When three Black trans women decided to take action, in 2017, by creating a space for transgender residents to be celebrated, protected and empowered, they gave birth to the first legally recognized transgender district in the world.
The Transgender District, located in Tenderloin, San Francisco, has been home to LGBTQ+ residents since the 1920s. Now, 100 years later, thanks to cofounders Honey Mahogany, Aria Sa’id and Janetta Johnson, it’s a renowned neighborhood that memorializes the deep history of local transgender folks while cultivating an environment of pride and community.
“The Transgender District was founded in response to gentrification and displacement in San Francisco and an urgent need to provide legal protections for our neighborhood in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” Executive Director and cofounder Aria Sa’id told Blavity.
In their efforts to make Tenderloin a bustling economic oasis, the district's co-founders have taken it upon themselves to shield residents from two plights — homelessness and gentrification. Truly a tale of two cities, the Tenderloin neighborhood, once riddled with homelessness and human waste, is just a 15-minute walk from some of the big-name offices that make up the glossy, Silicon Valley.
Additionally, Sa’id shared that Tenderloin has the densest transgender population of any neighborhood in San Francisco and possibly the United States. Transforming this once desolate area into a district that stabilizes and economically empowers the transgender community is a top priority. Through ownership of homes, businesses, historic and cultural sites, and safe community spaces, The Transgender District hopes to remain a fruitful haven for its residents. Its values include:
- Creating a safe, welcoming and empowering neighborhood, led by trans people for trans people.
- Creating a place of healing, opportunity and reparations in a neighborhood that historically has been a place of both violence and resistance.
- Preserving the places where transgender history took place for future generations.
At a time when The White House is doubling down its attempts to enforce violent discriminatory practices against trans people, communities such as The Transgender District are needed more than ever. The world’s slow ability to recognize that trans folks, especially trans folks of color, deserve a seat at the table just as much as anyone else, isn’t stopping The Transgender District from moving forward.
“We are actively working towards the launch of our community center space, and have been building our economic and workforce development program to launch in 2021,” Sa’id said. "We will lead a cohort of aspiring transgender entrepreneurs through a process towards creating and launching their own businesses.”
Truly ahead of its time, the significance of The Transgender District should not be lost. Three Black trans women saw a need to protect their community and created an environment that does just that and more. Through this action, we can all see the beauty in creating our own tables when seats are not provided to us.
“I think the Transgender District is created with a spirit of leading radical and innovative solutions towards addressing the disparities we face as transgender people in the USA,” Sa’id shared.
San Francisco’s Transgender District represents what can transpire when we fulfill our own destinies. After listing the discrimination, abject poverty, disenfranchisement and genocide levied against the trans community, Sa’id proclaimed that the Transgender District exists to “radically transcend those disparities.” As the cofounders build more opportunities for Black and brown transgender people to become business and home owners, they are blazing a modern-day trail for other marginalized groups.
“If the world won't help us survive, we can create our very own economy,” Sa’id said.