Long-awaited hearing nears on SF LGBTQ cultural strategy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 13, 2022
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A Board of Supervisors committee is expected to soon hold a hearing on the city's LGBTQ cultural strategy. Photo: Rick Gerharter
A Board of Supervisors committee is expected to soon hold a hearing on the city's LGBTQ cultural strategy. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Six years after it called for the creation of a plan to preserve San Francisco's LGBTQ cultural heritage, the Board of Supervisors is set to hold its first hearing on the completed document. The groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy was first released in draft form in 2018 and then published with revisions in the summer of 2020.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for years has planned to call for a hearing on the strategy. But the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 upended his plans.

He had told the Bay Area Reporter that it would likely be held during the spring of 2021, only to again see city leaders continue to focus on responding to the ongoing health crisis. With the coronavirus outbreak currently in an endemic phase in the city, the hearing on the cultural strategy is now scheduled to take place this summer.

Mandelman's office has asked that it be added to the July 25 agenda for the supervisors' land use and transportation committee, which meets at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays. As of the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday, July 13, it was still waiting for confirmation from the committee chair on if it would be heard that day.

"When these recommendations were released in August 2020, during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, they didn't receive the attention that they deserved," Mandelman told the B.A.R. "The pandemic identified weaknesses in our city's response to vulnerable populations, and as we emerge from COVID, it's critical that we examine whether we are successfully meeting the benchmarks laid out by the cultural heritage strategy."

The 56-page document provides city leaders myriad ideas for preserving and strengthening San Francisco's LGBTQ community. Rather than collect dust on a shelf inside City Hall since its publication, 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.

"What is exciting about this report is it had very concrete asks about what the city could do to create and encourage a strategy around LGBTQ sites. Given the report when it came out, we have been able to examine it and look at what possibilities are within it," said Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who advises Breed on LGBTQ issues. "Some things can be broad; something like 'we house every homeless person who is queer' is a big lift. But I think taking slices and inspiration from it, like the arts component and the housing component, Mayor Breed's administration has been able to advocate for some of those suggestions."

For instance, Breed budgeted $12 million in the city's fiscal year 2021-2022 budget toward the purchase of a site to build what is billed as the first large-scale, freestanding LGBTQ history museum in the country. The project spearheaded by the GLBT Historical Society was one of the top priorities included in the cultural strategy.

"We are very proud to be able to get funds for the LGBTQ museum," said Ruiz-Cornejo, noting that gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) had initially called for the LGBTQ cultural strategy when he was the District 8 supervisor and this year secured $5.5 million for the museum project. "We see that as becoming a reality. It was a big, central focus of the report."

Drag laureate post

Another idea first proposed in the document was the creation of a drag laureate position to help promote the city's LGBTQ nightlife venues, entertainment options, and local drag performers. Breed's fiscal year 2022-2022 budget includes $35,000 toward the establishment of the post likely by mid-October with West Hollywood leaders also set to name a drag laureate after learning about the idea from the B.A.R.'s coverage on it over the years.

It is among the more than $17 million for various LGBTQ needs, from funding services and housing assistance for transgender individuals and people living with HIV to monetary support for the city's Pride committee and queer arts organizations, included in the two-year fiscal budget set to be approved by the Board of Supervisors this month and signed by Breed as of August 1. Much of the funding ties into the 50 proposals contained in the cultural strategy.

The initiatives run the gamut from supporting the city's trio of LGBTQ cultural districts and offering financial support to queer-owned businesses and arts institutions to addressing the lack of affordable housing for LGBTQ artists, seniors, and youth. The cost to implement the cultural strategy's multitude of ideas is pegged at between $10.2 and $15.7 million.

The price tag to pay for the top 10 prioritized steps called for in the document is estimated to cost anywhere from $1.3 to $2 million. At the time of its release, 23 of the initiatives listed in it had already received some form of funding or support to get underway.

A top concern in the document is support for San Francisco's LGBTQ cultural districts in the Castro neighborhood, the transgender-focused one in the Tenderloin, and the one South of Market aimed toward the leather and kink scene. It was concerns about the loss of LGBTQ bars, businesses, and entertainment venues throughout the city that prompted the initial calls by Wiener and others for the creation of an overall plan to address the decline of the LGBTQ community in San Francisco.

Three areas

A working group tasked with figuring out how to preserve the city's LGBTQ cultural heritage first met in 2017 to devise a plan for achieving that goal. It divided the document into three focus areas: well-being, culture, and opportunity.

The culture category centered on the trio of LGBTQ cultural districts and the effort to construct the LGBTQ museum. It had also recommended that an LGBTQ+ Historic Preservation Advisory Group be formed to advise the planning department on various initiatives that fall under its purview.

Under the strategy's well-being category, one suggestion called for the city's LGBT Community Center to create a navigation tool for available LGBTQ 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.

In terms of opportunity, the draft plan called for expanding job training and recruitment programs for LGBTQ 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.

While the office hasn't changed its name and has maintained its primary focus on supporting trans and gender-nonconforming city residents, it does work on numerous LGBTQ-specific initiatives. Its staff also now works closely with the reconstituted LGBTQ advisory committee for the city's Human Rights Commission.

The draft plan also called on the mayoral trans office to host a summit to promote and track the progress of the LGBTQ cultural strategy. The upcoming hearing before the supervisors' committee will be the first such public airing of the document since it was initially presented to the city's Historic Preservation Commission in September 2018.

In addition to a presentation about the cultural strategy by the trans initiatives office, mayoral offices on housing, homelessness, and workforce development are also expected to report to the supervisors about how they have worked to implement the document. Staff from the city departments that oversee planning, human resources, public health, and children and family programs have also been asked to update the board on how they have been helping to preserve the local LGBTQ community.

Also expected to give presentations at the upcoming hearing are the city's public library and school district, as well as its arts commission.

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

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