SF LGBTQ cultural strategy awaits approval

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 4, 2019
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The city's LGBTQ Cultural Heritage Strategy will focus on preserving the city's queer cultural districts, like the Castro, among other things. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The city's LGBTQ Cultural Heritage Strategy will focus on preserving the city's queer cultural districts, like the Castro, among other things. Photo: Rick Gerharter

More than a year after it was released in draft form, San Francisco's groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy has yet to be formally adopted by the city. It is now likely to be approved sometime in 2020.

A draft version of the strategy was met with unanimous praise when it was first presented to the city's Historic Preservation Commission in September last year. The oversight body was initially expected to vote on a final version of the plan by the end of 2018 so the Board of Supervisors could approve the document earlier this year.

Yet in the spring Planning Director John Rahaim, a gay man who plans to step down in early 2020, had told the Bay Area Reporter that the planning staff was focused on first winning approval for designating the city's Castro neighborhood as a LGBTQ cultural district. It wasn't until early July that the supervisors approved the designation, with Mayor London Breed finalizing it shortly thereafter.

Preserving San Francisco's LGBTQ cultural districts, there are also ones in the Tenderloin focused on the transgender community and one South of Market aimed toward the leather and kink scene, are major components of the citywide strategy. It was concerns about the loss of LGBT bars, businesses, and entertainment venues throughout the city that prompted calls for the creation of an overall plan to address the de-gayification of San Francisco.

A working group tasked with figuring out how to preserve the city's LGBTQ cultural heritage met in 2017 to devise a plan for achieving that goal. When adopted it will be the first such citywide strategy in the country aimed at protecting and enhancing a municipality's LGBT cultural heritage.

As the B.A.R. first reported last fall, the draft plan was divided into three focus areas: well-being, culture, and opportunity. The culture category called on City Hall to lend support for the three LGBT cultural districts and the GLBT Historical Society's plans to open a larger museum than the one it operates now in the Castro. Since she first ran for mayor in 2018, Breed has pledged backing for the four projects from her mayoral administration.

The draft cultural strategy also recommended that a LGBTQ+ Historic Preservation Advisory Group be formed to advise the planning department on various initiatives that fall under its purview. It also called for the nonprofit archival group to take a lead community role in working with various historic preservation groups and city agencies on protecting LGBTQ historic resources and safeguarding the city's LGBTQ cultural heritage.

Under the strategy's well-being category, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center would be tasked with creating a navigation tool for LGBT services, sort of a one-stop-shop database that residents could utilize. It also recommended there be LGBTQ cultural competency training for public and private organizations.

The draft plan also called for the development of LGBTQ-focused heritage and arts programming and more affordable housing and workspace options for LGBTQ artists in the city.

In terms of opportunity, the draft plan called for expanding job training and recruitment programs for LGBT people and increased support for LGBTQ-owned businesses. It also called for the building of affordable housing for LGBTQ people.

Another key recommendation in the draft proposal was to expand the Mayor's Office of Transgender Initiatives into more of an LGBTQ affairs office. Santa Clara County in 2015 was the first in the Golden State to establish such an office, and San Francisco, which is both a city and county, would be the second county in the state to do so.

Clair Farley, the current mayoral adviser on transgender initiatives, has expressed support for seeing her office's purview be expanded as long as the concerns of the transgender community remain a key focus. The draft plan also called on Farley's office to host a summit to promote and track the progress of the LGBTQ cultural strategy.

Both Breed and Farley have told the B.A.R. that her office should remain centered on addressing the needs of the city's transgender community, while also noting that it already tackles a wide array of LGBT issues. Farley's office, for instance, has been working with various city departments on their efforts to meet a mandate that they collect sexual orientation and gender identity data so that City Hall can better direct resources to meet the needs of the LGBT community.

For now Breed has hired Victor Ruiz-Cornejo to be her policy adviser focused on LGBT issues as well as nightlife concerns and planning for the global AIDS conference San Francisco is jointly co-hosting with Oakland next summer. Ruiz-Cornejo, who began December 2, will report directly to the mayor's policy director Andres Power.

The two gay men previously worked for gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Ruiz-Cornejo most recently had been his spokesman in his Senate district office, while Powers was one of Wiener's City Hall aides when he served as the District 8 supervisor and then became his senior policy aide after being elected to the Legislature.

According to Farley and Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society who helped lead the task force for the cultural strategy, there have been few changes in the draft document since it was first presented last year. Because it encompasses myriad city departments and agencies, they noted it has taken awhile for all of those entities to provide feedback on the document.

Beswick told the B.A.R. this week that he was informed by city planning staff in November that they had been reviewing the cultural strategy with the mayor's budget office with the goal of seeing certain funding requests be included in Breed's proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. He expressed hope that the mayor's budget proposal will include funding to help the society as it looks to nail down a site in the Castro where it can build its new museum, likely in partnership with a housing developer.

"I am excited it is under review by the mayor's budget office," said Beswick, whose organization was also a major backer for forming the Castro cultural district.

Asked about the delay in seeing the citywide cultural strategy secure final adoption at City Hall, Beswick replied it was to be expected the city's internal review of the document would take longer than initially hoped.

"We took our time with the whole project because it is a very wide-ranging report. It touches on so many areas of the city's economy and culture and existing organizations had to be taken into consideration," said Beswick. "During that time, of course, we had a new mayor and changes in the Board of Supervisors and changes in the administration."

He expects the supervisors' support for the cultural strategy once it reaches the board, as he has kept a number of supervisors and their staffs apprised of the project.

"They are waiting to move forward," said Beswick. "My hope has always been that the report will inform the city's budget processes."

When the strategy wasn't ready in time for this year's budget talks, said Beswick, "it took the air out of" seeing it come to fruition in 2019. He is now hopeful that there will be funding for the LGBT cultural initiatives called for in the strategy in the next budget cycle.

"Now we are into next year's budget process, and I think it is important the mayor's budget office is reviewing it with planning to attach money to it so it can go into the mayor's budget next year," he said.

Gina Simi, a spokeswoman for the planning department, confirmed with the B.A.R. that the cultural strategy would not be presented again to the Historic Preservation Commission until sometime in 2020. The oversight body's last meeting of 2019 is scheduled for December 18 and its agenda will not include a vote on the document, wrote Simi in an emailed reply.

"This is still under review with the mayor's budget office and therefore not on the agenda for the 18th. But we expect it will be early next year," explained Simi.

The mayor's office did not respond to requests for comment by the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday. Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said this week that it has been months since planning staff last updated his office about the strategy.

"I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with," he said. "Based on that, we will be figuring out next steps."

To learn more about the city's LGBT cultural strategy, visit its website at https://sfplanning.org/project/lgbtq-cultural-heritage-strategy