Advocates say time to update SF LGBTQ cultural strategy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022
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Advocates are calling on San Francisco leaders to revisit the city's LGBTQ cultural strategy that was first released in 2018. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
Advocates are calling on San Francisco leaders to revisit the city's LGBTQ cultural strategy that was first released in 2018. Photo: Rick Gerharter

LGBTQ advocates say it is time for San Francisco leaders to revisit and update the citywide LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy. It has been four years since the groundbreaking report was first released in draft form, offering more than 50 suggestions for how the city could preserve and protect the local queer community and its culture.

But following more than two years of the COVID pandemic, and now with a monkeypox outbreak impacting mostly gay and bi men, those who worked on developing the cultural strategy contend it is time to review it in order to ensure it is still meeting the needs of the city's LGBTQ residents. Such was their message during the first-ever hearing about the 56-page document before members of the Board of Supervisors.

"This is just a start. We need your help and the city's help figuring out where we go from here," said Shayne Watson, a lesbian who works as an architectural historian and preservationist, during the July 25 meeting of the supervisor's land use and transportation committee.

Watson co-wrote an LGBTQ citywide context statement for San Francisco's planning department that was released in 2016. The following year she served as co-chair of the culture committee for the cultural strategy working group that was created by the supervisors and convened by the planning department.

One of its ideas was for there to be an LGBTQ community advocacy group for cultural preservation that could advise the planning department and the city's Historic Preservation Commission on historic LGBTQ properties and sites in the city to landmark, or to weigh in on development proposals that might negatively impact such locations. Yet no such oversight body has been formalized by the city agency.

"It would enable people like me who are passionate about this to maintain involvement with the city," said Watson. "It would be great to have a group of people who can weigh in and advise the HPC and planning department which sites we feel are most important and should rise to the top."

Terry Beswick, a gay man who is executive director of the Golden Gate Business Association, the city's LGBTQ chamber of commerce, also helped to compile the cultural strategy. At the time, he was serving as executive director of the GLBT Historical Society.

Speaking during this week's hearing, Beswick praised gay former District 8 supervisor Scott Wiener, now a state senator, for pushing to create the cultural strategy, which he said was "significant." But Beswick noted Wiener did so back in 2016, and it is time for the supervisors "to take the next steps" to ensure the document and its myriad suggestions are enacted.

"We need a resolution or ordinance to ensure we implement and track this list of ideas from our little think tank," said Beswick.

In addition to seeing that "individual line items have been addressed," Beswick said what is also needed is a policy proposal from the supervisors "to empower a city agency to track, monitor, and follow up on this report."

Trey Allen, a gay man who also helped draft the cultural strategy, said it is meant to be "a living document" that does get updated on an ongoing basis to meet various needs and challenges the local LGBTQ community is facing.

"It really needs a refresh. We should go back to the community to tell us again, after COVID, now what do we think about mental health in a new way and what do you need," said Allen.

The city needs to put in place a process for reexamining what the needs are but also reports out metrics on what in the cultural strategy is being accomplished and implemented on an annual basis, argued Allen.

"It was a massive effort," he said. "The work that went into this I want to see move forward."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who had called for the hearing on the cultural strategy, warned his board colleagues that, "because this is a sprawling document, many departments have a role to play in its implementation." Numerous city agencies gave presentations on the work they have been doing in recent years that ties into the cultural strategy.

Agencies ranged from the arts commission and planning department to the human services agency and the mayoral offices on workforce development and transgender initiatives.

"It is rather unmanageable, even for a hearing," noted Mandelman, who said his office had endeavored to come up with a "manageable framework" to review the various policy proposals within the cultural strategy.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, in addition to suggestions for preserving LGBTQ culture, the cultural strategy also included ideas for ensuring the LGBTQ community's well-being and providing it with economic opportunities and affordable housing. The cost to implement the document's multitude of ideas had been pegged at between $10.2 and $15.7 million.

The strategy has helped guide various efforts launched and funded in recent years by Mayor London Breed and city departments, as well as steer budget allocations by the supervisors. Among them have been resources to build the first large-scale, freestanding LGBTQ history museum in the country and to end transgender homelessness in the city by 2027.

"This is an example and model other cities are looking at and for other communities in San Francisco to look at," said Beswick. "This is a great opportunity to use this to build something better."

Planning staffer Frances McMillan, who worked with the cultural strategy working group, agreed with Allen that the strategy is "considered a living document and intended to be updated as needs change."

Pau Crego, who is trans and nonbinary, serves as executive director for the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives. Their office works on numerous city initiatives and programs that not only benefit trans and gender-nonconforming residents but the LGBTQ community at-large. However, with a limited staff, Crego noted at the hearing that the office is limited in what it can do in terms of tracking the full implementation of the cultural strategy.

It is also hampered by "the lack of data on LGBTQ residents in San Francisco and the inequities we face," said Crego.

Tina Aguirre, director of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, told the supervisors committee that all three of the city's LGBTQ cultural districts need more financial support in order to assist in the implementation of the cultural strategy. The document called for such assistance for the trio of districts, with one in the Tenderloin focused on the transgender community and one South of Market aimed primarily at the preservation of the leather and kink communities.

"I look forward to the next iteration of this draft," said Aguirre. "I hope the LGBTQ cultural districts can play a pivotal role in the next steps of this work."

Ben Demers, the government affairs coordinator for the leather district, said it would like to be involved in future conversations on the cultural strategy since much of the outreach with the community for it occurred prior to the leather district being formally recognized by the city in 2018.

"We need more support for nightlife," said Demers, adding he looked forward "to making it a bigger part of the conversation again."

When Wiener initially proposed the cultural strategy, it was primarily with a focus on preserving LGBTQ nightlife and entertainment venues in San Francisco. The city had seen a number of LGBTQ bars and other cultural organizations shutter due to various factors, from gentrification increasing demand to turn their locations into housing to higher housing costs pushing their patrons and staff out of the city.

Yet when the working group came together in 2017, it quickly realized it needed to go beyond a sole focus on nightlife. As its members explained at the hearing, what good is preserving LGBTQ cultural offerings if the people working at them and patronizing them no longer can afford to live in San Francisco.

"You can't have cultural preservation without having the culture there in the first place, and cultural preservation is preserving the people," said Amanda Hamilton, a gay woman and attorney who co-chaired the community services and education committee for the cultural strategy. "If everyone is leaving the city, how can we preserve them being here too?"

At the end of the hearing Mandelman indicated he did plan to follow up on various aspects of the document.

"I think there are a number of elements of the strategy I am interested in following up on," he said, adding that he "look(s) forward to advancing the recommendations and priorities identified and finding new needs to fill."

In a texted reply to the B.A.R., Mandelman said there are several next steps he plans to take in regard to updating the cultural strategy.

"I think there are lots of valuable ideas in the Strategy that will require follow-up to bring to fruition. I'm especially interested in trying to make the Queer History Museum actually happen and supporting the historic preservation work," wrote Mandelman. "I also think we need to circle back and re-focus some attention on the queer entertainment and nightlife that were really the focus of Senator Wiener's original legislation."

Updated 7/27/22 with comment from Supervisor Mandelman.

To learn more about the city's LGBT cultural strategy, and download a copy of the document, visit its website here.

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