Trans woman settles bias complaint with St. James

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 10, 2024
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Lisa Willis received a settlement from the former St. James Infirmary. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Lisa Willis received a settlement from the former St. James Infirmary. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The now-shuttered nonprofit that was part of San Francisco's Our Trans Home program settled a race and sexual discrimination complaint earlier this year with a trans woman who alleges she was mistreated.

A request to withdraw the complaint filed with the state's civil rights department January 25 shows that St. James Infirmary agreed to a $7,500 settlement to Lisa Willis, and the limited liability company associated with the Bobby Jean Baker House agreed to pay $3,000.

"A complaint was filed with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD); the settlement agreements were reached before the parties attended mediation with CRD. No lawsuit was filed," Willis' attorney, Hadley Rood with Bay Area Legal Aid, stated to the Bay Area Reporter. "We are proud of our client's perseverance and were proud to represent her in this matter."

This isn't the first time a resident of the Mission district house — part of the city's Our Trans Home infrastructure for addressing housing instability in the trans community — has complained about the alleged behavior of now-former St. James' employees. The B.A.R. reported another resident complained of sexual retaliation last year.

Since then, the troubled nonprofit announced it was closing, as the B.A.R. also reported.

Its website states that it has been closed since December 29, 2023.

Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who advises Mayor London Breed on LGBTQ policies, told the B.A.R. that the TGI Justice Project now holds the contract for the house. The TGI Justice Project has not returned multiple requests for comment for this report.


Willis, a 54-year-old musician, told the B.A.R. that she had a difficult life growing up and had lived with her mother in Reno until the latter died in June 2021.

"I inherited a bit of money from her and decided to move out here," she said, and after deciding to move to the Bay Area went to an Extended Stay America in San Mateo County "which I thought was closer to San Francisco, but it's way down there."

It was there she tried to find a job and a permanent place to live. She then discovered the Our Trans Home program through internet research.

"I called them," she said. "They ordered an Uber and picked me up. ... I was so desperate, I had nowhere else to go and I thought 'I hope this isn't a mistake.'"

Willis' complaint was primarily against the particular employee who brought Willis into the program. The B.A.R. is not naming the former employee because it could not contact them.

After moving into the Bobbie Jean Baker House in November 2021, Willis said things started out well.

"It's such a beautiful house. I thought it was a dream," she said. "You first get there and it's almost like you're a queen and then it drops off at a certain point; you can't get [the employee] to return your messages. ... These people come and they seem so wonderful, and it turns into something terrible."

The "something terrible" started with an unrequited romance with a fellow housemate, who Willis suspects was using her for assistance because the housemate was recovering from top surgery.

The realization that the feelings Willis had for the housemate were unreciprocated crushed her, she said.

"I took care of her. Now at this point, I was in love with her," Willis said. "Maybe I didn't respond to it as maturely as I could have. But once that played out ... I am now very upset, talking to [the employee], my therapist; I'm heartbroken."

It was at that point the employee allegedly said to Willis, who is Black, that "Black people seek relationships with white people for respect and you don't need [the housemate] to gain respect," Willis recalled.

"It was her personality — what I thought it was — that attracted me to her," Willis said, not the housemate's race. "I made quite a bit of noise."

Then on September 24, 2022, Willis was attacked on the 14-Mission bus, she said, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

"I forgot to cover my voice to sound more like a woman," she said. "A woman sprayed a can of bug spray in my face, then a woman hit me in the head. She seemed wanting to fight but I'm not a fighter. What I did was run."

The San Francisco Police Department was "unable to locate a police report with the information provided," a spokesperson stated, though Willis said she filed one.

Willis became afraid to leave the house for fear of being attacked again. In November 2022, after having filed several grievances, the employee decided that Willis should leave, Willis claimed.

"[The employee] claimed it was because my room was messy," Willis said.

"It wasn't really as messy as they said," she added, but she conceded that having been injured, she has difficulty picking up things.

"[The employee] threw away all my stuff," she said.

Some St. James employees were upset that Willis had to leave and helped her secure housing at the Hummingbird Navigation Center.

"They got me in there," Willis said. About a month later, she moved to Lower Nob Hill, where she currently lives. Willis said she is currently looking for work that she can do with her injury and is on County Adult Assistance Programs.

Ruiz-Cornejo told the B.A.R. that as there isn't an active executive director of the city's Office of Transgender Initiatives — under which Our Trans Home is housed — "myself and the city administrator's office are jointly overseeing the department during this time." The most recent executive director, Pau Crego, departed in December, as the B.A.R. reported.

St. James Infirmary's website contains an email address where people can request records; the B.A.R. reached out to this email but did not receive a response. The B.A.R. also contacted the employee, who did not return a request for comment.

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