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    A Home Where We Thrive

    By Honey Mahogany–

    Imagine a place where trans people thrive. Imagine a place where we have a home and a community, where we can afford housing, start a business, start a family, and have access to amenities that serve us. Imagine a place where we are surrounded by affirmation—from the people in the street, the art on the buildings, the plaques on the sidewalks, the flags on the light poles. Imagine a place where we can thrive.

    When Janetta Johnson, Aria Sai’d, Stephany Ashley, Nate Allbee, Brian Basinger, and I came together to establish the Transgender District, that is what we imagined. A sanctuary for trans people; a safe space in a city known for being a gay mecca, but where we saw trans people and our city’s trans history falling through the cracks. We built on the work of Dr. Susan Stryker—who rediscovered the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, widely proclaimed as the first officially documented LGBTQ uprising in the country—and founded the district centering the location where this pivotal event in our city’s history took place.

    At the time, San Francisco, like many other cities across the country, was experiencing a crisis. We were losing many of our LGBTQ serving businesses and spaces, and many members of our community were being completely pushed out of the city. Even the Tenderloin, a neighborhood that has been a sanctuary for trans and gender non-conforming people for decades, was becoming unaffordable. Many of our trans community members, especially our seniors, were barely surviving on social security checks and struggled to pay rent for their SRO apartments even with rental subsidies. While the impetus to create the district was to stem the tide of displacement, we knew that in order to truly serve our community and make a lasting impact our vision had to be far broader. We envisioned a place where trans people could thrive.

    Over the last six years the Trans District has done much to make that vision a reality. Place making efforts include murals within the district, art panels on Big Belly trash cans, and a public awareness campaign titled “Know Our Place.” A visual storytelling project chronicled the experiences of trans people living in San Francisco. An Entrepreneurship Accelerator for Trans and Queer people included a four-month bootcamp program and a seed grant for program graduates. In its early days, the Transgender District also had a rental subsidy program, and during COVID-19, the district was one of the first organizations to provide direct financial assistance to those in need.

    Sadly, while we have been busy trying to make San Francisco a more welcoming and celebratory place for trans people, much of the rest of the country is moving in the opposite direction. We have seen over 400 bills proposed across this country that threaten the safety of LGBTQ people. This includes everything from book bans, to drag bans, to banning trans children from playing sports, banning trans teens from receiving gender affirming care, and taking trans children away from their parents. 

    What is happening in states like Florida is absolutely terrifying, and we need all hands on deck to fight back. We must continue to support organizations like the Trans Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union that are on the frontlines of many legal battles to push back against these laws. And as more and more trans people, trans parents, and parents with trans children leave places like Florida to come to places like San Francisco, it is even more important to make sure that we make them welcome.

    With organizations like El/La Para Trans Latinas, Lyon-Martin, St. James Infirmary, San Francisco Community Health Clinic, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, TGIJP, the SF LGBT Center, LYRIC, and, of course, the Transgender District here in San Francisco, we can continue to be a sanctuary city for the transgender community, but only with support from the city, the state, and most importantly, the community. We have to turn our thoughts, our hopes, and our vision into action so all of us can be safe, be our best authentic selves, and thrive.

    Honey Mahogany is an activist, social worker, and performer who grew up in San Francisco and got her Masters in Social Work from UC Berkeley. She is a founder of the Transgender District, a Co-Owner of the Stud Bar, a founding queen of Drag Story Hour, and Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.

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    Published on May 18, 2023