Foremother. Trailblazer. Legend.

Dear Pride Family,

Last night, our community lost a trailblazer and legend. Today, we are left with the deepest of gratitude to Jeri Dilno, for her bravery and willingness to forge a path where often none existed. She was a home-grown activist who gave decades of her life to service and left a substantial legacy of liberation benefitting generations of LGBTQ community members

Jeri’s history-making legacy started in 1972 in Philadelphia where she organized the city’s first Pride festival bringing hundreds of people together in celebration and protest. When she later returned home to San Diego, Jeri served as the first female Executive Director of The San Diego LGBT Community Center (1975-1977), then named “The Gay Center,” and used her consensus-building skills to change the name to the “Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center.”. During her tenure, she helped to obtain the very first permit for the 1975 San Diego Pride march (1974 was unpermitted). 

Yet, she didn’t see herself as a trailblazer – in response to a street naming honor in 2019, she said, “I don’t know that I did anything so spectacular. I was just doing what needed to be done at the given time.” But it was exactly that tenacity, bravery, humility, and showing up for the community that made her so spectacular. Jeri gave her time tirelessly to our LGBTQ community in many different ways over the years, including:

  • The San Diego LGBT Community Center Executive Director (1975-1977)
  • The San Diego LGBT Community Center Board of Directors (1978-1980)
  • San Diego Democratic Club, President (1987-1991)
  • Commission on the Status of Women- appointed by Mayor Maureen O’Connor (1986-1992)
  • San Diego Pride Board of Directors (1989-1994,  2000-2006)
  • Gay and Lesbian Times, Assistant Editor and Editor (1993-95)
  • San Diego Pride Board of Directors Emeritus (2006-2024)
  • San Diego Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Advisory Committee (2021)
  • San Diego Police Department Citizens Advisory Board on Police-Community Relations 
  • San Diego Pride’s 20th Anniversary Celebration of Stonewall – Coordinator and Grand Marshal
  • Mentor to many LGBTQ community leaders and elected officials

Celebrating Jeri Dilno
Joint Statement from San Diego Pride and The San Diego LGBT Community Center:

Rarely does one person so profoundly impact the foundation, growth, and sustained progress of a movement the way that Jeri Dilno did. Her presence and influence are irreplaceable for not only the San Diego LGBT Community Center but San Diego Pride. 

One of the many things we loved about Jeri was her storytelling — she had the best stories. We invite our community to celebrate her memory and activism with us as we collect quotes from friends, fellow activists, and the community members she mentored. We share our reflections and those of a few others below to begin to celebrate her legacy. With the deepest of gratitude, we say “Thank you, Jeri”.

California State Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus Toni G. Atkins (39th District)
“The San Diego community lost one of its pillars with the passing of Jeri Dilno. For a half century, Jeri was an outspoken advocate and trailblazer for LGBTQ+ equality and women’s rights, serving in top leadership roles with organizations such as San Diego Pride, San Diego Democrats for Equality, and the San Diego LGBT Community Center.  She will be remembered for her dedication and indomitable spirt, as well as her wit and wisdom. I will miss my dear friend, Jeri.”

Cara Dessert, CEO, San Diego LGBT Community Center
“Jeri Dilno was a lesbian icon, community shero, trailblazer, veteran, mentor, and friend, who touched the lives of countless people over her lifetime of activism and leadership and paved the way for generations of San Diego LGBTQ+ leaders, including myself. As the first female Executive Director of The Center and its first paid staff member, Jeri led The Center’s growth into a more robust social service community center and a beacon of hope and support for our community, opening our doors wider for more people to come and build community together. Jeri is part of a legacy of leaders who helped create one of the largest and most impactful LGBTQ+ organizations in the country. She fought for our rights and dignity with unparalleled determination and commitment that brought so many together and built real community power. Her legacy will live on in our hearts and history, and in the many people whose lives she touched. We are forever grateful for her courage, her compassion, and her lifetime of deep community leadership. Thank you, Jeri, you deserve to rest in power.”

Jen LaBarbera, Interim Co-Executive Director, San Diego Pride
“Jeri Dilno is who I want to be when I grow up. It was an honor to know her, to not just follow her footsteps but get to walk with her in this journey for a short time, to get to experience the joy of Jeri Storytime, and to have the honor of witnessing and being pulled into her legacy of liberation.”

Sarafina Scapicchio, Interim Co-Executive Director, San Diego Pride
“Jeri Dilno possessed the rare talent of being able to visualize and articulate the delta between what currently exists in the world, and what should be. Whether fighting against harmful legislation like the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6) or working to re-establish San Diego Pride as a community-centered nonprofit organization that contributes back to the community financially, her passionate commitment to our collective freedom created a ripple effect that we all benefit from today. Thank you, Jeri, for your lifetime of work and for the fearlessness, honesty, and humor that you did it with. We are so grateful to you.”

San Diego Pride Board of Directors
“Pride brings people together and no one knew that better than Jeri Dilno. She was a community organizer, a leader, and a trailblazer. We are deeply grateful that her dedication to the LGBTQ+ community included over a decade of service on the San Diego Pride Board of Directors. As Board Emeriti, her guidance was deeply valued and her commitment to our mission remained unwavering. The history of San Diego Pride could not be written without her. The Board of Directors mourns her passing and will continue to celebrate her legacy.”

Joe Mayer, San Diego Pride Board Emeriti
“Jeri was truly a guiding hand for me during my tenure on the Pride Board. Whenever things got tumultuous, she always had a sense of calm to offer those around her. She would reassure us that we would get through, just as we had in the past.”

Doug Moore, San Diego Pride Board Emeriti 
“Jeri and I were the oldest and served Pride almost from its beginning. As the members of the board changed we both felt that we were the historians, providing the why’s about how things were done. She provided me with a different perspective and I’ve counted on her. I am most thankful to have known her, and will fill the empty spot with many memories.”

Nicole Verdes, Managing Director, Lambda Archives of San Diego: 
“San Diego has lost an incredible force with the passing of Jeri Dilno. Few individuals have left such an indelible mark on our LGBTQ+ community as Jeri. For somebody who had such a historically significant impact and who had personal friendships with people like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, many of us here in San Diego will remember her as being brilliant, compassionate, a superb storyteller, and a friend. To say she will be missed is an understatement. Thank you, Jeri – for everything.”

We invite you to carry on her storytelling legacy with us: add your own memories and experiences and tag us on social media.

  • San Diego Pride (Instagram, Facebook)
  • The San Diego LGBT Community Center (Instagram, Facebook)

P.S. You can learn more about Jeri’s legacy here: 


About San Diego Pride

San Diego Pride raises funds primarily through festival ticket and beverage sales, and through sponsorships, and exhibitor fees. These funds support San Diego Pride’s community philanthropy which has distributed more than $2.5 million in advancement of its mission to foster pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities locally, nationally, and globally.