Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

SF convenes LGBT cultural work group


Standing in front of the site of the Black Cat bar in 2007, the late Jose Sarria, right, reminisced about his time at the bar to, from left, then-reigning Emperor Michael Dumont and Don Berger. The occasion was the installation of a plaque honoring the significance of the bar to San Francisco's LGBT history. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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San Francisco officials have convened a working group tasked with creating a strategy to preserve the city's LGBTQ cultural heritage as well as nightlife venues.

The formation of the group is in response to the continued shuttering of LGBT bars, businesses, and entertainment venues throughout the city, from the predominantly gay Castro district to South of Market, the historic home to the leather community, and the Tenderloin, long a haven for the transgender community. It also comes as efforts are underway to landmark various LGBT historic sites throughout the city and create public spaces that honor the LGBT community's history.

The working group met for the first time Monday, January 9 at City Hall and brought together representatives from various city agencies as well as LGBT community leaders. It is expected to meet at least monthly over the next year as it develops a list of recommendations to present to City Hall sometime in early 2018.

"We want the community to say what it wants to happen now, in the immediate future, and 20 to 30 years out," Timothy Frye, the planning department's
historic preservation officer, told the Bay Area Reporter during a recent interview.

The working group is the result of a resolution the Board of Supervisors passed in the fall that was introduced by gay former District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, now a state senator. It was prompted by concerns that the SOMA gay bar the Stud might close due to a drastic rent hike its new landlord had proposed and frustration that a LGBT Cultural Heritage District in western SOMA first called for in 2013 has yet to come to fruition.

"I am thrilled it is moving forward and particularly that it is moving forward in such a quick way. It was only a few months ago that I authored the resolution calling for this work group," Wiener told the B.A.R. this week. "I am happy to see progress, as this idea languished for years."

The working group's scope is not limited to SOMA, however, and has been broadened to be citywide. It aims to bring under the same umbrella a number of disparate efforts to honor the LGBT community's history, such as the creation of a plaza and remodel of an alleyway in SOMA to highlight leather history, talks to create LGBT historic districts in the Tenderloin, and a planned overhaul in the Castro of a public plaza named after the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco.

"It was always my intention to look at the cultural strategy and nightlife broadly, so it is a good thing," said Wiener.

Jeff Sheehy, a gay married father who is HIV-positive and was named by Mayor Ed Lee to the vacant District 8 supervisor seat, met with planning department staff the day of the working group's first meeting to be briefed on it. He told the B.A.R. he is interested in assisting the effort to construct a larger, more permanent LGBT history museum in the city and hopes to work with his board colleagues on implementing the working group's proposals.

"I am keeping my eye on the issue," he said.

Nate Allbee, a member of the San Francisco LGBTQ Legacy Business Coalition, attended the first meeting and intends to remain involved with the working group.

"I am really glad City Hall is uniting around these particular issues. For years there has been different groups working on what's really kind of a new discipline of LGBT history," said Allbee, who is gay and is also involved in the effort to form the country's first transgender historic district in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood. "The federal government and state government is finally acknowledging LGBT sites and history are important to our entire culture."

Also at the launch of the working group were Shayne Watson and Donna Graves, the co-authors of a historic context statement for San Francisco's LGBTQ community. They are both now working on efforts to landmark several LGBT historic sites in the city.

"I think it is a powerful idea to link efforts to preserve physical aspects of the past with contemporary culture," said Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley. "It is why I think San Francisco is at the forefront of thinking about cultural heritage. It is great to see the city getting a group of people together to talk about that."

Added Watson, a lesbian and architectural historian who owns Watson Heritage Consulting, "I think it is going to result in multiple programs in all these different neighborhoods in historic enclaves and existing enclaves. It can't just be one group overseeing 100 sites of history in seven different neighborhoods."

Frye, who is gay, said the creation of the working group is an "exciting" development not just for him but also for the department.

"It is important that the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission is really leading this dialogue at the national level," he said. "There aren't really any other cities actively pursuing the same sort of strategy."


Appeal next week on controversial project

Watson is now chairing a Historic Places Committee that the GLBT Historical Society recently formed to foster closer ties between the community and the planning department. The aim is to create a stronger dialogue between planners and LGBT preservationists when development projects are proposed for sites with ties to LGBT history.

She pointed to the ongoing fight over Group I's massive in-fill development the planning commission approved in November for 950 ‐974 Market Street. The buildings there were once home to several gay bars and a shoe store that helped facilitate gay and transgender prostitution and hustling in the area.

Last winter Watson appealed the project as planners' review of the proposal initially did not consider the site's LGBT historic relevance. After they redid their review, she dropped her objections in the summer and is now working with Group I to recognize the surrounding neighborhood as an LGBT historic district.

But the Q Foundation, on behalf of a number of LGBT activists, filed its own appeal calling for greater scrutiny of the proposed development's environmental impacts, including if demolition of the existing structures would hinder forming a smaller transgender historical district in the area. It would be named after Gene Compton's Cafeteria, a 24-hour eatery that had operated nearby at 101 Taylor Street and was where transgender and queer patrons rioted against police harassment in the mid-1960s.

"If a development project comes up and threatens an LGBTQ site, we want the city to go to this committee and say here is this project, what is your reaction," said Watson. "We want for it to serve as a liaison between interested community groups and the planning department so 950-974 Market Street doesn't happen again."

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up the appeal of the planning commission's vote on 950-974 Market Street at its meeting Tuesday, January 31. District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim is reportedly trying to foster an agreement ahead of the hearing between the developer and the Compton's historic district promoters.

Asked about the talks by the B.A.R., Kim declined to comment. But in a statement, she said she is "very excited about the Compton's Historic District in the Tenderloin."

Her office, she added, "is drafting legislation in partnership with the community to make this a reality and it's a continuation of my longstanding commitment to always fight for the needs of marginalized communities in the city."

Honey Mahogany, a local drag queen who is a community organizer for Compton's Coalition, said she was unsure if an agreement could be reached ahead of the appeal hearing. Having attended the first meeting of the LGBTQ cultural heritage strategy working group, she believes the city effort compliments the goals of the group pushing for the transgender historic district.

"What is important to me is this working group identifies ways we can preserve LGBT spaces and also preserve the history of LGBT spaces in San Francisco," said Mahogany, a social worker who's also known as Alpha Mulugeta and is currently working for the Q Foundation. "I think we as a community need to take stock of our resources and history and make sure we are doing our due diligence in preserving those things."

To learn more about the city's LGBT cultural strategy working group, visit its website at

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