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Delores Jacobs Bids Farewell To San Diego LGBT Community Center

Dr. Delores Jacobs, outgoing chief executive of the San Diego LGBT Community ...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Dr. Delores Jacobs, outgoing chief executive of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, sits for an interview on June 20, 2018.

As the San Diego City Council earlier this month proclaimed June 22, 2018 "Dr. Delores Jacobs Day," Councilwoman Georgette Gomez gave the longtime local LGBT activist a personal thank you.

"Dr. Delores Jacobs has been a great leader in the LGBTQ community, and I have the great pleasure to call her my mentor," Gomez said. "She inspired me and encouraged my community involvement. And I can actually honestly say this, that I wouldn't be here as a council member without her support and her encouragement. So thank you."

Jacobs, who has served as the CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center since 2001, will be formally stepping down from her position at the end of this month. In her 17-year tenure, Jacobs founded a youth leadership academy, expanded transgender-focused counseling and support groups and started programming at a North Park affordable housing project for LGBT seniors.

While Jacobs had a hand in all those things, she declines to take all the credit.

"The idea that any one person runs any organization is a little misleading," Jacobs said in an interview. "Without the talent, the creativity and commitment of this staff, and the board and the volunteers, The Center wouldn't move forward. And we're lucky enough to have all three."

RELATED: San Diego LGBT Community Center To Host Transgender Legal Clinic

Her time at The Center was not without challenges and setbacks: In 2008 Jacobs led an aggressive but unsuccessful campaign against Proposition 8, which revoked the right of same-sex couples to get married. Shortly thereafter came the Great Recession.

"It was a double whammy," Jacobs recalled. "We lost an election one day, and the next day learned the economy was bottoming out."

The economic downturn translated to declining revenues for The Center. Between 2008 and 2011, The Center's budget shrunk by a quarter, forcing staff layoffs.

But the budget and staffing have more than recovered — The Center successfully completed a $2 million fundraising campaign late last year, and this spring it paid off the mortgage on its main building in Hillcrest.

Photo credit: San Diego LGBT Community Center

Delores Jacobs poses with staff and volunteers for the LGBT Community Center at a San Diego Pride parade.

The political setbacks did not last either: Proposition 8 was ultimately overturned by the courts, and in 2015 the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country. Jacobs attributes those victories to more LGBT people becoming politically active.

"Took a while to get organized and change more minds and hearts, and change the courts' minds about basic fairness and basic freedoms, but we did," Jacobs said.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Jacobs said many in the LGBT community have not seen the same level of progress. She said The Center is seeing an increase in the demand for its services: Last year it served more than 25,000 people through more than 73,000 services visits.

"There are challenges for the trans community, who continues to be oppressed, there are challenges for people of color who are also LGBT, there are challenges in the prison system, there are challenges in health care with disparities that continue," she said. "So the fight's not over."

RELATED: Developer Sees Flood Of Interest In LGBT Senior Housing

Last March The Center's board announced it had selected Jacobs' replacement: Cara Dessert, the current chief development and community engagement officer. Dessert started as a community organizer at The Center in 2007 before going to law school and later working in the office of then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

"My heart was always calling me back home to The Center," Dessert said.

Dessert will be The Center's first Latina CEO, and said she would continue The Center's focus on social justice issues that intersect with LGBT rights.

"We're on the border, and so that means that when we talk about our LGBT community, that community includes immigrants and refugees, and it includes LGBT people in mixed-status families," Dessert said. "And so as we advocate for all of our families, that means advocating for our immigrant community as well."

Asked about her fondest memories of The Center, Jacobs recalled the 2006 opening of the Sunburst Youth Housing Project, which houses formerly homeless LGBT and HIV-positive youth.

"The first time we gave a key to a youth, he couldn't stop crying," Jacobs said. "And when he finally stopped sobbing, he was talking about never having had a space where he was safe. A space where he didn't have to worry who was going to beat him, or who was going to yell 'faggot' at him, or who was going to steal his stuff. Those moments are everything."

Dr. Delores Jacobs steps down as the CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center at the end of this month. She has overseen a doubling of The Center's budget and a major expansion of its youth, senior and Latino services.

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