San Diego Democratic Club Background

SDDC San Diego Democratic Club Background
Register voters.
triangle-7209224Endorse political candidates in national, state and local elections; makes recommendations on ballot measures.
triangle-7209224Educate voters.
triangle-7209224Work in political campaigns.
triangle-7209224Represent our community’s interests to political candidates and elected officials.
triangle-7209224Send delegates to the Democratic National Convention and the California State Democratic Convention.
triangle-7209224Work to gain political appointments for lesbians and gay men.
triangle-7209224Develop potential candidates.
triangle-7209224Work with the state-wide and national network of lesbian and gay Democratic Clubs.
triangle-7209224Build political coalitions on a local and national level.
triangle-7209224Reflect a positive image to the general community.
triangle-7209224Publish a monthly newsletter.
triangle-7209224Produce the annual Freedom Banquet.
triangle-7209224Hold interesting, informative meetings at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month (except July, November, & December) at the Joyce Beers Community Center (map), on Vermont Street in the Uptown District.

Our political affiliations:

triangle-7209224Chartered by the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee
triangle-7209224Affiliated with the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party
triangle-7209224National Stonewall Democrats

SDDC Presidents

triangle-7209224Robert H. Lynn (1975–1979)
triangle-7209224Gloria Johnson (1980)
triangle-7209224A. Brad Truax (19811984)
triangle-7209224J. Douglas Scott (19851986)
triangle-7209224Jeri Dilno (19871990)
triangle-7209224Doug Case (19911992)
triangle-7209224Rick Moore (19931995)
triangle-7209224Paula Rosenstein (19961997)
triangle-7209224Craig Roberts (19982000)
triangle-7209224Jess Durfee (2001–2003)
triangle-7209224Stephen Whitburn (2004–2006)
triangle-7209224Andrea Villa (2007–2008)
triangle-7209224Larry Baza (2009–present)

SDDC History

Read history essays by founding president Bob Lynn and by longtime member Mel Merrill

SDDC was founded in late 1975 by a small but brave group of activists who saw a need for political activism within the Democratic Party. They struggled to find twenty people who would allow their names to be used on the application for the original charter, which was received from the San Diego County Democratic Party on December 28, 1975. But under the leadership of attorney Bob Lynn, the first president, the group quickly became involved in local politics.

At the time, homosexual activity was still illegal in California. No candidate had ever sought the support of the lesbian and gay community.

In its first races, the Club’s endorsements were often more of a liability than an asset to a candidate, but even so, several friends were identified right away. Work began to educate candidates on LGBT issues and to educate the LGBT community on the need to be politically involved and to vote. Under Lynn and the group’s second president, Gloria Johnson, petition drives began the process of assembling a list of names which would later be used for endorsement mailings.

First Candidate Seeks Gay/Lesbian Support A major advance came in 1983 when Roger Hedgecock sought lesbian and gay support in his effort to become Mayor of San Diego. He won, providing new clout to a minority group struggling for attention. In 1984, a hard fought campaign to elect delegates to the national party convention began to prove what the inner circle of Democratic Party activists was already sensing—this was a group to be reckoned with. SDDC members received the highest vote totals in the delegate election, defeating some of the well-known party regulars.

Club President Brad Truax, a physician, became a prominent Democrat and gay leader. He was instrumental in increasing the respect for and the significance of the Club. He was succeeded by Doug Scott, a tireless worker behind the scenes, who made major advances in increasing the size of the petition list, which had become known as the “Gay/Lesbian Vote List.” As it passed three thousand names, it became an important part of the Club’s work to inform lesbian and gay voters of its recommendations. Scott was also able to demonstrate that the endorsements made a clear difference in precincts where lesbian and gay voters were registered.

District Elections Change the Rules

In 1988 another milestone was passed which would later take on great significance. SDDC was part of a coalition which worked to pass district elections for San Diego City Council. That changed a system in which candidates who survived a primary in their district were elected by the entire city, which served to eliminate most women and minorities. Under the new system, there was a glimmer of hope for a gay or lesbian candidate. Two gay men had sought election to the Council, but neither had survived the primary.

Redistricting Creates a Friendly District

Another important event took place after the 1990 election, when the City Council district lines were redrawn. Club member Charles McKain worked carefully with the commission redrawing the lines and was able to gain approval of a plan which, for the first time, brought together a major portion of the primarily lesbian and gay Hillcrest/North Park neighborhoods into the Third District. Now there was a process which could elect a lesbian or gay candidate and a district which would be friendly to one.

Other work had continued under Presidents Jeri Dilno and Doug Case. The Club was prospering. Membership was increasing and so was the Club’s respect and influence. Club involvement in a number of close elections had proven that its influence was significant. Friendly candidates for City Council, County Board of Supervisors, State Assembly, and State Senate were elected. The Club’s long-time commitment to the involvement of women encouraged the development of the Women’s Caucus.

Christine Kehoe for City Council

Then, unexpectedly, incumbent Third District San Diego City Councilmember John Hartley announced he would not seek reelection. The work of more than fifteen years was coming to fruition.

Veteran activist Christine Kehoe, a long-time Club member, open lesbian, and former aide to Hartley, announced her candidacy. Under President Rick Moore, SDDC quickly endorsed Kehoe and took an active and unprecedented role in support of her campaign. While the Club would not presume to take credit for her subsequent victory, it was undeniably a significant part of the preparation and the final push. Kehoe was elected in November 1993 despite some gay-baiting by her opponent.

SDDC Named 1994 Democratic Club of the Year

In part because of the major effort put forth in Kehoe’s campaign, SDDC was selected from more than 25 Democratic Clubs in the area as the 1994 San Diego County Democratic Club of the Year by the County Party Central Committee.

Kehoe’s election was, perhaps, the high point of the Club’s history. In the fall of 1994, the LGBT Vote List numbered more than 5,000 and endorsement mailings were sent to nearly 30,000 voters using a system of identifying likely LGBT households implemented by Club President Moore. Moore also implemented the upper-level member program which provided funding to support the Club’s voter outreach efforts. The Keynote Speaker at the 1994 Freedom Banquet was Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General.

Club membership grew to more than 275, making SDDC one of the largest Democratic Clubs in San Diego County. In December, 1995, SDDC celebrated its 20th anniversary of effective political action for San Diego’s lesbian, gay, and bisexual community.

Rosenstein becomes SDDC President in 1996, Club’s national stature grows

Paula Rosenstein was elected President in early 1996, and set about organizing a busy election year. In addition to campaigns for the national ticket and for area Congressional Districts, the year brought races for State Senate and Assembly which were critical to Democratic control of those bodies. There were also races for many local school boards. Important state initiatives, lead by The California Civil Rights Initiative (#209) were also on the ballot.

San Diego’s selection as site of the 1996 Republican National Convention put the local lesbian/gay community in the national spotlight. SDDC and its members played important roles in planning, raising funds for, and implementing the local response to the RNC, organized by LGBT VOICES ’96.

The convention was followed immediately by the 1996 PRIDE Parade and Festival. SDDC and its members dominated the awards and recognitions. The Club received the Stonewall Award for Community Service; Gloria Johnson (VP–Development) was 1996 Woman of the Year; member Gary Holt was 1996 Man of the Year; Dr. Shirley Weber, the Club’s endorsed candidate for several unsuccessful races and a member of the San Diego Unified District School Board, was recognized as 1996 Friend of the Year.

The Club also sent three members as delegates and one member as an alternate to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, continuing its proud tradition (which began in 1980) of sending delegates to each national convention. The Club continued to provide the ribbons and buttons used by all LGBT delegates on the floor to bring recognition to their presence. SDDC designed and printed a rainbow flag Clinton/Gore bumper sticker which was distributed by the thousands all over the Western U.S.

The annual Freedom Banquet, held in late March, featured Congressmember Loretta Sanchez, who narrowly defeated infamous homophobe Bob Dornan in Orange County. Sanchez was introduced by her colleague, Congressmember Bob Filner of San Diego’s 50th District. Sanchez delivered an emotional address, sharing her experiences as a youngster growing up as a Latina in the dominant Anglo culture. She went on the say that all people in minority groups have something in common: “We just want to be accepted and to be able to tell people what we’re all about.”


Under Rosenstein’s leadership, SDDC played an important role in electing Democrat Dede Alpert to the 39th District State Senate, replacing Independent Lucy Killea. An April fundraiser for Alpert, featuring Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, raised more than $8,000 for her campaign. The Club also helped re-elect Democrat Susan Davis to the Assembly from the 76th District and elect newcomer Democrat Howard Wayne to the 78th Assembly District. With these results and others in the state, Democrats were able to retain control of the State Senate and regain control of the State Assembly.

While efforts to defeat incumbent 49th District Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray were not successful, the Club was able to help 50th District incumbent Democrat Bob Filner beat back a challenge in the May primary. A fundraiser featuring Massachusetts Congressmember Barney Frank, held in mid–January, raised more than $8,000 for Filner’s primary campaign.

As part of the campaign, SDDC mailed more than 12,000 voter’s guides to San Diego County households likely to be gay or lesbian and distributed more than 11,000 endorsement cards in copies of Update newspaper just prior to the election. The Club was also among only four LGBT clubs in California to receive funding from the national Clinton/Gore Campaign to assist its efforts in getting out the LGBT vote, which was indicative of its growing stature nationally as a major player in LGBT political activity.

After winning reelection to the City Council in 1996 with almost 80% of the vote, Christine Kehoe decided in 1997 to run for U.S. Congress in the 49th Congressional District, challenging incumbent Brian Bilbray. She was one of four open lesbians running for Congress in 1998.

Kehoe narrowly lost her election, 48% to 46%. Of the four lesbian Congressional candidates in 1998, the only victor was Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. Baldwin was the keynote speaker at the 1999 Freedom Banquet

In January of 1998 Craig Roberts was elected Club president.

The 1998 Freedom Banquet featured Retired Army Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, who successfully challenged the U.S. military after being expelled because she is a lesbian. Cammermeyer was a candidate for Congress in the state of Washington.

SDDC Celebrates Its Silver Anniversary In 2000, the Club celebrated its 25th Anniversary.

The keynote speaker at the Silver Anniversary Freedom Banquet was California Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa.

Eight Club members were delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in August 2000 and five members attended the National Stonewall Democratic Federation convention in Palm Springs immediately prior.

The Club successfully worked to elect two openly lesbian Club members to office in the 2000 General Election: Christine Kehoe for State Assembly in the 76th District and Toni Atkins for the San Diego City Council, Third District. Other successful SDDC priority races were Susan Davis’ bid to defeat Brian Bilbray for Congress in the 49th District and Dede Alpert’s reelection to the State Senate in the 39th District. The Club enacted a Voter Impact Project which included a voter registration drive, a “Vote Naked” campaign to encourage people to vote by mail at home, a targeted precinct campaign, and distribution by mail of over 12,000 SDDC voter guides.

2001 Redistricting & Boy Scouts in Balboa Park

In January 2001, Jess Durfee was elected Club president. The major effort of the Club that year was redistricting. For the first time, a commission of appointed citizens was conducting the process for the City of San Diego. Using data from the LGBT Vote List, election results, and the Census, Club member Kevin Davis and others were able to persuade the commission not only to retain the LGBT areas of Council District 3 but to unify Hillcrest and Talmadge into the district. A coalition organized by Ellis Rose successfully fought an attempt to dilute the LGBT vote by unifying City Heights into District 3, which would have necessitated losing many LGBT neighborhoods. The Club also testified before the redistricting commissions for the county and state.

Another effort by the Club was to try to persuade the City Council to reject the Boy Scouts’ request to renew their lease in Balboa Park. The Boy Scouts are a discriminatory organization, refusing to allow kids, leaders, or parents who are openly gay or atheist to become involved. Unfortunately this effort failed on a 6 to 3 vote.  (In 2003, a judge ruled that the lease was illegal.)

The 2001 Freedom Banquet Keynote Speaker was incoming Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson.

In 2002, with the election of Michael Zucchet and the terming out of George Stephens, Democrats achieved a solid working majority on the San Diego City Council for progressive issues, including the adoption of a clean syringe exchange program and a medicinal marijuana initiative. The Club took the lead in creating a coalition — co-chaired by Durfee — that lead to the unanimous passage of amendments to San Diego’s Human Dignity Ordinance for the inclusion of protections based on gender identity.

These accomplishments led to Durfee being named a Champion of Pride and an Update Newspaper Crystal Heart awardee. The Freedom Banquet Keynote Speaker in  2002 was State Senator Sheila Kuehl. Late that year, the SDDC became a chapter of the National Stonewall Democrats.

The 2003 Keynote Speaker was Board of Equalization Chair Carole Migden. Also that year, the SDDC was selected as Democratic Club of the Year for the second time by the County Party .

A trend during the Durfee administration was the increased use of technology through the efforts of Kevin Davis—specifically the transitioning to doing our Voter Guide Mailing List in-house; the analysis of census and voter data; automated bulk mailing; the establishment of an email communications system with our members, friends and the Board; and the debut of the PDF newsletter.

In 2004 Stephen Whitburn was elected as SDDC President and  outgoing President Jess Durfee was elected as Chair of the County Democratic Party.

 The Freedom Banquet Keynote Speaker in 2005 was Author and DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias.