Cover Story

Hero of Pride: Scott Fulkerson representing the San Diego Pride  Founding Leadership 15/20 Committee

By JP Emerson

My name is Scott Fulkerson and I live in Bankers Hill. I came to San Diego about 36 years ago and was almost  immediately hired by what was then called the San Diego Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center as their Executive Director which was one of the best things that ever happened to me. 


I was Executive Director of The Center for about five years, during that time I was also chair of San Diego Pride and I also took on the responsibility of AIDS Walk San Diego. During that time, I moved The Center out of some really terribly filthy rented quarters to a new building which I lobbied the city for funds and the city paid $650,000 towards the cost of the building and then we remodeled it and that was on Normal Street. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I moved The Center to Normal Street. 


The first year I was at The Center there were a couple of young men from outside of San Diego that had just moved here, they were going to do Pride, but they couldn’t get sponsorship or any support because they were unknown and on their own, so we supported them through the 501 (c3) nonprofit of The Center, and I became involved with Pride that way. During the preparation for pride that year I could see all kinds of problems with the way it was being done so I delved into the history, it had always been done by a different group of people every year, some years they were successful some years they weren’t, some years it paid for itself but many years it didn’t so it just seemed to me that Pride needed to be stabilized and professionalized in a city the size. Those two fellows I mentioned put on a great show but they left us $30,000 in debt which we negotiated down but some of it we paid in full and it was decided by myself and the board at The Center that The Center should take Pride on and stabilize it and professionalize it, and to that we found an entirely new volunteer crew and we hired a professional event organizer as Executive Director of Pride and even in that first year we did in fact stabilize them and professionalize it. The year we took it over would’ve been 1988 when we decided that we were going to take it on from The Center it was also decided that we needed someone well-known and well respected in the community to head up the Board so I called Chris Kehoe and asked her if she would be willing to Chair Pride and she said, “yes but only if you’re Cochair with me”, which is something I didn’t plan on doing but had to do because we wanted Chris and that was about a five year collaboration. During that time pride attendance went from about 25-30,000 to well over 150,000 the last year we were there and has continued growing since then. 


The community in San Diego as with many other big cities in the country has changed and evolved greatly. During the time I was involved with Pride and AIDS walk, AIDS was a crisis and all of us lost friends and loved ones and there was no help anywhere. President Reagan only mentioned AIDS once in his entire eight years and that was only because Elizabeth Taylor begged him to. So, there was no help coming from the federal or state government. The City of San Diego under Mayor O’Connor was the first branch of government (that I recall) that put some money into the AIDS effort in San Diego which was followed by the County then finally the State and then the Federal Government, so money became available. But it was hard scrabble during those days to take care of people, to get the word out, to find medical help for people and to find housing for people. I felt privileged to do the work that we were doing and to help professionalize a community at that time which we did, AIDS really galvanized this community and other communities around the nation so we developed a large core a very active advocates for help with people with HIV and AIDS, then over the years medical care got better and we got to the point where we are now and that kind of focused community involvement rather disappeared from the scene. There are still lots of organizations, lots of people doing lots of things in San Diego but there’s not the emphasis or the immediacy of a problem that motivated people back in those days to where people really felt like their main occupation in life was to be a community activist. So we went from a time of great community activism and liberalism to A time that has slowed down some in those regards because we don’t have AIDS pressing on us like we once did and I think a lot of people have taken a deep breath and who can blame them, people want to enjoy their lives and they don’t want to always be wrapped around the axle with this problem, with that problem or this crisis and that crisis. So those are some of the changes I’ve seen but also other things, The Center was a pathetic little thing when I first went to go work there, the founders that were still living in the area had gone to the Board of Directors of The Center and ask them to close it down because it had become a community embarrassment. They didn’t want to close it down, they hired me instead, and I’m glad they did. So, we started there to turn the organization into a very large volunteer-based organization but with large professional components in healthcare, mental health and some other areas. The Center has continued to grow and become stronger and stronger to the point that they grew out of the quarters that I had put the organization in on Normal Street and moved a couple blocks down to where they are now. The Center is now well respected, in the days when I was Executive Director, I had a hard time getting the Mayor and City Council involved, they didn’t know who we were, and they didn’t much care. Over time that got better and now The Center is seen as a political and social force in San Diego so those are just some of the changes I’ve seen in my years here. 


In Utah I had spent 17 years as director of drug treatment programs in the corrections system. So I worked in the prisons and jails, worked with the police and did some training at the Rocky Mountain Police Academy so when the voters decided they wanted to have a Police Review Board I thought I’d be really qualified to sit on that board and then the chair of my board said that the board had decided the same thing so they wrote a letter of recommendation to the city for including me in that new board. I asked Ben Dillingham for a recommendation, and he wrote me a lovely letter. I was chosen for the first Police Review Board, and I spent five years as a member of the board and that’s when I started working on issues with the police department and the gay and lesbian community (as we called it at the time). 

My first major issue was bar raids, police liked to go in to gay bars and rouse everybody up, line people up, turn the lights on, threaten people, arrest people and drag people off to jail where they immediately had to let them go because there were no charges against them and if there were they weren’t real. There literally wasn’t a law against gay people being in a gay bar but the police wanted to criminalize that. 

So, I started working with the police and complaining and aggravating them and doing everything I could to bring attention to that and to get the rest of the Police Review Board behind me and it took some doing to make that happen because I was probably the first gay person that other members of the board had ever met. It took me about a year or so to establish myself as a strong member of the board, I was elected to leadership of the board and then we started having more people from the board and their organizations advocating for the rights of gay folks. One of the big ones was the Anti-Defamation League, they’re well-known and well thought of, I talked to the Executive Director and he didn’t really think that his board would support us in anything, as a matter of fact I couldn’t even get him to return my phone calls, I had to go to Murray Galinson who was the chair of the board and very prominent in the Jewish community. I told Murray over the phone what my problem was, and he said, “are you at your desk” to which I replied yes, he said “okay don’t leave”, in about five minutes the phone rang and it was the Anti-Defamation League wanting to talk to me and I got the Executive Director to agree to let me come to their next board meeting and talk to them. I showed up and met the Executive Director and he said don’t count on much this is a very conservative board, they gave me five minutes I took about 15 or 20, they asked me at that point to step out but not leave as they wanted to discuss this, about 10 minutes later they called me back in and said “okay, you have our support, we will publicly support you.”  

So that was the kind of work I was doing; a lot of community organizing, a lot of building of The Center, finding new ways to do things, in those days The Center had become some sort of a junk room, if somebody had an old TV or a dirty stained couch, they thought “oh just take it to The Center”, and that’s what it looked like. So I kept saying to the board, “if someone is struggling with being gay and they walk into this dump, subconsciously they think yeah this is what I deserve, this is all I deserve, I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to know gay people and I don’t want to be part of this community, it’s just as I was told, it’s filthy and it’s nasty looking”, so I finally convinced them to let me go out and try to find us a home that was a better place. 

The impetus behind really getting it going was I was in my office one day really trying to figure out how to raise money for this organization that nobody knew about or cared about and it was a phone call from Joanne Kroc’s secretary, Mrs. Kroc was the widow of Ray Kroc, the man who started McDonald’s which Mrs. Kroc owned at the time as well as the San Diego Padres. Her secretary said Mrs. Kroc is interested in doing some non-traditional giving this Christmastime and we were wondering if you could send us a letter detailing the needs for your organization. As soon as we were off the phone, I started writing it, I listed everything we needed including the immediate needs which one was about $35,000 to do some improvements in the nasty building and to give us a little bit of operating room. The following week I received a check for Mrs. Kroc for $35,000; so still to this day when I walked past a McDonald’s I put my hand over my heart. She was a big encouragement for me, and I was able to use her donation to tell people “Joan Kroc is doing this, Joan Kroc is doing that” and it helped me get support for other projects and things for The Center.  And that just went on for five years with more and more success each and every year.


I feel humbled and I’m surprised. It’s been many years since I’ve been active in the community so to be recognized at this time in my life is extremely meaningful. I also feel that probably other people deserve the award more than me, people like Doug case who was involved with Pride for probably over 30 years, so I’m glad to see Doug is also being honored here. I feel privileged to be honored with this group of people like Chris Kehoe who has done so much for our community. 


It’s so hard for young people when they’re coming into their own to pay attention to the people that came before them especially their elders. We whole different political views and social views, always young people and especially young LGBTQ+ people are going to be pretty radical as they should be, and God bless them for it but there is still a lot they can learn from the past and the elders in the community so I encourage young people to reach out because there’s a lot of shortcuts that we can help you with. There are a lot of lessons that we’ve learned that younger people don’t have to learn over again. So, I think it’s very important that they not forget the past.


My hopes for the future of our community are different than some people, I hear from a lot of people say that they hope one day there will be no need for so much organization in the queer community and I don’t think it will ever be that way, I think the times that we’re living in now we’re all the incredible gains we’ve made it as a community are all threatened, Every single one of them and we could be losing them all. There’s got to be a sense of community and a sense of involvement in that community and commitment to that involvement in order for us to protect the rights that we have now and to expand those rights because there are still a lot of legal problems for queer people. 


The word is QUEER PRIDE! As a psychologist I think I understand just how deeply guilt, shame and internalized homophobia run in people and the only way to get rid of that is to truly examine yourself and interact with other queer people. Learn about your community, learn about others, The more we do those kinds of things the healthier we get.

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