Jess Jessop, Leader in Gay Community, Dies at 50


Jess Jessop, a pioneer in San Diego’s gay and lesbian community, died Tuesday at his home in Golden Hill from complications resulting from AIDS. He was 50.

Jessop, who twice was honored with a “Jess Jessop Day” by Mayor Maureen O’Connor, was born in Baltimore but moved to San Diego 23 years ago to attend San Diego State University.

During his time at SDSU, he was active in the on-campus chapter of the Gay Liberation Front and later served as the first executive director of the Gay Center for Social Services. In a resume that Jessop made available before his death, he noted that he conducted “the first gay press conference” in San Diego.


As a member of the Hospital Corps, he received the Navy’s Silver Star for heroism and later served in Vietnam with the Marine Corps.

More recently, he had been active in the San Diego AIDS Project and was the founder of the Lesbian and Gay Archives of San Diego, which he ran out of his home on Laurel Street in Golden Hill.

“I found Jess to be fascinating in his approach to leadership and activism,” said Rodney Jaeger, who divides his time between the AIDS project and the archives collection. “One of the many things he said that had an impact on me was, you don’t always have to be someone out there in front to be a leader. If you’re doing something worthwhile, people will realize it and follow you.

“Jess believed in what he was doing. He was committed and considered it worthwhile. He didn’t take on airs, he didn’t have a superior attitude, he did things that had to be done. He had been living with AIDS for at least a year and a half, which is as long as I’ve been in San Diego.”

Gary Rees, a longtime friend of Jessop’s, said Jessop died from respiratory failure resulting from AIDS.

“But he died very peacefully, in his own home, and with a dear friend by his side,” Rees said. “That’s just how he wanted it.”


Rees said a memorial service for Jessop will be at 11 a.m. March 10 at the Metropolitan Community Church in the 4300 block of 30th Street in North Park. Rees said Jessop asked that, instead of flowers, donations be made to the Lesbian and Gay Archives of San Diego, P.O. Box 4186, San Diego, 92104.

Rick Moore, a longtime gay activist in San Diego, said Jessop was “involved in the movement from the very beginning. He’s the kind of man who would assess the important needs of the community and be willing to work very hard over long periods of time to meet them.”

Moore described the archives project, which Jessop founded in December of 1987, as “an effort to preserve and document the history of gay people in San Diego and to make it available to others in the future.”

He called Jessop a “high-class and gentle guy who always took the high road and urged others to do the same. When many of us were fighting it out in the community, he would be the peacemaker. He was very positive, the kind of force we always needed.”