Mahogany tapped to lead SF trans initiatives office

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 2, 2024
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Honey Mahogany is the new executive director of the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives. Photo: Courtesy Honey Mahogany
Honey Mahogany is the new executive director of the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives. Photo: Courtesy Honey Mahogany

A trans person who was once passed over by Mayor London Breed for an open supervisor seat will now join her administration as leader of the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives. The office is also being brought under the auspices of the city's department in charge of human rights issues.

Breed announced Thursday she's appointing Honey Mahogany as executive director of the trans initiatives office. It marks a turnaround from two years ago when Mahogany sought to be appointed District 6 supervisor but the mayor instead named to the post gay public relations specialist Matt Dorsey, at the time a chief spokesperson for San Francisco Police Chief William Scott.

Mahogany will start Monday, May 6, according to a news release from the mayor's office.

"Right now, across the country, our transgender and LGBTQ+ culture and community is under attack, but in San Francisco we continue to embrace and celebrate the amazing individuals and organizations who through their advocacy and art have contributed to our history around social justice and equity," Breed stated in the release. "Honey Mahogany is a proven champion and in her new role will work to advance San Francisco's values of inclusion that will inspire communities."

Mahogany, a 40-year-old Black queer trans person, comes to the job just weeks after the end of her time as the first transgender and first Black and trans chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, a role she took on in 2021. The post made her one of the highest ranking out Black LGBTQ Democratic Party leaders in California, as the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time.

"The mayor's office reached out to me," Mahogany said in a May 1 phone interview with the B.A.R. "I have been doing work within the LGBTQ community and the trans community for several decades now and I have done work as an activist, as an advocate, as a community organizer and I've had the opportunity to work within City Hall and the state Legislature.

"I've always had a passion toward working toward solutions and creating change, and this is a really incredible opportunity to build on the work I've done over my career, being able to be both an advocate for the trans community and create change within the system, so I'm excited for the opportunity and I'm excited for this work to insure San Francisco remains a welcoming place for trans people," she added.

Mahogany said she's welcoming a new challenge after leaving the Democratic County Central Committee.

"I did not run again for the San Francisco Democratic Party this year," Mahogany said. "I have chosen to put my energy elsewhere. I served on the body for seven or eight years and I enjoyed my time there serving as chair, though it definitely had its challenges.

"I'm ready for a new challenge," she added. "Becoming director of the Office of Transgender Initiatives definitely fits that bill and connects me to community in a way that I was really missing. Working at an office in City Hall is still political, but there's an opportunity to really connect with community and work with community in a way I had been missing, so I am looking forward to the new role and new challenges coming along with it."

In her new position, Mahogany succeeds Pau Crego, a trans and nonbinary Spanish immigrant who departed in December after a 20-month stint as the center's executive director.

Crego succeeded Clair Farley, a trans woman who had headed the city office since 2017, the year the office was established. In 2016, before the office was formally created, Theresa Sparks, a trans woman, was named as then-mayor Ed Lee's senior adviser for transgender initiatives, the first municipal position of its kind.

The office, which for years has leased a ground floor space with its own entrance at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, was initially overseen by the City Administrator's Office. As of this summer, however, it will transition into being a part of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, which also has an LGBTQ advisory body. (The office space will stay at the center, Breed's office confirmed.)

"By bringing two closely aligned agencies together, we are furthering the city's ability to leverage policy and resources to advance equity for transgender and gender nonconforming San Franciscans," City Administrator Carmen Chu stated. "I am grateful for the OTI staff, Shane Zaldivar, Cherry Javier, and Asri Wulandari, who have been integral in ensuring a smooth transition, and look forward to working with Director Mahogany to continue fostering economic stability and create equal opportunities for our TGNC community."

Sheryl Evans Davis, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, stated that it is prepared to welcome Mahogany and the office.

"It will be a great opportunity to align further on so much that we already share, including grant funding specific to transgender initiatives managed through the HRC," Davis stated. "I am confident that this new transition in leadership and department will foster new engagement with the OTI team and community through our shared mission and goals."

Mahogany, a San Francisco native and St. Ignatius College Preparatory alum, came to national prominence as a contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race" in 2013. In 2016, she became a co-owner of the Stud collective, which owns the Stud bar. The LGBTQ nightlife spot reopened last month in the South of Market neighborhood.

In 2017, Mahogany co-founded the Transgender District — the world's first officially recognized district for transgender people — alongside Janetta Johnson and Aria Sa'id. Sa'id led the district as president and chief strategist before departing last year. Currently, Carlo Gomez Arteaga, a trans man, and Breonna McCree, a woman of trans experience head the district as co-executive directors.

Jupiter Peraza, former director of social justice and empowerment initiatives with the district, stated that Mahogany "possesses the skill, poise, and forethought required to lead OTI amidst unprecedented times for the transgender community across the country and in San Francisco. I celebrate Mayor Breed's appointment of such a stellar transgender leader to OTI's director role — someone whose groundbreaking professional accomplishments precede her.

"Additionally, OTI's restructuring into San Francisco's Human Rights Commission will be instrumental in the office's growth. I am looking forward to seeing the office soar in this new chapter and continue to collaborate with transgender San Franciscans in advocating for equity," Peraza added.

Mahogany worked for straight ally Matt Haney while he was District 6 supervisor.

After he was elected to the state Assembly, and Dorsey was appointed by Breed to succeed him in May 2022, Mahogany ran against Dorsey in that November's election, but fell short.

She subsequently worked for Haney again, this time as his Assembly district director.

"I can't think of anyone better for the role," Haney told the B.A.R. "Honey is a force, she's respected nationally, an effective, brilliant leader. This is a huge win for our city. I'm excited to see all that she will accomplish and deliver for the transgender community."

Mahogany told the B.A.R. that "the Office of Transgender Initiatives is holding a lot right now."

"Historically it has held some of the collection of SOGI data, ensuring city departments are reporting on sexual orientation and gender identity," she said. "The office has initiatives and goals such as the GIFT program and ending trans homelessness we want to insure are successful. There's a whole host of trans service organizations the office works alongside to make sure we are advocating for and providing services for the community so insuring those are protected and supported by the city, especially right now with everything across the country."

Mahogany said the city should remember it is a sanctuary for trans people coast-to-coast.

"I've noticed an increase in the number of trans people in San Francisco and have talked to individuals and organizations fleeing states that have passed anti-trans legislation. Part of the job of the Office of Transgender Initiatives is to make sure we are staying true to our word," she said.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, stated, "Honey is a phenomenal choice to lead San Francisco's Office of Transgender Initiatives — from competing on 'RuPaul's Drag Race' to co-leading efforts to establish the first legally recognized transgender cultural district in the world — Honey has the experience and vision to lead OTI at a critical time."

He added he is "beyond excited" to work with Mahogany in her new role.

"With trans rights under attack across the country, Director Mahogany will ensure San Francisco remains at the forefront of efforts to protect and support our trans community, in San Francisco and beyond," stated Mandelman.

Gael Lala-Chávez, who is nonbinary and the executive director of LYRIC, an organization serving queer youth, had high praise for Mahogany.

"In the realm of LGBTQ+ leadership, Honey shines as an accomplished, visionary trailblazer, deeply cherished by the community. Her relentless advocacy for trans rights is a testament to her unwavering courage," stated Lala-Chávez. "Amidst turbulent times, Honey emerges as a steadfast champion. When it comes to steering OTI and uplifting the rights, services, and impact for trans individuals in San Francisco, Honey's leadership is unparalleled."

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