Supervisor Jane Kim announces nation’s first transgender district


SAN FRANCISCO – Supervisor Jane Kim, transgender activists, and LGBT historic preservationists recently announced legislation creating the Compton’s Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (TLGB) District. Named after the first TLGB civil rights uprisings in the United States, the Compton’s District will be the first legally recognized transgender district in the world.

“The lower Tenderloin is one of the most important neighborhood in America for transgender history, culture, and civil rights,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the Tenderloin. “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.”

The Compton’s TLGB District will encompass six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin and will cross over Market Street to include two blocks of 6th Street. Last year the city renamed portions of Turk and Taylor Street — now called Compton’s Cafeteria Way and Vikki Mar Lane. The intersection will be the center of the new Compton’s District and organizers hope it will be a hub of services and economic opportunities for trans and gender-nonconforming communities, as well as a place to honor the community’s history.

Transgender history in the Tenderloin
“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 member of the Compton District Coalition, the organization that first envisioned the district and worked with city hall to make it a reality. “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 U.S., and we want to see that history, as well as that present day reality recognized, not erased by development.”

The history of trans and gender non-conforming communities in the Tenderloin dates back to the Gold Rush, when many trans and gender non-conforming people worked in the neighborhood’s brothels. Despite the closure of these brothels in 1914, the Tenderloin remained an enclave for sexworkers, and TLGB people. Although an enclave plagued by state sanctioned violence and well documented extortion, the TLGB community organized to resist that violence.

“Transgender folks were forced by the police to live in just the few blocks of the Tenderloin,” said Janetta Johnson, executive director of the Tenderloin-based Transgender Gender-variant Intersex Justice Project and a founding member of the Compton’s District Coalition. “If any gender non-conforming person tried to leave the neighborhood they would be arrested, robbed, abused, and put in jail. The Compton’s Coalition hopes to create healing spaces in the district by reclaiming sites of violence and giving them back to the community — this time putting the ‘T’ first.”

In the summer of 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria was a popular coffee shop at the intersection of Turk and Taylor in the heart of the Tenderloin’s thriving TLGB nightlife district. In August of that year, after repeated abuses by Compton’s Cafeteria employees and the SFPD, transwomen resisting police abuse sparked a two-day riot that spilled out into the street of the Tenderloin. The Compton’s Cafeteria Riots became the first known incident of collective LGBT resistance to police harassment in U.S. history, and occurred three years prior to the Stonewall riots in New York.

The Compton’s District Coalition and opposition to the 950 Market St. Project
Although activists for years have discussed ways to recognize the unique history of the Compton’s TLGB District, a recent report by the Obama Administration’s National Parks Service that outlined the national significance of the Compton’s District spurred local activists to quickly form the Compton’s District Coalition and fight to make the district a reality.

Brian Basinger the executive director of the Q Foundation, a non-profit located in the Tenderloin that helps provide stable housing and employment for TLGB people, was an early supporter of the Compton’s District vision. “We know that any efforts to save the history of this neighborhood had to include efforts to protect the existing TLGB businesses, and even more important, protect the TLGB people who call the Compton’s District home and are at serious threat of displacement.”

When the Planning Commission in a four/three vote approved the 950 Market Street project to demolish an entire city block in the heart of the Compton’s District, the Coalition appealed the decision to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “The block slated for demolition was the site of historic TLGB bars dating back to the 1930’s,” said Honey Mahogany, a well known nightlife performer and an organizer for the Compton’s Coalition.

“We couldn’t just let them be torn down without trying to preserve our history.”

Of particular interest to the Compton’s Coalition was a decades old Chronicle story that described the police raids of bars on the 950 Market St. block during the 1950’s. The story recounts how patrons escaping the raids would “outsmart the cops by going into a series of underground tunnels that connected the bars along the strip.”

After a series of meetings convened by Supervisor Kim’s office that brought the project sponsors and the Compton’s Coalition together, an agreement was reached that both welcomes the project into the district and preserves TLGB history.

“The 950 Market St. sponsors have really heard us on the importance of preserving transgender history,” said Nate Allbee, an author of the city’s Legacy Business Registry and a vocal proponent for the preservation of TLGB historic bars and business. “After meetings with our coalition they are not only creating a Compton’s District Stabilization Fund to provide grants to the transgender community, they’re also allowing historians to map and document the underground spaces running below their project before the demolition. We’re truly thankful for their support.”

Justice for the past and hope for the future
“There’s a real sense of justice that transwomen are reclaiming this space that for decades represented the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse we suffered at the hands of society and our government,” Said Jenetta Johnson. “We’re still here. 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. “

Supervisor Kim will introduce a package of legislation that will legally define, provide support, and create protections for the Compton’s TLGB District. “In the last few weeks our federal government has made it clear that minority communities have never been more at risk in America. San Francisco needs to do everything it can to stand our ground and be a place of sanctuary, for transgender people, and specifically trans women of color. Hopefully the Compton’s TLGB District will be the start of a national movement to protect these communities and their history.”