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SF’s redistricting process will hurt the nation’s first transgender cultural district

Illustration | Leo Cooperband

Jupiter Peraza is the director of social justice initiatives at the Transgender District.

San Francisco is a living entity, composed of special communities found nowhere else in America. From the oldest Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere to the world’s most famous gayborhood, the city’s neighborhoods comprise a fragile urban fabric that gives life to what remains the best city in the world to live in. And yet the city’s current fight over redistricting threatens the viability of one of its unique assets, a city-sanctioned entity that works to preserve the cultural identity of some of its most marginalized residents: the world’s first transgender cultural district

Following the U.S. Census’ release of population figures, the city’s redistricting process has been nothing short of vituperative—as captured in the hours of intense public comment at meeting after meeting, which has served as an open forum for residents to voice their frustrations with late-night deals. Amid walkouts and missed deadlines, San Francisco is currently embroiled in a fight over its political future that has lasted for the better part of a month. This once-in-a-decade task could have empowered its citizens, but instead the city’s nine-member Redistricting Task Force (RTF) has caused near-chaos.

The city solicited input from what it calls “communities of interest”—defined as groups that share a common geography, social, economic or political history; education; income level community organization; or religious membership. Some 84 such groups filed for consideration this cycle. Despite hours of written and oral public comment, the submission of community-drawn maps and multiple individual meetings with each of the RTF members, a majority of the draft maps also split the Tenderloin from Central SoMa. These neighborhoods have existed for decades in communion, grounded on social issues, political history and economic harmony. In doing so, they split the Transgender District—where I serve as the director of social justice initiatives, working with some of the most marginalized populations in the city—in half. 

We are the smallest of the city’s nine cultural districts, encompassing six blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin and crosses over Market Street to include two blocks of Sixth Street. That compact footprint should be easy to draw into one district. Yet the dilution of what little power and influence that SF’s trans communities have managed to accrue echoes the anti-transgender rhetoric that has consumed national politics over the last year.

Many SF neighborhoods and organizations have legitimate grievances with the RTF’s draft maps, but the Transgender District’s situation is geographically and culturally unique. Not only is the Tenderloin an area with one of the densest concentrations of trans people in the country, it also contains a number of historical assets tethered to trans cultural heritage, such as working-class queer bar Aunt Charlie’s, experimental performance venue CounterPulse and the pioneering GLIDE Memorial Church. The nation’s first documented uprising of trans and queer people against police brutality, the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, occurred within its footprint. 

The site of the riots, 111 Taylor St., is now home to a for-profit private prison, GEO Group, which also operates for-profit detention centers for immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Its presence in the neighborhood is grimly symbolic of how far this neighborhood has been allowed to stray away from the preservation of transgender cultural heritage. Further, developers were not historically receptive to the input of the Tenderloin’s trans and POC residents, who fought back against gentrifying pressures in their neighborhood. Even among LGBTQ+ people, this history languished for decades in obscurity. This is partly why the Transgender District was signed into law in 2017.

Five years later, we face the prospect of being chopped in two, opening the door to further cultural erasure and displacement. It is simply the nature of San Francisco’s complex bureaucracy that operating within one district makes working with various city departments and agencies easier for small nonprofits. Having to manage two supervisors—even if both are allies to the city’s trans community—makes our efforts that much more strenuous and time consuming. We need our voice and fair representation to ensure our neighborhood does not change in the ways it has been allowed by the city.  

Typically, redistricting has been almost boring, a procedural process to equalize populations every ten years to make sure that the Board of Supervisors resembles the city it governs. Granted, huge population growth in District 6 over the last decade has distorted the city’s population distribution, making the all-volunteer Redistricting Task Force’s job harder. 

The process did not unfold this way ten years ago. In 2012, the Redistricting Task Force’s final report emphasized the need for public input and imperatively recommended adopting working maps ahead of schedule. It adopted several working maps between Jan. 4 and April 14, 2012—a three-month timeframe that incentivized clear communication and collaboration. The 2022 RTF adopted its first working map, Map 1A, on March 14, 2022, exactly one month before its deadline. 

Furthermore, the 2012 Task Force highlights the importance of how “low-level political pressure or emphasis allowed the Task Force to be more responsive to community concerns that were more clearly related to its established charge. Future Task Forces would be well served by continuing [the] dynamic.” 

This year, the opposite happened. According to Mission Local’s reporting, Chair Arnold Townsend said via text to District 10 activist Cheryl Thorton that he was “under intense pressure from outside forces to vote in favor of the controversial official draft map” adopted at 3 a.m. on Sunday, April 10, toward the end of a 19-hour meeting.

Following another gut-wrenching meeting on April 21—in which the RTF decided to toss Map 7, otherwise known as the “Healing Map,” and return to that contentious draft map adopted on April 10 amidst the walkout—was a drastic turn of events that rendered missing the City Charter deadline of April 15 nonsensical.

Although Potrero Hill was moved back to District 10 and the Portola back to District 9, there are still unaddressed injustices, one being a split Transgender District. Whether or not it was the RTF’s intent, these results are detrimental to the city’s trans community, and come amid a national resurgence of homophobia and transphobia.

Advocating for fair and equitable representation on behalf of San Francisco’s most marginalized communities is neither partisan nor undemocratic. The political viability of San Francisco’s most marginalized communities depends on it. 

Follow Jupiter on Twitter at @PerazaJupiter

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