Dear Pride Family,
In July of 2000, I had been homeless and living in my car just a couple of weeks before. I was from the rural border town of El Centro, California which had an extremely anti-LGBTQ climate. We didn’t have an LGBTQ Center or Pride where I came from. Most LGBTQ people were in the closet, and those of us who couldn’t hide were constantly bullied and harassed. Back then I didn’t know what Pride was. I didn’t know what acceptance felt like. My whole life I was just trying to survive.
I moved to San Diego in 1999 having heard rumors that “gay people move there” from other cities. I hoped to find connection, and I did. While I struggled with homelessness, it was a Pride volunteer and then-young community activist Benny Cartwright who saved me from the streets when he and his mother took me in. His first words when he saw me crying outside the Livingroom Cafe in Hillcrest, “What’s wrong? What can I do to help?”
Thanks to him I knew these events called Pride were in Hillcrest, so I headed that way.
I stumbled upon a large group of people standing in front of The Center facing a woman, community legend, Cheli Mohamed, speaking from the front patio, and for the first time in my life I heard the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender” said on a loudspeaker with pride and joy instead of as a slur or behind a whispered hand. As I listened to the speakers talk of justice and a better future, I was filled with kinetic inspiration and a grand sense of awe. For the first time, I wasn’t alone. I found community. I found hope.
Everyone remembers their first Pride.
There’s no easy way to summarize the rest, meeting my husband, finding and fighting legal and social barriers at every turn, volunteering for LGBTQ organizations, doing media relations for our LGBT Center here in San Diego, working for Marriage Equality USA, Equality California, the National LGBTQ Task Force, The Decline to Sign and Prop 8 campaigns, then joining the Pride staff 12 years ago this summer, and then becoming executive director here five years ago this week.
These last five years have presented some of the most challenging obstacles of my over two decades in this work. Through the rise in White-nationalism, targeted violence, growing anti-LGBTQ legislation, the COVID-19 pandemic, mpox, and more, the volunteers, staff, board, donors, sponsors, artists, musicians, and everyone who made Pride possible didn’t only survive, we grew the organization stronger. We collectively understood the importance of the Pride celebrations and our year-round programs. Our staff has grown nearly ten times as large as we were just five years ago and doubled in the last year.
None of that is possible if we don’t pause to care for ourselves and each other.
As I pause to reflect on my last five years as executive director, I can’t help but reflect on my life and every single person it took to lift me through my darkest days and the damages of systemic discrimination. It is the honor of a lifetime to serve our community in this role. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the roof over my head, the clothes on my back, and the countless people who build our community and organization to make all of this work possible.
The next several years will present an escalation by the extreme right as our community is again made the scapegoat for political gain. San Diego Pride will answer that call. Whether you take pause to care for yourself, those closest to you, your communities, schools, places of employment and worship, or join us directly in the work; all of it matters. We are stronger, smarter, and more resilient than our dissenters would have us believe. Let’s remember that, and help each other and our movement Thrive!
With Gratitude and Hope,
Fernando Z. López
San Diego Pride
P.S. I haven’t missed a Spirit of Stonewall Rally in 23 years! Nominate your LGBTQ community inspiration to be recognized there as one of this year’s awardees!