplain who had one of the better collections of pornography in Sacramento.
In those days the state party did not allow a gay/lesbian caucus in the party organization, but the CDC (California Democratic Council), a statewide federation of Democratic clubs, did, and so we joined and attended their conventions. The first of these was in San Diego (perhaps 1978) and our members assisted with organizing sessions and driving dignitaries around. Harvey Milk attended, and the then closeted Rep. Allard Lowenstein tried to make out with one of our younger cuter members who was chauffeuring him.
In 1978, a big project was the defeat of the Briggs initiative, a ballot proposal to fire gay teachers, which failed by a fairly good margin. Rev. David Farrell, an active club member at the time, was a leader in this effort, putting together an effective series of radio commercials.
In 1979 the club was heavily involved in the City Council campaign of Al Best, the first openly gay person to run for office in San Diego. He was not a club member (in fact, a Republican) or otherwise politically active at the time, but decided to run in the aftermath of a series of police raids on gay business establishments and the resultant hearings at the City’s Public Safety and Services Committee (chaired by then Councilmember Maureen O’Connor). Many club members volunteered in his campaign, including running our first public opinion poll outside a supermarket to see if he had any name recognition and what issues were important. He came in, as I remember, 5th or 6th in a field of 11 or 12 for the open seat in District 2 to be vacated by O’Connor. He raised between $ 15,000–20,000 and out-polled the endorsed candidate of the Democratic County Central Committee (Rudy Murillo). Most importantly for future efforts, perhaps, he was interviewed and treated as a respectable and credible candidate by all the media. He also received death threats. The runoff election was between Democrat Joyce Beers and Republican Bill Cleator, the latter winning.
In 1980 Bob Lynn retired as President and was succeeded by Gloria Johnson. Bob went on with some other club members and some gay Republicans to found USDEC (United San Diego Elections Committee), a bipartisan political action committee modeled on the success of MECLA in Los Angeles. He was also at that time under active consideration for a judicial appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown, who had already appointed two openly gay judges in other cities.
A major accomplishment of 1980 was the selection of several club members to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention. In a very well organized effort, the would-be delegates recruited fellow members and friends to come and vote for them in the various district caucuses and then come and enjoy a large pool party in Brad Truax’ back yard. We managed to edge out many long-term party activists who were less well organized. There were many gay and lesbian delegates from all over the country at the convention, recognizable by large gay caucus badges (provided by Brad Truax). Several were interviewed by the national media. This tradition has continued at all subsequent national conventions, although we no longer need to provide the big party.
In 1981, Brad Truax was elected President and served for four terms. In this period, the Board of Directors was greatly expanded and the club became truly co-sexual. A Women’s Caucus was created and each Board position was required to have co-sexual co-chairs. The Gay Vote list was significantly enlarged, so that our endorsement information could be much more widely distributed. We acquired our first club computer. Our membership expanded, with many more women, to the point that we outgrew meeting in members homes, and started meeting in a bank building at 5th and University. The meetings moved from Sundays to Thursdays. We began a series of very popular annual yard sales in Doug Scott’s front yard to raise funds.
The first Freedom Banquet was held in the fall of 1981 featuring a roast of Bob Lynn. The event filled the Café del Rey Moro with about 300 people, the largest such function ever held in San Diego to that time. It has continued to be our principal fund raising event.
The first two AIDS cases in San Diego came in 1983. An early response by the club that attracted national attention was the Blood Sisters drive, in which lesbians (club members and others) opened an account in the Blood Bank in the club’s name to provide blood for gay men who could no longer donate. This was organized by Barbara Vick.
1983 marked a very important mayoral campaign, a special election to replace Pete Wilson, who had been elected to the U.S. Senate. The two major candidates were former Supervisor Roger Hedgecock and former Councilmember Maureen O’Connor. Both sides sought and got support from the gay community. The club was strongly divided (to put it politely) and was not able to agree on an endorsement. Hedgecock was the winner and rewarded some of his gay supporters with appointments. Perhaps most significantly, he created the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS which provided a forum for people from the agencies addressing the epidemic to talk to each other. Brad Truax and other gay doctors participated in this. This election marked a milestone for the club in that we were recognized by all the political players as a constituency worth courting, which could supply significant money and votes.
By 1986 the AIDS epidemic had produced a vast flood of legislation at the state level that was beyond the capability of local political clubs to track and advocate or oppose. A statewide effort produced the LIFE Lobby, which hired a full time lobbyist and staff to do nothing but follow AIDS and gay rights legislation. The club was a charter member and financial contributor to LIFE.
In 1987 the second openly gay man to run for office was Neil Good, who ran for the 8th District City Council Seat. His campaign had substantial club support and volunteers. His principal opponents were Bob Filner, who won the seat, and Mike Aguirre, who came in second. Neil was a very close third; his campaign manager was Chris Kehoe.
By 1989, a very important reform had been achieved: district elections for city council seats. In the first contest under the new rules, District 3, which contains the bulk of the gay community, elected Democrat John Hartley over an incumbent Republican, Gloria McColl. John was heavily supported by the gay community, and appointed Chris Kehoe to his staff and created a gay/lesbian advisory committee.
In 1990, the City Council district boundaries were redrawn to conform to the census. The club played a key role (particularly Charlie McKain) in the many public meetings and supplied demographic data on the gay/lesbian population based on our Gay Vote list and other organization lists. This long effort resulted in a District 3 that a gay candidate (with good connections to the straight community) could win.
The other main achievement of 1990 was the passage of the Human Dignity Ordinance, eliminating discrimination in housing and employment for the city. Club members were very active in a bi-partisan coalition that worked to lobby all council members and arrange testimony at the public hearings. The HDO passed 8–1, with the only negative voter, Republican Bruce Henderson, being defeated in the next election by Democrat Valerie Stallings, who received heavy club support.