Agency opens first trans services center in SF

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 22, 2023
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Gizelle Mattingly, a volunteer with the San Francisco Community Health Center, opened her arms in joy at the ribbon cutting for the new home of the agency's Trans Thrive program Tuesday, March 21. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Gizelle Mattingly, a volunteer with the San Francisco Community Health Center, opened her arms in joy at the ribbon cutting for the new home of the agency's Trans Thrive program Tuesday, March 21. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Caught in Tuesday's early morning rainstorm without an umbrella on route to attend the official opening of the first stand-alone facility dedicated exclusively to serving San Francisco's transgender and gender-nonconforming communities, Gizelle Mattingly slipped into the room holding the wardrobe offerings of the SheBoutique. Filled with free clothing that trans women and others can use for job interviews or other needs, Mattingly picked out a soft-pink blazer to borrow.

A client and volunteer with the San Francisco Community Health Center's Trans Thrive program, Mattingly wanted to be presentable for the grand opening ceremony for the program's new dedicated space since she expected to be interviewed by the invited media. The experience was "inspirational," she told the Bay Area Reporter.

The 8,000 square foot facility, which includes 2,000 square feet of usable outdoor space, signals a true commitment to the trans and nonbinary people who will walk through its doors, said Mattingly, 38, a trans woman who moved to San Francisco from San Diego two years ago.

"I love it. It is so big; my dreams could fit in here," she said of the space with brick walls and wood-beam rafters. "Trans people are so often put in a corner of an office in a cubicle. It is amazing to see trans people occupying a space like this that we can be proud of."

The new facility is seen as providing a true "home" to the city's transgender community, said Nicky "Tita Aida" Calma, a trans woman who is the San Francisco Community Health Center's managing director. It provides everything from mental health and substance use counseling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, to case management and social support groups like its weekly Taco Tuesday get-togethers and new Folk & Swagger meet-up for trans men.

"What we have here is groundbreaking," Calma said.

She is one of 13 full-time staffers who are trans or gender-nonconforming and now overseeing the new Trans Thrive location. It soft opened March 13 and is currently open from 2 to 5 p.m. weekdays at 1460 Pine Street near Polk.

"Seeing it open feels amazing. I have never seen a place like this before," said Alejandra De La Vega, a trans Latina woman who joined the staff in September and was recently promoted to program manager.

By the summer the Trans Thrive team hopes to expand the daily operating hours and also have the facility be open on weekends. It is only about a 10-minute walk from the nonprofit's main clinic and offices a few blocks away on Polk Street and near its Community Living Room drop-in space on Ellis Street.

Outside of the Tenderloin

The new location is purposefully outside of the city's Tenderloin, home to the Transgender District. An assessment Trans Thrive undertook last year to hear directly from its clients about what they wanted to see in the new facility revealed that many didn't want to have to walk through the Tenderloin with its open-air drug dealing and people using drugs on the street in order to access it.

"They didn't want to go too much further into the Tenderloin because of the drug use and harassment they have faced there," noted Tatyana Moaton, Ph.D., a trans woman of color who conducted the assessment and is the health center's senior strategy adviser based out of Chicago. "We looked at sites as far as the Castro but the clients were against that because of the harassment and stigma the trans community has faced there."

The nonprofit health agency first launched Trans Thrive in 2006 and for years has sought to house it in its own facility. Last year, the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. awarded it a $1.2 million two-year grant that helped pay for the assessment of Trans Thrive and finding a location for it.

The program has an annual budget of roughly $2.5 million. The agency signed a five-year lease for the Pine Street location, which costs $12,000 a month to lease.

"It's unbelievable and so joyful for me to be a part of it," said Lance Toma, a gay man who is the nonprofit's longtime CEO. "It represents a place of refuge and sanctuary for trans people so they can be able to realize their potential, hopes and dreams."

Mattingly came to Trans Thrive in order to meet trans people in the city and make new friends. Her partner is in the military and stationed overseas, so she felt a bit isolated at being in a new city. Although her first engagement with the program was via a virtual support group, it left a lasting impression.

"Just seeing everyone and being able to talk to other girls in that support group, I wanted to do more," recalled Mattingly. "I asked if I could volunteer and have been doing that ever since."

She has especially enjoyed being able to talk to trans elders in the community.

"It is interesting to hear how they managed the journey of their life without a resource like this," said Mattingly.

Attending the new center's ribbon cutting was District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, currently president of the Board of Supervisors, as it is located within his district. Noting the Polk Gulch neighborhood's long history as being an LGBTQ neighborhood, Peskin said he wasn't offering "a welcome" but "a welcome back" to the facility's staff and clients.

Its opening also served as a reminder, added Peskin, that the city's initiative to end trans homelessness by 2027 "is achievable."

Pau Crego, director of the city's Office of Transgender Initiatives, noted how the opening of the new facility contrasts with the legislative steps being taken in states across the country to strip trans and gender-nonconforming people of their rights and restrict their access to gender-affirming care, particularly for youth.

"In our country we do need spaces like this," said Crego, a queer transmasculine immigrant. "We see the violence happening to people around the country. Spaces like this are truly lifesaving now and will continue to be lifesaving for our community."

Also noting the attacks on trans rights being led by conservative lawmakers and groups, Calma hoped the opening of the new facility could help refocus attention on what is possible to achieve for the betterment of the trans community.

"Let's change the narrative," said Calma. "Let's focus on everything we aspire for."

To learn more about Trans Thrive click here.

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