In Compton, CA? Like the suicide rate among the trans community wasn’t high enough.
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.
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.”
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.
“We don’t often think of nightclubs as safe spaces, but for the LQBTQ community, they’re a place people can be free to love and dance with the people they want,” she said. “That’s why we’re working so hard to have an intentional strategy to keep our small businesses here so they can grow and thrive.”
Aria Sa’id, the LGBT policy adviser for San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission, was also involved in creating the district.
Unlike Mahogany, Sa’id didn’t grow up in San Francisco. She came here on a Greyhound bus at 19 with $50 in her pocket, feeling that her hometown in Southern Oregon wasn’t a safe place to be who she was. Sa’id was looking for medical support for her transition and acceptance. She wants to be sure this is a place others can find that as well.
For a long time, the Tenderloin has had a reputation of being a place for people not accepted by society, said Donna Personna.
Personna, the daughter of a Baptist minister in San Jose, said she got the message early on that being who she was wasn’t OK, and she started going to the Tenderloin in the ’60s when she was a teenager, taking a Greyhound bus to hang out in Compton’s Cafeteria before taking the bus home in the morning. She loved the people she met there.