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These Black trans activists are building a 'better future' for San Francisco's trans community

Aria Sa'id, Honey Mahogany and Janetta Johnson established the city's Transgender Cultural District to celebrate trans culture and its contributions to the liberation of humankind.

These Black trans activists are building a 'better future' for San Francisco's trans community
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In 2017, Aria Sa'id, Honey Mahogany and Janetta Johnson created history by establishing the Transgender Cultural District, the world's first legally recognized transgender district. Located in Compton, San Francisco, the district has held a documented, ongoing presence of transgender residents since as early as the 1920s. Therefore, the three Black trans activists wanted to preserve that history and transform the area into an urban environment that celebrates the transgender tipping point in the United States and the world. In addition to this, they educate the world of the deep profundity of transgender culture and its contributions to the liberation of humankind, Good Morning America reports.


Sa'id shared in an interview with the media outlet, "[We] fought to be a transgender district because, up until then, nothing had been specifically for us and for our experience, and specifically for our history and our future." The district is home to several culturally significant spaces, San Francisco’s first LGBTQ+ bar being only one of them. In fact, the area was even referred to as a "gay ghetto" from the 1930s to the 1960s. It is now home to various community spaces, gathering sites and hotels with cultural significance for the broader transgender and queer community in the Tenderloin. (The district encompasses six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin and crosses over Market Street to include two blocks of 6th Street.)


Originally, the district was named after the first documented uprising of transgender and queer people in United States history, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots of 1966. Now, parts of the district have been renamed to honor the historic contributions of transgender people: In 2016, the City of San Francisco renamed portions of Turk and Taylor to "Compton’s Cafeteria Way" and "Vikki Mar Lane." According to the founders, it is a safe space for trans folks, one of the most marginalized groups in the country and across the world.


"So many trans people come here like refugees from other cities in the United States," Sa'id said. "And they've come to this great place called San Francisco because that's where they were told to come only to find that there are no real opportunities for them here." This is exactly what the co-founder experienced herself when she moved from Oregon to San Francisco at 19 with only $60 in her purse and a dream of the "better life" many said awaited her there. However, she experienced the exact opposite. She shared, "I had walked into job interviews and been laughed at, I had been spit on on the street, I had been harassed by a passerby or looked at or gawked at."


Johnson, who also moved to San Francisco from Florida back in the late '90s, echoed Sa'id. "By the time they get here, they've experienced so much trauma and so much heartache and so much abandonment to the point where San Francisco is a place that could eat you up and spit you out alive," she said. "There's a lot of healing that needs to be done. [The trans community must] come together as a community... and continue to raise the bar of how we are to be treated and how we are to be respected." Hence, the co-founders' hope for the Transgender Cultural District is to provide a "safe place" for trans, queer, gender nonbinary and gender nonconforming people to come to San Francisco and find "a more welcoming place where there are more resources and opportunities for people to grow." To learn more about their initiative, you can visit their website here.


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