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San Diego wildfires: Gay areas spared
San Diego wildfires: Gay areas spared
LGBT people volunteer and donate in large numbers

by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

None of San Diego's gayest areas was hit by the massive wildfires that roared around the county and the city last week, but LGBT people stepped up in large numbers as volunteers and donors, community leaders said.

Gays and lesbians live in higher concentrations in many of the city's older neighborhoods, including Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, University Heights, North Park, Golden Hill, South Park, Normal Heights, Kensington and Talmadge.

All the fires were north, south or east of those neighborhoods.

However, as in any large U.S. city, gay people are no longer concentrated in gay ghettos to the extent they may have been in previous decades. All of the massive stretches of the city and county burned by the fires have gay residents, including the hard-hit community of Rancho Bernardo north of the central city along Interstate 15.

"We don't know enough yet to fully assess who among all the affected people happen to be GLBT," said Delores Jacobs, chief executive director of The San Diego LGBT Community Center. "Based on our own staff and other folks' staffs, clearly there were GLBT folks in the affected areas. But I don't think their first thought is, 'My house is burning, I'm gay,' I think their first thought is, 'My house is burning!'"

Jacobs said The Center (the agency's official short-form name) had "a flood of calls" from LGBT people wanting to volunteer to help victims of the fires.

"We directed a huge volunteer response from our community," she said. "We were flooded with how-can-I-help calls from Monday through Thursday -- really an extraordinarily large amount. Lots of our volunteers volunteered at Qualcomm Stadium and at other shelters as well."

The Center had to cancel some of its services because of staff shortages and also called off a board of directors meeting, other meetings and bingo night.

Longtime community leader Nicole Murray-Ramirez said he was "very proud" of how local gay people responded to the disaster.

"Our community, as usual, reached out and did a tremendous job," Murray-Ramirez said. "The Stonewall Citizens Patrol delivered water and food and supplies. Stacks and stacks of donations were dropped off at The Center. They made loads of deliveries of food and blankets and supplies to Qualcomm from The Center.

"So many average gays got off their sofas and volunteered or took in people," said Murray-Ramirez. "I found it so pleasing -- our community rallying, volunteering, spending hours and hours at Qualcomm. That shows once again the nature of the heart and the humanitarianism of our community. I was very proud of our community."

Meanwhile, the air quality in San Diego remains unhealthful, which is a concern for people with HIV whose lungs were damaged by pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in the days before protease inhibitors, as well as for people who have had tuberculosis.

"The HIV community is pretty mobilized around folks in the South Bay and in North County," Jacobs said. "Anybody who is immune-compromised is going to have a bit more trouble with the crap that is in the air."

Thirteen percent of San Diego County burned in the wildfires -- about 360,000 acres.

Around 1,600 homes were destroyed. Property damage is estimated at $1.5 billion.

As many as 600,000 people were evacuated and seven people were burned to death.

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