Founding the San Diego LGBT Center

My name is Bernie Michels, and I have been a Boston Prime Timer since November 1991. I usually don’t brag about this, but I was the chair of a small committee that founded the LGBT Center in San Diego in 1973. Boston could use an LGBT Center as the center of Gay and Lesbian life in Boston, just as the centers are in many U.S. cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The reason that we don’t have a center is that each of the Gay organizations in Boston is jealous of its independence. That includes the Boston Prime Timers.

The LGBT Center is still going strong in San Diego, occupying several buildings, and has a budget of over six million dollars per year. San Diego celebrates the founding of the center every five years through sponsoring a gala at one of the local hotels. I recently went to San Diego last October to celebrate the 45th Anniversary. Not only did they pay for our entrance to the gala, for me and my partner, but they celebrated the birth of the center and my role in it.

We founded the center because we experienced a gap in Gay life in San Diego. Presently, the center is not only the center of Gay life, it now sponsors discussion groups for people who have recently come out, a free library of Gay and Lesbian books, a program for transgender people, a residence for younger people who have been thrown out by their parents when their parents learned of their sexual orientation and an apartment house for older people. Our committee was not initially accepted in San Diego at the time of the founding. In fact, many people questioned why we needed a center, but now the LGBT Center is firmly established as the center of Gay life in San Diego.

I moved to San Diego to attend the School of Social Work at San Diego State University. I requested that my second year placement would be in working with the Gay and Lesbian community. I was the first openly Gay person to apply to the school for admission, but they accepted me. I ended up teaching the first Gay studies course in San Diego, by being interviewed by a local TV station, and by being on the front page of a local newspaper. I was also invited to speak before several groups within San Diego. Being the first openly Gay person at the school was traumatic, but I had a full-time partner at the time, and he eased the trauma for me.

I had come out with the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles in 1979 and 1980. In fact, I participated in the first Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles, down Hollywood Blvd. I was a little on the older side, being in my early thirties at the time, but my participation was accepted.

I moved to Boston in 1976 to attend a Ph.D. program at Brandeis University. I finally completed the program in 1987, and I taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston for twenty-six years. My present partner, Herb, lives in Montrose, California, in the Los Angeles area. I am going to visit him shortly, which I am looking forward to. He comes to Boston for one week of each summer.

(For more information about the San Diego LGBT Center, please visit their website.)