After a complicated back-and-forth process between local activists, politicians, and the developer of a large hotel and condo complex on Market Street, San Francisco will designate the nation's first transgender historic district located within the Tenderloin as the development project moves forward.
Supervisor Jane Kim announced the deal, which she helped broker, on the steps of City Hall today, also introducing legislation to define the district. That's to be called Compton's TLGB District: A reference to a historic local uprising and an arrangement of the acronym more commonly rendered as LGBT that serves to highlight the contribution of trans people in that uprising, the district, and the queer rights movement generally. The official district will comprise six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin, crossing over to Market Street to include two blocks of 6th Street.
As of last fall, local advocates citing historic LGBT sites in the area were hoping to halt Developer Group I in its efforts to build a 12-story mixed-use project at 950-974 Market with 250 residential units, 232 hotel rooms, and ground floor retail space. Tenderloin nonprofit the Q Foundation, an extension of the AIDS Housing Alliance, was at the helm of the preservation effort, led by Brian Basinger. The Q Foundation cited LGBT bars in the area, like the Old Crow at 962 Market, which served the neighborhood's well-represented LGBT population from 1935 until it closed in 1980, and the Silver Rail at 974 Market.
Basinger and others also pointed to Compton's Cafeteria at Turk and Taylor Streets, where in 1966 a group of trans women, sex workers, and queer people who frequented the 24-hour diner fought back against police harassment, smashing dishes and breaking windows and furniture in the first noted LGBT revolt in the US. According to an interview in a documentary on the riot, one local residential hotel operator named Amanda St. Jaymes remembered the way that trans women such as herself were harassed and criminalized by local police. "If we had lipstick on, if we had mascara on, if our hair was too long, we had to put it under a cap," she recalls. "If the buttons was on the wrong side, like a blouse, they would take you to jail because they felt it was female impersonation." The Compton's Cafeteria Riot took place three years before the Stonewall Uprising in New York's Greenwich Village, which President Obama honored with a National Monument designation last summer, creating the first national park dedicated to LGBT history.
The Tenderloin traces its roots to Gold Rush-era brothels and the street hustling that followed. "What we’ve come to know as the ‘LGBT rights movement’ began with transwomen of color in the Tenderloin, and in many ways that’s where it still lives,” said Stephany Ashley, Executive Director of The St. James Infirmary and a member of the Compton District Coalition. "The Tenderloin is home to some of the earliest recorded resistances from sex workers, homeless youth, and trans and gender non-conforming people in the US, and we want to see that history, as well as that present day reality recognized, not erased by development.”
In late November the Planning Commission voted four to three to allow the 950-972 Market Street development to move forward, rebuking Basinger and others who had hoped the city would preserve what he counted as 12 potential historic resources in the area including Aunt Charlie's Lounge on Turk, which is still in business and which is not threatened by the development. Images that purported to show a network of escape tunnels under these businesses, and while they generated initial excitement, did not, on further review, appear to connect the basements in their current state. Nate Allbee, a member of the San Francisco LGBTQ Legacy Business Coalition, and others nonetheless point to a 2000 article in the Chronicle that corroborates the story of tunnels. "There were doors on both Market and Turk so when the cops came in the front, customers would run out the back, and vice versa," that article reads. "When the cops outsmarted them by coming in both sides, they'd outsmart the cops by going into a series of underground tunnels that connected the bars along the strip."
Now, as the developer indicated they were willing to do last year, the Chronicle reports that Group I has agreed to pay $300,000 toward a fund to be administered by the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development to establish the district, including a transgender community center and a fund to support business and nonprofits that serve transgender people in the district.
“The lower Tenderloin is one of the most important neighborhoods in America for transgender history, culture, and civil rights,” said Supervisor Jane Kim. “By creating the Compton’s TLGB District we are honoring this vibrant community built by transgender people, and are sending a message to the world that trans people are welcome here."
But the district, says Janetta Johnson, Executive Director of the Tenderloin based Transgender Gender-variant Intersex Justice Project and a founding member of the Compton's Historic District Coalition, is not to be preserved in amber. "We’re still here," says Johnson. "And we’re taking a neighborhood where we were trapped and abused and turning it into a place of healing and opportunity. Part of the reasoning for the Compton’s District is to give a type of reparations to black and brown transgender women, who were the subject of great violence here for so long.“