New trans district EDs excited to build community power

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 30, 2023
Share this Post:
Breonna McCree, left, and Carlo Gomez Arteaga are the new co-executive directors of the Transgender District. Photo: Karen Santos Photography<br>
Breonna McCree, left, and Carlo Gomez Arteaga are the new co-executive directors of the Transgender District. Photo: Karen Santos Photography

The new co-executive directors of San Francisco's Transgender District said the conditions in the neighborhood, and in the country at large, are the biggest challenges the world's only cultural district of its kind faces.

"It's a very reactionary climate," said Carlo Gomez Arteaga, a 50-year-old trans man who has been leading the district alongside Breonna McCree, a 50-year-old woman of trans experience, for the past month. "Our task as a cultural district is to be a beacon in San Francisco, and the world actually. People see us as a leader in cultural production and self-determination — building political, social and cultural power for trans people."

McCree talked about the challenges of homelessness. LGBTQ people, and especially transgender and gender-nonconforming people, are overrepresented among the unhoused, and the Tenderloin — where most of the district is located — has long had a population living in poverty. In addition to the Tenderloin, the trans district includes two blocks of Sixth Street (to Howard Street) South of Market, according to a map on the district's website.

"I think the biggest challenge we all know is our unhoused population, so what we are trying to do right now is build out our rent stabilization to keep our trans and nonbinary folks that are housed in their homes without adding to the abject poverty we see in the Tenderloin," McCree said.

Since its establishment in 2017, the district has navigated and even thrived in the midst of these challenges, first with Honey Mahogany, a Black queer trans person, and then Aria Sa'id, a Black trans woman, at the helm. Both were co-founders of the cultural district. Gomez Arteaga and McCree will be the district's first leaders who were not among its co-founders.

Sa'id, who recently stepped down after six years leading the district, stated the new duo "couldn't be any more iconic."

"It's truly an important time for the district," Sa'id stated. "In the midst of national chaos and conservative attacks against, and misinformation about, transgender people aimed at dehumanizing our existence, the district is fighting and radically creating space for our local community to thrive. ... When we started the district nearly seven years ago, we could not have imagined the incredible possibilities that have beautifully transpired. Breonna and Carlo represent so much for our community — a Black trans woman leader and a Latino trans man leader coming together to lead this impactful and historic project for transgender liberation."

Mahogany, currently chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and district director for Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), stated to the Bay Area Reporter, "I am excited for this leadership change at the trans district, and I look forward to supporting the co-directors in their new role and learning about their vision for the district."

Gomez Arteaga was most recently development coordinator for the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founded the first Spanish-language support group for Latinx Trans men, Grupo de Apoyo Fénix, in the East Bay. (Grupo de Apoyo Fénix declined a request to comment for this report.)

"Aria, the former executive director here, with the experience I had, asked me if I'd consider applying for the executive role," Gomez Arteaga said. "I only said I would do it if there were a trans woman, a trans Black woman, in the leadership. I thought it was important for visibility and leadership."

McCree, who was director of community engagement for the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UCSF until August 28, and was a community grand marshal in this year's San Francisco Pride parade, had not been dead-set on becoming an executive director.

"I have worked with the trans district off and on," McCree said. "Since Aria was leaving the position, I thought 'why not do an interview?' Not to apply for the position, but to sharpen my skills. So I did a mock interview with them, and they asked me if I'd take the position, and I said no. I said no, I think, twice."

But the proposal to split tasks with Gomez Arteaga led McCree to change her mind.

"They introduced the co-executive director model and told me about Carlo, and I knew that Carlo had some experience in the work that I needed to build upon and I thought it'd be a really good match," she told the B.A.R.

Diamond Collier, chair of the district's board of directors, stated that the two have "deep roots in community organizing in the Tenderloin and San Francisco, respectively." She also noted they have "extensive experience" as transgender human rights activists.

"As the district nears its seven-year anniversary, we're excited to see both of them work together and the organization's staff to advance our continued mission of creating spaces for and by trans people that foster economic and cultural empowerment for our community," Collier stated.

Gomez Arteaga said that what has surprised him about the district since he's started is the staff.

"I'm completely blown away by the talent Aria assembled here," Gomez Arteaga said.

McCree said it's been a whirlwind since she started at the new position — "crazy good, but still crazy."

"Since I started I did not realize all of the front-facing work the folks were doing at the district," McCree said. "Not only were they working to serve the trans community in the Tenderloin area, and surrounding areas, but they were also working with community leaders, elected officials, community stakeholders, and they were putting on events. Having to jump on this moving train has been a little crazy."

One of those events was the Riot Party on August 27, an annual event now in its third year commemorating the Compton's Cafeteria riot, a 1966 response to police violence and harassment against the trans, drag, and gender-nonconforming people that took place three years before the more famous Stonewall riots in New York City, though the exact date has been lost to history.

"I think I'm just looking forward to producing more Riot Party events for the community," McCree said. "The community came and had a really good time."

Gomez Arteaga talked about "political, social, and cultural power" — but the district is also keenly interested in building the trans community's economic power. (

"One of our exciting programs is our entrepreneurship development program, which started with a handful just a few years ago," he said of the initiative that helps participants open or grow their businesses. "We see people's dreams coming to fruition. We want these new entrepreneurs to have supports in place not only during the program but after the program."

And Gomez Arteaga sees opportunities for expansion, too.

"We want to create opportunities to have these alums come together — for bazaars, selling events — to highlight their productions and raise visibility again," he said, adding that the district wants to put "transgender and nonbinary artists front-and-center."

Both Gomez Arteaga and McCree live in Oakland. McCree is a Bay Area native; Gomez Arteaga lived in San Francisco "for many years" before buying real estate across the bay.

Gomez Arteaga disclosed that the salary for the position is $132,000, which each will be receiving. He also said that the district's total annual budget is "around $2 million." The Transgender District, like the city's other cultural districts, is funded largely by the city.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.