San Francisco's Storied Transgender Community Now Has An Official Home An area in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood known for a historic LGBT uprising is now officially a Transgender Cultural District.

San Francisco's Storied Transgender Community Now Has An Official Home

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/687733897/689474027" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In San Francisco, officials worry the rising cost of living is pushing out communities that have long histories in particular neighborhoods. So the city has created several cultural districts to preserve those legacies and help long-term residents. From member station KQED, Chloe Veltman reports on one of them - the nation's first official transgender district.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: The most common sound in the Tenderloin neighborhood these days is the sound of construction.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION VEHICLES OPERATING)

VELTMAN: New cafes, condos and experimental art spaces are popping up in a neighborhood once flush with gay bathhouses and bars. Among the neighborhood gems is Aunt Charlie's lounge. It's one of the Tenderloin few remaining gay drinking spots.

HONEY MAHOGANY: This place has really been a centerpiece for the community, a place for people to meet, you know, during the day, at night.

VELTMAN: Honey Mahogany is a trans political activist and drag artist who's appeared as a contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race." The Tenderloin is densely populated with transgender people, which makes Mahogany feel at home.

MAHOGANY: All over San Francisco, people - because they can't put me in the box of male or female, because I'm tall, because I'm black, for whatever reason, I get stared at. And in the Tenderloin, I find that that doesn't happen.

VELTMAN: Mahogany is a co-founder of San Francisco's Transgender Cultural District, one of six designated in the city. Mahogany says the district came into being to help prevent her community and proud LGBTQ heritage from being pushed out as a result of development and skyrocketing rents.

MAHOGANY: With gentrification, we're seeing the continued destruction of a lot of the old buildings. And with the destruction of these buildings, we're also losing the stories that go along with them.

VELTMAN: Stories like the one about how the district got its official name as the Compton's Transgender Cultural District.

MAHOGANY: This used to be the Compton's Cafeteria.

VELTMAN: The site in August 1966 of one of the first recorded LGBTQ uprisings - for years, policemen had been giving the many transgender people who hung out at Compton's Cafe a hard time.

MAHOGANY: One day, a policeman came in and started harassing some of the women that were there. And they had had enough and decided to throw their coffee in the police person's face.

VELTMAN: The ensuing brawl lasted several days.

MAHOGANY: Three years before the Stonewall riot.

VELTMAN: Around the U.S., cities have been busy naming cultural districts. A few decades ago, there were fewer than 100. Now, there are around 600. Most of them focus on highlighting local culture and history to attract crowds, says Ruby Lopez Harper, of the national arts advocacy nonprofit Americans for the Arts.

RUBY LOPEZ HARPER: These cultural districts really drive a lot of economic development for their area, which can be a really big benefit when those areas are trained to revitalize.

BRIAN CHEU: But it needs to be really able to serve the members of those communities.

VELTMAN: That's Brian Cheu. He oversees cultural districts at San Francisco's Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development. San Francisco voters recently passed a ballot measure allocating several million dollars in annual funding for the city's cultural districts, which Cheu says will be used to benefit long-standing residents.

CHEU: Like focusing on those small businesses where the owners come from that community, where the employees come from that community.

VELTMAN: Compton's Transgender District plans to break ground on a new community center with a small business incubator in the coming months. And there's talk of acquiring real estate to help keep the neighborhood affordable. Honey Mahogany isn't entirely opposed to gentrification as long as it doesn't push residents out. She says people in the Tenderloin deserve clean streets, warm homes, even good coffee and fine art.

MAHOGANY: If we're not fighting to provide economic opportunities for our community and if we're not fighting to improve our neighborhood, I'm not sure what we're fighting for.

VELTMAN: A fight that transgender people in this neighborhood started more than 50 years ago at the Compton's Cafeteria - and which Mahogany says is still being fought today. For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF POETICAL TYRANT'S "INTO THE DRUMS")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.