A Word From The Archives

Kasama – The joy of physically coming together: San Diego Black LGBTQ+ History

By Ryan Ednacot

My name is Ryan Ednacot (they/she/he), and I am the Oral History Project Coordinator for Lambda Archives. Since starting as an intern with Lambda Archives in 2021, I have been particularly drawn to how a community-empowered archive holds power. As a Queer and Transgender person of color, my earliest efforts in sifting through digital archives online in hopes of learning about my own community’s history was less than fruitful – a reality that I’ve used to inform allof the work I do at Lambda. As San Diego’s LGBTQ+ archive, we are committed to centering and uplifting the knowledge, histories, and memories of our Black LGBTQ+ community of which our local LGBTQ+ community we all cherish today could not exist without. As we recognize Black History Month, Lambda Archives of San Diego would like to honor our Black LGBTQ+ community members and organizations, whose life-long work, involvement, experiences, contributions, and voices have been integral, if not imperative, to the building and formation of our beautiful LGBTQ+ community. We celebrate this history as it pertains to preserving its past, present, and future. As part of our mission andvalues, our ongoing efforts in sharing local LGBTQ+ history actively works to address and combat historical silences and erasure. o that end, we are excited to share the stories and the impacts that many Black LGBTQ+ leaders have had on our community that we can all be proud of and thankful for.

Vertez Burks

Vertez Burks has been mobilized in several community organizations since relocating to San Diego in 1985, after feeling a sense of belonging within San Diego’s LGBT community. Her contributions include co-founding the Lesbians and Gays of African Descent United (LAGADU) alongside Marti Mackey, Cynthia Lawrence-Wallace, and John Guinn in 1989; Joining the Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee in 1990, where she was elected as the first Black Co-Chair of San Diego Pride two years later; as well as several community projects including: The Names Project, Lesbian Community Cultural Arts, Life Lobby, and documenting SD pride as videographer.

Thomas Carey

Thomas Roy “Thom” Carey was an original member and principal founder of the 1971-1972 planning committee mobilized on developing a Gay Center for Social Services in San Diego. His contributions including volunteering full-time as the committee’s treasurer, hosting Gay Self-Development meetings, and coordinating fundraising efforts were critical in helping facilitate the 1973 establishment of the San Diego Lesbian and Gay Community Center, known today as The Center. 

Cynthia Lawrence-Wallace

Cynthia Lawrence-Wallace has been a devoted community member whose invested a life of her energies into the building and development of several minority community organizations in San Diego. Her contributions include being part of the original planning committee for The Center, where she formed and led several support groups such as The Center’s first women’s program, provided peer counseling, and worked on the crisis line; organizing and implementing the first Blood Sister Drives; establishing the San Diego’s Women’s Chorus in 1987; and co-founding the San Diego group Lesbians and Gays of African Descent (LAGADU) in 1989, alongside Marti Mackey, John Guinn, and Vertez Burks.

Marti Mackey

Corinne ‘Marti’ Mackey was an African American Lesbian activist & writer. Her contributions to the LGBTQ+ community here include founding LAGADU (Lesbians and Gays of African Descent United) in 1989—a response from feeling frustrations that non-white LGBT community groups were not being adequately represented or considered within LGBT spaces, activism, and community groups. She worked with the San Diego LGBT Center, the Human Dignity Ordinance Task Force, and was a volunteer instructor at the local police academy.

Tawny Tann (aka Don Edmonson)

One of San Diego’s premier drag queens, Tawny Tann (Don Edmonson), became a widely popular female impersonator within San Diego’s 1970’s LGBT bar/club scene after moving here from Los Angeles, where he worked at the Show Biz Supper Club (where Baja Betty’s is today) dancing, singing, and hosting events— all while exclusively in drag. Tawny pioneered the way for San Diego’s drag and trans community, after becoming the first ever empress to reign The Royal Court de San Diego, (now the Imperial Court of San Diego) in 1973, becoming the first ever Black Empress of the Imperial Court system.