San Francisco Democrats elect Mahogany as first Black and first transgender local party chair

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 26, 2021
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Honey Mahogany is the first transgender, first Black, and first drag queen to chair the San Francisco Democratic Party. Photo: Courtesy Honey Mahogany
Honey Mahogany is the first transgender, first Black, and first drag queen to chair the San Francisco Democratic Party. Photo: Courtesy Honey Mahogany

San Francisco Democrats elected city native Honey Mahogany as the first transgender and first Black chair of the local party. The first trans person in the U.S. to chair a local Democratic Party, Mahogany is now one of the party's highest-ranking transgender officials in the state and country.

Mahogany, 37, who also identifies as queer and nonbinary, is also the first drag queen to lead the local party. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps to elect out candidates across the country, Mahogany is the third transgender person in a high-ranking Democratic Party leadership position.

Last March, Mahogany became the first non-male identified transgender person elected to the Democratic County Central Committee, which runs the city's Democratic Party. Its members decide who becomes party chair and elected Mahogany to the leadership role on a unanimous voice vote at their May 26 meeting. No one else sought to become chair.

Following the vote, Mahogany said she is "very excited to be in this new position now" and that her door would always be open to the other DCCC members. She thanked her colleagues for electing her as chair.

"It is not lost on me how powerful it is to have a Black trans person leading the San Francisco Democratic Party," said Mahogany.

She pledged to engage with marginalized communities left out of the political process on a regular basis and not just during contested elections.

"I don't think that is how we build a bigger tent, not how we build a collective party," she said.

At a time when other states are adopting anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ laws, Mahogany said her election as chair is a powerful counteraction.

"For San Francisco to do the opposite to take a stand and invest in Black trans leadership in this way, in this time not only is a message against hate it is also a message of how we live our values," said Mahogany.

DCCC member Shanell Williams, a bisexual Black woman who is president of the City College of San Francisco board, nominated Mahogany to be chair.

"You lead with grace and such skill and intelligence," said Williams. "I am just so excited for the future of our party. I look forward to work with you as chair."

Mahogany was the odds-on favorite to succeed gay party chair David Campos since the Bay Area Reporter broke the news of her candidacy April 27. Campos stepped down from the position due to his being elected a vice chair of the California Democratic Party last month.

He will remain an elected DCCC member. Having first appointed Mahogany to a vacant seat on the DCCC three years ago, Campos supported her to be his successor as party chair.

"I want to say I was honored to be your chair and I couldn't be prouder of the fact taking this role over will be vice chair Honey Mahogany," said Campos, who praised her for her honesty and compassion. "The fact that this is being done by someone who also happens to be transgender, who also happens to be Black in the times of Black Lives Matter, sends a message of who we are as a party, as a San Francisco Democratic Party, so I am very proud of that. I look forward to serving under your leadership Chair Mahogany."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who also serves on the DCCC, said he was so proud to see a "history making, glass-ceiling destroying chair in Honey Mahogany" who will make the local party even more "fabulous."

Mahogany's parents were East African political refugees. Her father worked as a cab driver while her mother raised two children as she put herself through school and worked full-time. A graduate of the city's St. Ignatius College Prep high school, Mahogany attended the University of Southern California and then UC Berkeley where she graduated with a master's in Social Work.

In the late 2000s Mahogany became a drag performer and singer in San Francisco's nightlife scene. In 2013 she became the first contestant from San Francisco on the drag competition show "RuPaul's Drag Race." Four years later she helped form the worker-cooperative that came together to save the Stud, San Francisco's oldest queer bar, from closure. (Last year, the group shuttered the bar's South of Market location and hopes to one day reopen it in a new location.)

Mahogany is a co-founder of the Transgender District, which in 2017 became the world's first officially recognized transgender neighborhood located in San Francisco's Tenderloin. She works as the chief legislative aide for District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, and is expected to seek the supervisor seat when he departs.

Haney, who also serves on the DCCC, joked that already half of the phone calls coming into his office are by people asking to talk to Mahogany and now that volume is likely to increase even more. As someone "who is brilliant" and "who listens," she will be able to bring people together and move the party forward, predicted Haney.

"Such a proud moment, as you can imagine how I feel about Honey and her leadership," said Haney. "We are so lucky to have you stepping up into this role."

Mahogany served as co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club in 2018 but lost her bid for another yearlong term in a contentious election in 2019. Earlier this year she was elected co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club's political action committee.

The other trans Democratic Party leaders are Brianna Westbrook is the current vice chair of Arizona's Democratic Party, while Michelle Risher is first vice chair of Oregon's Democratic Party and a Democratic National Committee elected member.

The first transgender person to become chair of a local Democratic or Republican party was Jennifer Williams, who lives in Trenton, New Jersey. In August 2017 she became the first openly transgender municipal chair for the Republican Party in the United States with her election as chair of the Trenton Republican Committee.

Re-elected unanimously in 2020 as committee chair, Williams is now running for a seat on the Republican State Committee from her county in the party's June 8 gubernatorial primary.

"I hope Honey Mahogany keeps climbing upward in her party. We need more trans folks leading in both parties!" Williams told the B.A.R.

UPDATED 5/27/2021 with comment from Jennifer Williams.

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