SF queer cultural districts take shape

  • by Meg Elison, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday August 14, 2019
Share this Post:
Placemaking has already started in the Compton's Transgender Cultural District. In late May, the colors of the transgender flag were painted on the streetlight poles around the intersection of Turk (Vicki Mar Lane) and Taylor (Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way) Streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Placemaking has already started in the Compton's Transgender Cultural District. In late May, the colors of the transgender flag were painted on the streetlight poles around the intersection of Turk (Vicki Mar Lane) and Taylor (Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way) Streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Now that the Board of Supervisors has allocated city funding for the Compton's Transgender Cultural District, Executive Director Aria Sa'id is ready to get to work.

Before the supervisors left for their August recess, they authorized $300,000 from the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development to the Compton's District Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Stabilization Fund to support the city's efforts to recognize and support historic and present-day TLGB communities in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

The funding runs from August 1 to June 30.

The Compton's Transgender Cultural District took its inaugural steps toward becoming the first legally recognized transgender district in the world in 2016, when the city of San Francisco renamed a portion of Turk Street after transgender activist and performer Vicki Marlane (Vicki Mar Lane) to commemorate the historic contributions of transgender people. A plaque honors the Compton's Cafeteria riot of 1966, an event in the early gay liberation movement that happened three years before the landmark Stonewall riots in New York. Transgender and queer patrons of the eatery stood up to police, fed up at being repeatedly arrested on sex work charges and routinely harassed in general.

In 2017, the Board of Supervisors established the district via ordinance. The district encompasses six blocks of the southeastern Tenderloin and crosses over Market Street to include two blocks of Sixth Street.

Sa'id clarified that the $300,000 was "seed money," negotiated in 2017 and only expended by the Board of Supervisors' July 30 vote.

"We didn't anticipate about how long the funding would take to actually get to the district," Sa'id wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

Moving forward, Sa'id wrote that she is "working diligently in ensuring the viability of the district — and laying a foundation that allows us to implement some truly exciting and innovative efforts in addressing the needs of the most marginalized transgender community members living in the Tenderloin."

"I'm really excited that we are closer to opening our community center, creating more placemaking, and working on solutions toward eradicating poverty that acknowledges the culture of San Francisco as a contributing factor towards our disparity as transgender people of color," Sa'id wrote, adding that there are upcoming developments she couldn't discuss yet.

Despite this general optimism, Sa'id, who became executive director in February, was candid with the B.A.R. that fundraising has been a challenge.

Aria Sa'id is the executive director of the Compton's Transgender Cultural District. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

"I will say openly and honestly that philanthropy has not been as supportive as I would have hoped," Sa'id wrote. "As a black transgender woman executive director under 30 years old — I am perhaps the youngest on the West Coast — I have really struggled in gaining financial and in-kind support from private philanthropy to support myriad ideas and strategies — from hiring transgender women of color and creating a professional development pipeline to other ideas that I've been developing."

She talked about how she hopes that changes.

"There are days when it is frankly, a bit demoralizing," she wrote. "And some days I feel really isolated from the nonprofit leaders in San Francisco. When my decision to lead the district was announced, people were really supportive and promised to support me in my leadership — and since then it's been crickets from my peers. Just being honest."

Speaking with the B.A.R. via text message, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney pointed out the historic importance of the cultural district and its funding.

"This gift holds an important place in the history of the district," he wrote of the seed funding. "Trans activists, community leaders, and residents of the Tenderloin came together to demand that the trans community have a seat at the table — and to be centered in the conversation around development and displacement."

Haney was also able to identify some more specific uses for this funding.

"It will help cover a portion of the operation costs for the district, including rent for the office near Turk and Taylor, and the upcoming community center," he wrote.

"Additionally, there will be funds allocated to economic development within the district, as well as some upcoming district events commemorating important moments in the fight for TLGB liberation," he added.

Haney had one more piece of good news to add. "These funds will be supplemented by an additional $75K that I've secured to support the work of the district in this year's budget," he wrote.

According to Honey Mahogany, a black trans woman and legislative aide in Haney's office, there are plans for that additional funding. In a phone interview, Mahogany explained that of the additional $75,000, "Fifty thousand will go toward placemaking within the district. That includes possible crosswalk designs, plaques, and other place markers for historical sites or markers for people."

Mahogany, a co-founder of the Compton's Transgender Cultural District, added, "That might also cover banner projects within the district. The remaining $25,000 should got toward event production, possibly an annual celebration around the anniversary of the Compton's Cafeteria riot."

Part of that placemaking took place in late May, when the colors of the transgender flag were painted on the streetlight poles around the intersection of Turk (Vicki Mar Lane) and Taylor (Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way) streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Eventually, all the light poles in the district will be painted, Sa'id said at the time.

Additionally, signs demarking the district have started to be installed.

Bob Goldfarb, far right, attended June 18 groundbreaking for Eagle Plaza with Mayor London Breed and other officials. Photo: Bill Wilson  

Leather cultural district
The Compton's Transgender Cultural District is one of three LGBTQ districts in the city. The Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District was established in the South of Market neighborhood last year, while the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District became official in June.

The SOMA district encompasses Division to Seventh streets, from Howard to Harrison streets, and along Harrison from Seventh to Fifth streets.

Robert Goldfarb, who is the chairperson of the leather cultural district, said that the organization's current focus is on its infrastructure, since its bylaws were just passed and accepted by the current board.

"We're about to have our election meeting," Goldfarb told the B.A.R. by phone, referring to the upcoming monthly community meeting.

On August 21 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, the district will hold elections for its inaugural board of directors. When asked if he thought he'd be sustained in his current position, Goldfarb said he was "very optimistic."

On the subject of funding, Goldfarb stressed that it was early yet to speculate on what needed to be raised and how the organization might use it.

"Right now, funding comes from Prop E funds voted on in the last elections," he said, referring to a 2018 ballot measure that partially allocated hotel tax revenue to fund arts and cultural districts.

Goldfarb also said that the cultural district applied for, and received, a grant from the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, in the amount of $230,000.

"The terms of the grant were specific," Goldfarb explained. "What it can be used for was strictly outlined in the [request for proposal]. We'll be using the money to hire a staff person. We'll also use it to hire consultants to develop a [Cultural History, Housing, Economic Stability and Sustainability] report to asses the cultural assets that currently exist in the district, what's been lost, and creating a plan going forward, and what we can do to maintain and preserve the assets and businesses in the district."

Goldfarb, a 57-year-old gay man, said that one of his personal goals for the district is to increase the number of leather and LGBTQ-owned businesses located there.

"In 1980 there were 55 of those, and we now count 12," he said. In assessing the causes of that decrease, Goldfarb said the biggest contributing factor is the increase in rent.

"With current-day rents, it's extremely difficult for a business to get established and remain established in many parts of San Francisco, but especially in SOMA, since too much development has happened here," he said.

Castro cultural district
In the Castro, concerns were similar for Shaun Haines, co-chair of outreach and inclusion, and a chair of the fundraising committee for the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, but funding goals were slightly clearer.

"Fundraising is so far, so good," Haines said in a phone interview. "We have verbal commits from other organizations and small businesses. We have a temporary fiscal sponsor on board to fund outreach and for us to have a celebration now that we're officially a cultural district in the next couple of months."

He declined to name those funding sources for now.

Like the leather district, the Castro district held an election August 14 (after the print edition went to press).

"Right now, we're a working group with the support of our supervisor," Haines said, referring to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. "The folks who are elected, that body will take the responsibility for the decisions for the cultural district."

Aside from elections, Haines said that the meeting would make time to discuss "bigger decisions, what the process to become a personal fiscal sponsor will look like, and other issues," he said.

Haines, a queer man, had some long-range plans that he hoped the Castro cultural district leadership would be able to address.

"I hope we can work on some of the things that our community members have told us they've wanted for years," he said. "The Castro has difficulties with diversity and we want this board to be as diverse as possible. There's work to be done in cultural competency around a number of vectors. We've heard this from communities of color, from women, from trans communities, from the senior community.

"The Castro itself is not the most accessible place to many people, and we have the ability to address some of that. That's not just the Castro — the same thing is happening all across San Francisco. What magic can we do to address that?" he asked.

The boundaries for the district will be Market Street to the north and west, Grand View Avenue to the west; 22nd Street to the south between Grand View Avenue and Noe Street; Noe Street to the east between 22nd Street and 19th Street; 19th Street to the south between Noe Street and Sanchez Street; and Sanchez Street to the east between 19th Street and Market. It will also stretch down Market Street to Octavia and include the blocks of Laguna Street where the LGBT senior services agency Openhouse has its offices and housing development, as well as the stretch of Valencia Street where the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus recently purchased a permanent home.

In June, as the supervisors voted on the Castro cultural district's formation, Mandelman talked about its importance.

"The Castro has been recognized worldwide for half a century as a symbol of LGBTQ liberation and as an enclave for LGBTQ people to find safety, acceptance, and chosen family," he said. "The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District will be an important tool to ensure that the Castro remains a vibrant LGBTQ neighborhood well into the future."

For information on the city's queer cultural districts, go to www.transgenderdistrictsf.com/, www.leatheralliance.org/sfleatherdistrict/, and www.castrolgbtq.org/ .