Caroline (Cara) Dessert, Esq
The San Diego LGBT Community Center
San Diego, CA
Caroline (Cara) Dessert, Esq. is the CEO at The San Diego LGBT Community Center. A queer Latina, Dessert is an attorney and executive with nearly 20 years in non-profit and social justice leadership. Dessert was previously the executive director of Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on LGBTQ immigrant rights. She worked closely with the Obama Administration, as well as local, state and national organizations working at the intersection of the rights of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities. During this time, she was also named an Arcus Leadership Fellow.
During the past 5 years as CEO, Dessert led The Center through a phenomenal growth phase. Under her leadership, The Center increased its budget from $6M to $13.5M annually, and service visits to more than 80,000 annually. Along with The Center’s team and Board of Directors, in 2019 The Center engaged in an in-depth community-driven strategic planning process with the participation of over 2,000 community members.
Dessert led The Center in expanding its housing services to a full range housing continuum that includes the first emergency overnight shelter in San Diego County for LGBTQ youth, additional permanent supportive housing and prevention programs, and ongoing services and advocacy for LGBTQ community members who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The Center also embarked on its first-ever cross-border immigration campaign which provided life-sustaining humanitarian relief to LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers and their families at the border; opened the South Bay Youth Center; started The Center’s Training Institute and Black Services Program. Throughout her career, she has advocated with our transgender and nonbinary communities, fighting back against relentless attacks.
Prior to joining The Center as CEO, Dessert served in the California Department of Justice in the Office of the Attorney General as a Deputy Attorney General in the Public Rights Division, where she also worked with then-California Attorney General (now Vice President) Kamala Harris’ executive team.
Dessert has deep roots in the San Diego area. A native of El Centro, she previously was The Center’s Policy and Community Organizing Coordinator, San Diego’s field director for the No on 8/Equality for All campaign and worked for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. She completed her JD at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, where she was the editor-in-chief of the Chicana/o Latina/o Law Review and earned degree specializations from the Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy and Critical Race Studies programs. She earned her BA at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD). Cara Dessert was recognized in 2022 as a Top 50 LGBTQ Leader of Influence by the San Diego Business Journal.
She has served as a Commissioner for both the Healthy California for All Commission and the Leon L. Williams San Diego County Human Relations Commission. Dessert is the Chair of the Engage San Diego Advisory Board.