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Advocates: Castro cultural district should have diversity

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, discusses the proposed Castro LGBTQ Cultural District at a March 14 community meeting. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, discusses the proposed Castro LGBTQ Cultural District at a March 14 community meeting. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Speakers at a recent meeting about the establishment of a Castro LGBTQ Cultural District said that transgender people, women, and bisexual people want more inclusion in the neighborhood.

About 75 people attended the March 14 meeting at the GLBT Historical Society Museum to discuss the district, which has not yet been formally created. Attendees ranged in age from teenagers to those in their 70s, with many stating that they'd like to see more diversity and preservation of history in the neighborhood.

The boundaries of the cultural district are expected to be the central Castro neighborhood and surrounding residential areas, and likely will extend down Market Street to Octavia.

"It's taken us awhile to get to this point where we're ready for the legislation to be introduced, but this is a volunteer effort and we've had a couple of elections in the interim that have slowed us down," said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society. "Now, with the leadership of Supervisor [Rafael] Mandelman, we're at the point where we're ready to be officially established. We need to establish a governance structure so that we can receive Prop E funds."

Passed by voters in 2018, Proposition E allocates funds from the hotel tax for arts and culture, including cultural districts.

Gay African-American activist Shaun Haines noted that transgender people, women, and bisexuals want more inclusion in the neighborhood. He said that, as a native San Franciscan he's excited by the establishment of cultural districts.

"We have seen too much displacement, gentrification, and the loss of access to resources and community activities have been profound," Haines said. "I see cultural districts as a valuable tool and opportunity to be a positive force to push back against these issues and to bring our focus on to uplifting underrepresented demographics in the Castro."

Tom Temprano, a gay man who is an aide to Mandelman, told the crowd that the supervisor is working toward crafting the ordinance required to create the cultural district. He added that the city attorney's office is working on drafting the language of the ordinance and that the planning department is working on the language for the district's boundaries.

Temprano also assured the crowd that all 10 straight allies on the Board of Supervisors would be supportive of establishing the cultural district. (Mandelman, who represents District 8, is the only out member on the board.)

"We are hoping that the ordinance will be ready for introduction in early April," Temprano said. "Our goal is to have the ordinance passed in time for the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District to qualify for the next round of hotel tax fund disbursements, which will likely be available in the fall."

Jessie Oliver Sanford, a former member of the board that oversees San Francisco Pride, noted that even as rising rents and property values were determining who was and wasn't able to live in the neighborhood, there was also an increased demand for the neighborhood in terms of safe space. He also pointed out that the neighborhood was currently 50 percent LGBT, down from 80 percent in 1990. He urged people to question what the community's priorities are and who the community represents.

"For me, [thinking about] why the Castro is so important has precisely to do with our history and our actions as a safe space for a globally oppressed community," Sanford said. "A community that still can't afford to pay as high rents as straight people, a community that throughout the world is still facing significant violence and persecution."

Jodi L. Schwartz, executive director of the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, an LGBT youth organization in the Castro, and Nina Rubin, LYRIC's program manager, spoke of the need for creating community dialogue, more youth voices, more diversity, and of the need for bringing youth and elders together.

"I would ask you to speak to someone you haven't met before, and get to know someone new, because hearing other folks' perspectives will be immensely valuable in having this process," Rubin said.

Attendees then broke up into small groups to discuss what they most valued about the Castro, and what would they like to see more of in the community. Those discussions lasted for about 15 minutes, after which one person from each group told the crowd the results of the sessions. Affordable housing; a stronger presence for transgender people, lesbians, and bisexuals; more diversity; and quality of life issues were among the issues raised. Many said that they appreciated the Castro as an LGBTQ safe space and would like to see the needs of LGBT homeless people addressed.

"This is a great opportunity to try and keep the Castro significant in people's minds," said Harry Breaux, a 73-year-old gay man. "It was good to hear from the young people of LYRIC and hear what they feel is needed in the Castro. It's important to create a cultural district to preserve the heritage of San Francisco. It's important to bring older, middle-aged, and younger people together in a consorted effort to identify and preserve the gay cultural heritage that the Castro sparked for the world."

Sue Englander, a 66-year-old bisexual woman, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

"The meeting is what meetings should be," she told the Bay Area Reporter. "Open, democratic, and fun. The outcomes that we outlined and the vision we articulated are uplifting."

Others said some issues could have been more fully addressed.

"There are topics we could have touched upon a little bit more, like trans inclusion and acceptance for trans people," said Mila Cullum, 21, who is transgender. "But the community was wonderful and people were excited. I was glad to get the overall feel of the situation."

Billie Kallem, a 15-year-old bisexual teen, also spoke to the B.A.R.

"I'm happy with the meeting," she said. "It felt really good for me to give my perspective as a young person and share what I believe we could bring to the Castro to make it a more inclusive community. It's important that the Castro becomes a cultural district so we can preserve the history and keep the culture going for many generations to come."

As the meeting concluded, people were invited to sign up for the governance committee, which will be working on developing a corporate structure and bylaws for the district, and the nominating committee, which will nominate members to an advisory board.

For information on future Cultural District meetings, visit: https://castrolgbtq.org/.

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