Political Notebook: Community leaders call on San Francisco to declare itself a transgender sanctuary city

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday June 4, 2024
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Mayor London Breed raised the trans flag outside City Hall in August 2022. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor London Breed raised the trans flag outside City Hall in August 2022. Photo: Rick Gerharter

For more than a year now Kansas City, Missouri has been a designated sanctuary city for transgender individuals. So has New York City and West Hollywood, California.

Earlier this year Sacramento became the second known city in the Golden State to follow suit. Municipal leaders have taken such a step to counter the legislative assault against trans rights taking place in statehouses across the country.

Now, San Francisco is set to join the list. While city leaders have long embraced the local transgender community, and funded various programs and services to meet its needs, advocates see it declaring itself a transgender sanctuary city as sending a global message of support.

"This is to make sure the rest of the world knows when you come to San Francisco, this is a sanctuary city for transgender people," said Suzanne Ford, a transgender woman who is executive director of the city's Pride committee.

Seeing the two other California cities declare themselves to be municipal sanctuaries for not only trans people but also gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, two-spirit, and intersex individuals, Ford told the Bay Area Reporter she felt it was important for San Francisco to do the same, noting that many trans people come to the city for the medical care they are unable to receive where they live.

"I read where Sacramento had become a trans sanctuary city. Then I saw West Hollywood had done that but not San Francisco," she said. "I thought that was an oversight, and we needed to correct it."

Ford reached out to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman to inquire if he would author such a declaration. In turn, Mandelman worked with various leaders within the city's trans community on the language of the resolution.

"When our trans community and prominent trans leaders come to me and tell me San Francisco needs to do a sanctuary city resolution, I agree with them," said Mandelman.

At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, he introduced the resolution to officially declare San Francisco a refuge for transgender individuals. The governing body is expected to adopt it at its June 11 meeting more than two weeks before the city welcomes hundreds of thousands of people for its annual Pride parade taking place this year on June 30.

"San Francisco has a multitude of service providers who give financial, medical, social, and programmatic support to the transgender community; now, therefore, be it resolved, that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors hereby reiterates its commitment to TGNCI2S rights and equal protections for TGNCI2S people and declares San Francisco a sanctuary city and a place of safety for TGNCI2S people and providers of gender affirming care," states the resolution.

In crafting the language of the resolution, Mandelman's office worked with the Office of Transgender Initiatives and members of its advisory committee. Honey Mahogany, who took over its leadership in early May, told the B.A.R. the resolution is an "incredibly" important stance for the city to take at a time when trans people and families with trans children are leaving their hometowns and home states due to their health care being taken away or are faced with anti-trans school policies.

"We have a situation where refugees in our own country are coming to places like California and San Francisco in order to be safe, to access health care services that had previously been available to them in their home cities and home states, and to make decisions with their doctor and families," said Mahogany. "It is really important we make it really clear that San Francisco is a place where trans people are welcome, where they can access resources, and where their rights are protected."

It may seem counterintuitive, to some, that San Francisco needs to make such a declaration about itself. For years, the city has had the dedicated office working to address the needs of the trans community, with longtime politico, activist, and drag artist Mahogany the latest person to lead it.

Mayor London Breed had asked Mahogany to take over the role. Several years ago, Breed pledged to end trans homelessness by 2027, a commitment she has said the city is on track to meet.

The city also provides funding to the Transgender Cultural District located in the Tenderloin neighborhood, long a home to many trans and queer newcomers to the city. San Francisco celebrates Transgender History Month each August and flies the trans Pride flag at City Hall.

"At a time when so many places in the country and world are doing hateful things, it can't hurt to do another nice, affirming thing for our TGNC, intersex, and two-spirit communities," said Mandelman. "I think San Francisco is certainly better than most places. I also think we should not pretend that San Francisco is as supportive of trans individuals as we would like it to be."

There continues to be high levels of poverty and homelessness within the city's TGNC community, noted Mandelman, as well as "disproportionate levels of anti-trans violence."

While Mandelman told the B.A.R. he is proud of what the city, and Breed's administration, has done to support the trans community, he acknowledged more is still needed. The resolution comes amid LGBTQ advocates' concerns about what services and programs may be impacted in the city's budget for the next two fiscal years as the supervisors and mayor work to address a deficit of $789 million.

"We are not close to meeting our obligations to trans folks. There is a ton more to do," said Mandelman. "I don't think we should ever lose sight of that."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. that the supervisors need to continue to prioritize the fiscal investments and commitments the city has already made in its past budgets to the trans community.

"The fact that other places in the country and other places in the world are doing much worse than us does not relieve us of the obligation to try to do better," he said.

Asked about the looming budget negotiations, Ford told the B.A.R. she sees the adoption of the trans sanctuary city resolution as a statement of support from the supervisors that they will take into account the community's needs as they work to adopt a balanced budget by August 1. Many trans people rely on the city to be a place where they can live authentically as themselves, she noted.

"I think it reinforces and shows their determination that trans people are represented in the budget process," said Ford. "We need to make sure in the budget process we account for the services people need. Trans people are some of the most marginalized people in this country."

Ford told the B.A.R. she hopes more cities around the world will also declare themselves to be transgender sanctuary cities. Once San Francisco adopts its resolution, Ford plans to share it with her counterparts at other Prides via InterPride, the worldwide association for organizers of the LGBTQ celebrations.

"This is not to say everything is perfect for all trans people in San Francisco," stressed Ford. "But we do have a voice here. It is important to me that we would be saying to the world that, 'Yes, San Francisco is a transgender sanctuary city.'"

Mandelman also said he hopes to see other cities make such a declaration.

"We want it to be done in places like Modesto, Stockton, Fresno, Eureka and Bakersfield," he said.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on political Pride merchandise.

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