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Compton's district honors trans women

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Breonna McCall, left, and Andrea Horne were recipients of Lifetime Achievement awards during the Celebration of Unsung Sheroes, a brunch held by the Compton's Transgender Cultural District June 2 in the Green Room at the San Francisco War Memorial. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Breonna McCall, left, and Andrea Horne were recipients of Lifetime Achievement awards during the Celebration of Unsung Sheroes, a brunch held by the Compton's Transgender Cultural District June 2 in the Green Room at the San Francisco War Memorial. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Unsung sheroes were honored by the Compton's Transgender Cultural District as the organization kicked off Pride Month.

About 200 people attended the June 2 brunch in the Green Room of the San Francisco War Memorial that was organized by Aria Sa'id, a trans woman who is executive director of the cultural district.

The Compton's Transgender Cultural District is the first legally recognized transgender district in the world. The cultural district spans six blocks of the lower Tenderloin, which encompasses parts of the Sixth Street Corridor and Market Street. The district's goal is to preserve and honor the history of the trans community.

The district is named after the old Gene Compton's Cafeteria, a 24-hour eatery that had operated at 101 Taylor Street. In what was one of the earliest examples of transgender pushback against police repression, riots took place there in August 1966, three years before the more famous Stonewall uprising in New York City, which is considered by many to be the beginning of the modern LGBT civil rights movement.

More than 50 years later, last weekend's brunch celebrated the gains the trans community has made, while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done. Many of the awardees referenced the anti-trans policies of the current White House administration and the murders of trans women of color.

"In the past few weeks the transgender community locally, and nationally, have been grieving the loss of black trans women who were murdered," Sa'id told the Bay Area Reporter. "Genocide is a reality for transgender people. We think of it daily. We consider our safety perhaps more than anyone else. We are highly sensitive, hyper-vigilant, and aware of our mortality in more ways than anyone else. It is, unfortunately, what comes with existing in a world that does not want us to exist."

Transgender men were there to show support.

"I'm forgoing the Democratic convention for this because I really want to support my trans sisters," said Martin Rawlings-Fein. "I'm so happy to be able to come out and support them. Aria is amazing — she transforms the cultural district into something special."

The brunch was emceed by transgender comic Nori Reed and included musical performances from Bionka Simone, Xristina Blioux, Amber Gray, and Carolyn Henry.

"It feels so good to be here with the trans community today," Reed said from the podium. "Let's give it up for the beautiful trans people here. I'm a proud trans woman."

"Are you excited for today?" Reed continued. "Are you ready to celebrate trans excellence? We have so much trans excellence in this room right now. It's beautiful to look at. Thank you all for being here."

Awardees
Porshay Taylor and Ronjah Earl received the Translife Emerging Leader Award.

"I'm so happy to be here," said Earl. "I was homeless when I came here to San Francisco. I went through so many pairs of shoes, trying to look for employment and housing. I really didn't know what was going on until I hit rock bottom. If it weren't for my trans family members and the social groups that I surrounded myself with I don't think I'd be up here receiving this award. I realized in the midst of my personal storm I can have a job, and I can have housing, and now I have two jobs, I have my place, and I have money in the bank."

Earl works at the TGI Justice Project, a nonprofit that aids transgender and gender-variant people inside and outside of prisons, jails, and detention centers.

Jordan Davis and Ebony Harper were given the Joanne Keatley Trailblazer Award.

Kayla Moore, Jasmine Powell, and Janelle Vinson received the Kween Culture Icon Award.

Lisseth Sanchez and Johana Ramirez shared the Alexandra Ruiz Community Builder Award.

Cecily Crosby took home the Kween Culture Vanguard Award, while longtime trans advocate Veronika Fimbres, a former San Francisco veterans affairs commissioner, was honored with the Compton's Riots Transgender Pioneer Award.

"I had no idea I was winning," said Fimbres. "I feel really good about being acknowledged by my fellow community members and my trans peers. I'm glad to be at the vanguard, it's such a great honor. I'm proud of the youth coming behind me, but there's so many issues that we have to tackle, such as the murders of trans women of color. There is still racism and disparity for transgender [women] of color, especially blacks."

Fimbres pointed out that racism and discrimination exists even in San Francisco, and sometimes comes from within the LGBTQ community.

"We should not be discriminating against each other," she said.

Keatley, Donna Persona, and Alexandra Rodriguez de Ruiz also received Pioneer Awards.

Breonna McCree and Andrea Horne were honored with the Reverend Bobbie Jean Baker Lifetime Achievement Award.

De'Anthony Jones, a gay man who's neighborhood liaison for Mayor London Breed, attended the ceremony and presented a proclamation from the mayor that honored the awardees.

"As leaders in our trans community you embody the resilience, strength, courage, and joy that makes our city a welcoming place for all. Your continued commitment to empowering and ensuring the well beings of transgender individuals truly represents San Francisco values at their best," the proclamation read in part.

The proclamation was met with thunderous applause.

Honey Mahogany, a trans woman who's the former director of the cultural district and now works for District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, said that she was delighted with the brunch.

"It was a gorgeous event," she said. "It really honored the legacies of those community members who have been working so hard on behalf of all of us for so long."

Sa'id was ecstatic afterward.

"I hope that allies who attended had an opportunity to witness trans people celebrating life, because I think too often we are burdened with statistics of our marginalization, and there isn't enough visibility on our culture as transgender people," she told the B.A.R. "That's what A Celebration of Unsung Sheroes is all about, and I think that we at the Compton's Transgender Cultural District are proud to lead more efforts like this for the years to come."

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