After more than two decades in the financial world, Jeremy Wilson has found the strongest investment with the best balance for his career has had the biggest payout — helping support the LGBTQ+ business community in San Diego County and advocating for mainstream acceptance of diversity.
Since May of 2019, Wilson has been president and CEO of the San Diego Equality Business Association, formerly known as the Greater San Diego Business Association.
The SDEBA is the second oldest gay and lesbian business group in the United States, forming in 1979, five years after the Golden Gate Business Association began in San Francisco.
Wilson, 44, oversees the 281-member group, mostly small businesses earning revenues of under $1 million.
He has been Vice President at Union Bank and Banner Bank in Orange County and in San Diego but left the banking business after finding that the then-GSDBA was having financial issues, and realizing that he had the background and know-how to help.
“I was working downtown and joined the board in February 2018, starting to do some fundraising on my lunch breaks,” Wilson said. “I would go to the University Club and get contributions. I started to see the value of my worth. I realized I was at $500 an hour, meaning I could get a $5,000 contribution after 10 hours of work. So I decided to pursue it further.”
He became president of the group just over one year later. Early in his tenure, Wilson found out the group was $40,000 in debt.
Taking Stock and Fixing the Debt
“We had people in leadership who had no financial background,” Wilson said. “I started negotiating our debt, slashing expenses and put our organization on a path to make it viable and profitable. I got us out of our lease in Hillcrest and started a payment plan to pay off our credit card.”
By October 2021, the group’s ship had righted itself, and Wilson was able to leave his career in banking to become full time as the only employee of the SDEBA.
“I left my 22-year career in financial services and I’ve never looked back,” Wilson said. “I turned away from my career and I feel liberated, as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Wilson now concentrates on running the group that promotes LGBTQ+ influence through business ownership, workforce equality and active consumerism. The SDEBA helps businesses create prosperity to support equality, diversity and inclusion.
“Doing what you’re passionate about is important, and that’s what I’m doing now,” said Wilson, who was born in Oregon but has lived in Southern California since age 3.
“When you do what you’re passionate about, you’re going to be much more focused — and proud — of your work. Giving back is very important to me, giving back to the community is important and honoring those who trailblazed before.”
SDEBA members include real estate agents, mortgage brokers, certified public accountants, attorneys, insurance agents and bankers.
Others who belong to the SDEBA include bakers, printers, restaurants, physical trainers, dentists and construction businesses.
“We also partner with larger organizations like Sycuan Casino, U.S. Bank, Bank of America and utilities like Cox, SDG&E and T-Mobile,” Wilson said.
Nearly all of the businesses that belong to the SDEBA are gay-owned, but there are some businesses that are considered straight allies who offer support to the LGBTQ+ business community.
The group offers certification to those businesses whose ownership and management is 51 percent or more LGBTQ+.
SDEBA prides itself on outreach to other business chambers and to society at large. In 2000 it was the first LGBT chamber in the nation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Small Business Administration, recognizing its status as a minority business association.
At the end of every year, the group presents Equality Business Awards,, including for business of the year, businessperson of the year, a community impact award and the Cindy Lehman Lifetime Achievement Award. Lehman is a retired bank manager who has been a straight ally and considered “an icon in the gay community,” Wilson said.
The 2021 winners were Avenir Thinking (business of the year), Tamara Zyhylij (businessperson of the year), MyPoint Credit Union (community impact award), Antoine Didienne — 147 Photos (ally business of the year), Pride Resource Partners (corporate partner of the year), Parkins Data Science and Analytics (emerging business award) and Chris Shaw (Cindy Lehman award).
San Diego Equality Business Association
PRESIDENT/CEO: Jeremy Wilson
HEADQUARTERS: North Park
CONTACT: (619) 296-4543
SOCIAL IMPACT: Group supports LGBTQ-owned business and provide certification.
NOTABLE: Second oldest gay and lesbian chamber in the United States.