Opinions & Features June 19, 2021 at 03:00 pm

How these trans activists overcame obstacles to co-found the world’s 1st transgender district

Ama Nunoo June 19, 2021 at 03:00 pm

June 19, 2021 at 03:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Aria Sa'id, Honey Mahogany, and Janetta Johnson want to create a better life with endless possibilities for trans people starting from the their district. Photo: GMA

Three Black trans women co-founded the world’s first legally recognized transgender district. In 2017, they joined forces to create Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in San Francisco, a designated space for trans people by trans people.

The co-founders of the district, Aria Sa’id, Honey Mahogany, and Janetta Johnson, each have their own unique experiences and story. Knowing that there was no designated space for transgender people, they “fought to be a transgender district.” Sa’id told GMA that up until then, “nothing had been specifically for us and our experience — and specifically for our history and our future.”  

The transgender district encompasses six blocks of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The Tenderloin neighborhood has been a home for transgender residents since the 1920s.

Compton’s Transgender Cultural District was named after Compton’s Cafeteria Riots of 1966, one of the first known revolutions of transgender and queer people in U.S. history against police harassment and abuse.

“We realized that if we didn’t do something; the Tenderloin was quickly going to become gentrified and our history was going to be completely erased,” Mahogany told ABC7 News on why she and her colleagues founded a legally recognized space for trans people in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

Sa’id, the district’s executive director, moved to San Francisco at age 19 because she had heard it was a place where trans people thrive. However, the ideas she had about the place and the reality on the ground did not tally. She and her co-founders are on a mission to correct that.

“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.”

“As a Black, trans woman as a teenager in San Francisco, I learned very quickly that while San Francisco affirmed me legislatively, socially, I had walked into job interviews and been laughed at. I had been spit on in the street,” Sa’id shared.

Johnson is optimistic that the transgender district will provide a safe place for queer, trans, and gender non-conforming, non-binary people to come to San Francisco and find a more welcoming space.

According to the transgender district’s website, the focus is on six major program initiatives including tenant protections, economics, and workforce development, arts and culture, cultural heritage conservation, cultural competency, and land use. A recent report about the district added a seventh work area: transgender — and gender non-conforming — empowerment.

“The future is pretty bright for trans folks in San Francisco,” Mahogany said.

The amazing trio hope their activism will serve as an inspiration for others to do more for the trans community in and outside San Francisco.

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