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Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers 2010 Honoree: Jeri Dilno

SAN DIEGO -- They make a difference in our lives. Some are well-known activists in San Diego's LGBT community and others are working tirelessly outside the spotlight.

Ten key players in the LGBT community will be honored Feb. 26 at a Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers gala at The Center that is sponsored by Lambda Archives of San Diego (LASD).

In the days leading up to the gala, SDGLN will profile each of these individuals and provide our readers with an inside peak at what this award means to each honoree.

2010 Honoree Jeri Dilno

Jeri Dilno is a San Diego native. She graduated from Point Loma High School in 1954 and left San Diego State University in 1958 to join the Air Force and follow in her father’s military footsteps. She lived and traveled all over the U.S before returning to San Diego in 1975.

An LGBT activist since 1970, Dilno turned to her community for assistance when it was time to leave the Air Force. Three days before her date of separation, she received an undesirable discharge because of her sexual orientation. With help from The Center’s military counselor, the discharge was upgraded to honorable -- but the experience propelled Dilno toward a lifetime commitment to political activism, particularly with issues affecting the LGBT community.

She helped organize San Diego’s first gay Pride march and worked the event for 30 years. In 1976, she held a seat on the statewide committee against Proposition 6 (the Briggs Initiative) and was one of six openly lesbian delegates from California at the 1977 International Women’s Conference in Houston.

Dilno participated in the 1987 March on Washington. Although the experience is impossible to capture in a few sentences, she fondly remembers how motivating it was for her.

“The energy that engulfed Washington, D.C., that weekend was electric,” Dilno said. “We were in the throes of the AIDS epidemic. I attended the national unveiling of the AIDS Quilt and brought a panel to be included in the project. It was quite emotional. The march was very exciting. Activists of every background filled the streets and the mall to capacity and the speakers brought a message of unity. In short, it was something I will always cherish.”

She stayed involved in politics, attending her first of three National Democratic Conventions as an openly lesbian delegate in 1988. From these experiences, she learned about grassroots organizing and the inner workings of a political convention.

In 1994, Dilno served as co-chair of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party. She has served four terms as president of the San Diego Democratic Club, where she is currently a board member. She was the first female executive director of The Center, an assistant editor and editor of the Gay and Lesbian Times and currently works for TRS Consultants as an editor, writer and visual analyst.

As a tribute to her contributions to the LGBT community, The Center added Dilno to its Wall of Honor in 2005, but Dilno’s desire is to remain active for as long as she is able. Her hope is to encourage young people to keep the fires burning.

“It is important for a strong youth involvement to maintain the rights we have achieved and to continue the struggle for full equality,” Dilno said. She credits the passage of Proposition 8 for reigniting the passion and active populist movement within the LGBT community.

“I think a lot of younger members of the community were suddenly aware that homophobia was alive and well,” she said. “Many of them had been able to come out in high school and while I would not diminish the trauma many experienced – they had the benefit of laws and legal recourse that my generation did not have.

“It’s an honor to find myself in the company of the current awardees and those previously honored – it is an amazing group. I find myself a bit bemused to be honored for doing things that give me great satisfaction and enrich my life. I have met wonderful friends over the years and had the opportunity to participate in exciting events. The recognition from the Lambda Archives is icing on the cake! Thank you!”

About Lambda Archives of San Diego

LASD’s mission is to collect, preserve and teach the history of LGBT people in the San Diego and Northern Baja California region. Although most of the collections date to post-1970, there are original materials dating back to the 1930s.

LASD believes that history is best served by the records and cultural artifacts of those people who are directly involved in its events, so its staff has dedicated itself to preserving and interpreting this important historical record since its establishment in 1987. LASD is an all-volunteer, nonprofit corporation governed by a volunteer board of directors and has one of the largest collections of LGBT history in the country.

LASD Honoree Selection Process

The fundraising gala -- which debuted in 2007 -- recognizes individuals, both locally and nationally, who have made a difference in the lives of LGBT persons through their dedication, commitment, financial resources and/or political participation.

The LASD board chooses honorees based on a criterion that focuses on diversity, by including individuals from diverse segments of the community and from a broad spectrum of individual characteristics such as ethnicity, race, LGBT identification, etc. As is customary for the board, nominees who had received other major honors this year or who could not attend the event, were held out for future consideration. Although no public call for nominations currently exists, the board considers any nomination from the community to be equal to those made by its members.

Previous honorees include business professionals, activists and people like state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Cleve Jones, Tom Reise, Fritz Klein and SDGLN contributor Ben Cartwright.

For information about purchasing tickets to the 2010 Gala visit SDGLN's Events Calendar.