Here We Go: San Francisco Creates World’s First Ever Transgender Cultural District

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Honey Mahogany walked down 6th Street in San Francisco, pointing to single room occupancy hotels, the dance and performance space Counterpulse, and gay bars, OMG and Aunt Charlie’s Lounge.

She passed by the Golden Gate Theatre where A Bronx Tale was playing and came to site of the former all-night diner, Gene’s Compton Cafeteria (now transitional housing), where in August 1966 a trans woman threw a cup of coffee at a police officer trying to arrest her, which turned into a riot with trans people fighting back against police harassment, flipping over tables and throwing cutlery.

This event, detailed in Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman’s documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, happened three years before the famous uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village.

The area Mahogany was walking through makes up part of the first legally recognized transgender district in the world, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District.

Mahogany, a performer and contestant on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, is Compton’s district manager. The district’s purpose is to stop the displacement of trans people from a place they have been welcomed in historically, and to teach people about trans history, she said.

Mahogany grew up in San Francisco, and she always felt comfortable in the Tenderloin.

“The Tenderloin has always held a really special place in my heart as a trans person with the way the community is accepting of gender variant and trans people of color,” she said. “There’s friendliness and an energy to the Tenderloin. People say hello and good morning and how are you and check in with each other, which I think often gets lost in a big city.”

Under Donald Trump’s administration, there has been a proposed ban on transgender people in the military, and more recently, proposed changes to narrowly define gender that would eradicate federal recognition for about one and a half million trans Americans.

Mahogany, part of a collective that bought San Francisco’s historic gay bar, the Stud, when it was in danger of closing, said it was important, in the face of this attempted erasure, to tell stories about history. And she thinks bars are a kind of community hub where that can happen.

“Many of our traditions are passed down through queer bars because those are the places where our elders interact with younger generations,” she said. “Drag is often seen as a way of storytelling and passing on stories of previous generations.”

Mahogany and other advocates pushed to stop development of a 12-story project in the area. The developer and the activists reached an agreement where project will go ahead, but the developer will pay $300,000 to establish the district, which will include a community center, due to be finished in a few months, at the site of a former gay bathhouse.

In November, San Francisco passed a proposition for a percentage of an existing hotel tax to go to arts, with $3 million specifically for cultural districts.

In May of this year, the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors unanimously supported funding the city’s cultural districts, which include the “Calle 24: Latino Cultural District and the LGBTQ Leather Cultural District in SOMA”.

Compton’s received $215,000 from the city, said Clair Farley, director of San Francisco’s Office of Transgender Initiatives. Last year the focus was on getting community input and establishing priorities for the district. Going forward, Farley says, the goal is to help trans business and to provide workforce development for trans and LGBTQ people.

Jane Kim, a supervisor whose area includes the Tenderloin, introduced the legislation in June 2017 to create the Compton’s district.

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast, Emily Wilson