When City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez walks down the street in front of the LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest community, he sees decades of history and the struggle he and fellow leaders have endured to make San Diego’s Pride celebration everything it is today.
Proud of one of his most recent accomplishments of changing the street name in front of the LGBT center to Harvey Milk Street, Murray-Ramirez also reminisces about how far his community has come from the first San Diego Pride 40 years ago.
Inside the center and standing in front of pictures of other local LGBT trailblazers, Ramirez said, back then, it was anything but a party.
“Let’s take the police force. The Chief was known to be racist, homophobic and sexist. The mayor at that time refused to meet us to discuss harassment and the discrimination because he said there weren’t really that many homosexuals in San Diego,” Ramirez recalled.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that homosexual acts between consensual adults were legalized. Gays and lesbians were considered by many as deviants.
Ramirez remembers friends committed into mental hospitals for being homosexual and undergoing electric shock therapy. He said they were never the same afterward.
“That was the environment those of us who were out as homosexuals [in the 70s] were in, in San Diego,” he recounted.
In 1974, after being inspired by the Los Angeles Pride demonstration, Ramirez teamed up with military veteran Jess Jessop and attorney Tom Homann.
They wanted to have a Pride march in San Diego, so they went to the police department to request a permit.
But it was anything but easy.
“The sergeant said ‘We’re not issuing you a permit. There will never be a homosexual Pride march or whatever in this city and you guys are deviants and you’re queers, and if you don’t get out of here we’re going to arrest you,’” Ramirez said.
The next day, Ramirez, Jessop, Homann and about 200 gay and lesbian San Diegans marched down Broadway without a permit.
Ramirez remembers feeling afraid as people yelled obscenities and threats at them. It was clear many were shocked homosexuals were marching.
He recalls one officer coming up to them and saying, “We can’t guarantee your safety if anything happens.”
The following year, the three Pride pioneers obtained a permit by threatening to sue the City of San Diego. Every year and decade after that, Pride became more accepted and celebrated.
Four decades later, it’s one of San Diego’s most popular celebrations. Festivities include a rally, block party, music festival and vibrant parade down the streets of Hillcrest that attracts approximately 300,000 spectators every July.
Today, Ramirez said his message to LGBT youth is the same message he has for everyone and that is, “A community or a movement that doesn’t know where it came from doesn’t know where it’s going.”
Jessop and Homann passed away years ago of HIV/AIDS. Ramirez continues to fight for LGBT rights and currently serves as a San Diego appointed city human rights commissioner.
Every day, he fondly remembers his fellow Pride pioneers.