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SF Mayor to Form Trans Advisory Panel

by Matthew S. Bajko

Mayor Mark Farrell
Mayor Mark Farrell  (Source:Cynthia Laird)

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell plans to form a transgender advisory panel to assist the city in meeting the community's needs, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

The panel would work with Clair Farley, the mayor's senior adviser for transgender initiatives. She took over the role in the fall after the retirement of longtime transgender advocate and city leader Theresa Sparks, who recently moved to Kansas.

The late Mayor Ed Lee had created the position in the summer of 2016. While it was the first such mayoral advisory position in the country, a number of cities have formed transgender advisory committees, including West Hollywood and Los Angeles.

The mayor's office is currently looking for people to serve on the advisory body and expects it to meet for the first time in April. Farrell disclosed his decision to form the panel during a February 15 interview with the B.A.R.

"Hopefully, it will give the community a greater voice inside City Hall," said Farrell, who just the day prior had signed first-of-its-kind legislation requiring single-room-occupancy hotels in the city to have gender-neutral bathrooms for transgender residents and other tenants to utilize.

Formerly the District 2 supervisor representing the Marina and Cow Hollow, Farrell is serving as mayor until the winner of the special June 5 mayoral election is determined. It was called following Lee's sudden death December 12 due to a heart attack.

News of the transgender advisory panel comes as the city is being sued by a state agency on behalf of a transgender woman who claims a city employee in February 2016 denied her access to the women's restroom in a municipal building and called her offensive slurs because she is transgender. [See story, Page 10.]

Farrell declined to comment about the pending lawsuit when asked about it by the B.A.R. Speaking generally, he said it is important for employees and residents of the city to stand up for members of the transgender community.

It is particularly critical for people to do so, noted Farrell, in light of the rollback of rights for transgender people and individuals who are gender nonconforming by the Trump administration. He pointed to the recent news that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would no longer hear complaints from transgender students denied access to school restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

"We see policy after policy coming out of Washington, D.C. that are antithetical to what we stand for," said Farrell. "As loud as possible we will not stand up for any anti-discrimination behavior at all. Certainly, as the leader of our city government, I take that obligation very seriously. Discrimination in any shape or form will not be tolerated."
At the bill signing for the SRO bathrooms legislation Farrell had sounded a similar note of defiance against the Trump administration.

"In San Francisco we are different. We will not let hatred to dominate," said Farrell, who was joined by local transgender advocates and members of the Board of Supervisors for the signing ceremony.

At his side was Farley, who thanked Farrell for "making sure San Francisco is committed to supporting the transgender community."

She also praised the transgender advocates who initiated and pushed for the legislation, while noting the community's work is not finished.

"We know there is more work to be done. We will continue to advance policies and initiatives that support a thriving transgender community in San Francisco," said Farley. "Let's make sure San Francisco continues to be the beacon of hope and change the rest of the country so desperately needs right now."


Budget Commitments

During the interview with the B.A.R. Farrell pledged to fund Farley's position and her office in the two-year budget he will present to the supervisors June 1. She earns $132,000 a year.

He also recommitted to the pledge made by previous mayors to backfill any federal cuts to local HIV and AIDS programs. Prior to his death, Lee had promised that the city would cover a $1.4 million cut in its five-year grant for such services from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that began in January.

"One hundred percent I will backfill any AIDS cuts," promised Farrell, noting that, as a native of San Francisco, he understands "how important the LGBT community is to the heart and soul of the city."

He also pledged to ensure the city continues to financially back the health department's Getting to Zero initiative aimed at eliminating the transmission of new HIV cases in San Francisco by 90 percent come 2020. When he served as chair of the supervisors' budget committee, Farrell noted he supported the request to fund the program when asked to do so by AIDS advocates.

"Moving that forward as mayor, it is critically important," said Farrell.

One of those advocates was Jeff Sheehy, who was appointed by Lee last year as the District 8 supervisor. Sheehy, the board's lone gay member and the first known HIV-positive supervisor, was part of the majority that voted to name Farrell mayor through June. Farrell's decision not to run for mayor led to his surprise selection as the board's pick January 23.

Sheehy told the B.A.R. this week that, so far, he has been pleased with how Farrell is leading the city.

"I think he is doing a great job, but he is doing it in the context of a caretaker mayor," said Sheehy. "He is continuing the policies that had been going on in the past, and where he is innovating, he is doing it very judiciously."

In that regard, Farrell asked all department heads and top staff to stay in their posts. His main focus is on presenting a balanced budget to the board and implementing policies he believes are best for the city. Once his time as mayor is complete, Farrell has said he will leave politics to return to the private sector and his job as a partner at a venture capital firm.

"Look, I realize I have a unique opportunity here over the first half of the year," said Farrell. "I plan to do what I think is truly right for San Francisco residents."

During the board's deliberation on whether to keep board President London Breed as acting mayor, which she had automatically become upon Lee's death, or name her or someone else as the interim mayor, Farrell was painted as a "rich, white guy" too conservative to lead the famously liberal city. Farrell told the B.A.R. he was unfazed by the characterization, one his supporters argue is inaccurate.

"I was born and raised here. I am raising my children here. I believe in the values and ethos of our city. It is simply who I am," said Farrell, who with his wife has three young children.

He allowed that being mayor means "a lot less sleep" and that he was looking forward to taking a big family vacation come July.

"Being a dad is my greatest priority, that will not change no matter what office I am in," said Farrell. "I still take my kids to school in the mornings and spend time with them."


For more information or to get involved with the trans advisory panel, email TransCitySF@sfgov.org

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