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LGBTQ+ seniors share their memories of the beginnings of San Diego Pride

San Diego’s Pride parade kicks off featuring nearly 10,000 participants, but the parade wasn’t always this huge, especially when it first started in the 1970’s.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO — Watching old footage from the San Diego Pride parade in 1986 brings back a lot of memories for seniors Jeri Dilno, Joe Mayer and Bob Leyh.

At 86-years-old, Jeri Dilno can recall the very first San Diego Pride event in 1975, it wasn't a parade but a march for rights.

"It was very difficult even to get people interested in marching that first time because we will go out to these different bars and pass out these flyers, and when we handed somebody a flyer, they would go like 'ahhh you know,' and they would try to get rid of it,” Dilno said.

A native San Diegan, who was kicked out of the Air Force in 1969 for being gay, Dilno is known as a mother of San Diego's Pride movement.

"We didn't know if anyone was going to show up, but a few hundred people did,” Dilno said.

At 65, New Jersey native Joe Mayer has been instrumental with the San Diego LGBT Center since the 1980s, first working as a phone counselor.

"It's so different today before when you wanted to meet somebody, you really had to go to the bars to meet someone, but now, everyone can just do it on their phone,” Mayer said.

Mayer says he marvels at today's diversity and loves the push to identify people by their pronouns.

“We weren't necessarily that inclusive back then remember all those fights between the lesbians and the gays 40 years ago and when the lesbians boycotted the parade?” said Mayer.

At 62-years-old, upstate New York native, Bob Leyh came to San Diego in 1997 in the Navy and remembers the days the parade had no corporate sponsors or support.

"You couldn't get elected officials, you couldn't get you know superintendents of schools or of universities or corporations, they ran the other way, but now law-enforcement, they want to be here, and they fight to be here,” said Leyh.

Now, as the Pride Programs Manager, Leyh makes seniors a priority by providing seating areas at the parade, and seniors get in the festival free on Sunday morning for the first two hours with a breakfast.

"We have two senior cool zones, so if you get too hot and you need to come in and sit down and get a glass of water free, we've got the spot here for you at the festival,” Leyh said.

From a few hundred to more than 10,000 parade participants, this group feels San Diego Pride legacy has come a long way.

WATCH RELATED: LGBTQ+ congregants on finding faith and acceptance (July 2022)

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