While the City is operating at the cutting edge of heritage preservation in many ways, San Francisco is notorious for its increasingly steep rents and widespread gentrification. Thus, the housing landscape of the City was a major factor in founding the district. Often with increased gentrification, comes the increased demolition of culturally significant queer sites, such as bathhouses and bars. Regrettably, as these sites are demolished, their stories are often erased with them. In a sense, these instances of demolition function as physical manifestations of the white washing and commodification of queer culture. Because of intersecting marginalized identities, Trans people of color are disproportionately affected by displacement. Therefore, community preservation needed to be at the root of the district. The Tenderloin neighborhood is not only low in home ownership rates in comparison to the rest of the City, but high in homelessness, with widespread chronic homelessness being a major issue affecting the Tran Community. [1] This plight of poverty, housing insecurity, and homelessness is only exacerbated by San Francisco’s 2019 status as the city with the most billionaires per capita in the world. [2]

Championing the preservation of both tangible and intangible heritage, the mission of the district is to economically stabilize and empower the transgender community through the ownership of businesses and homes as well as the preservation and creation of historical and cultural sites and safe spaces. Crafted intentionally for and by trans people, the guiding principles of the district give proper space for acknowledging violence and disenfranchisement while celebrating resistance and visioning for a more equitable future. Most strikingly, the district positions itself along with the tools of preservation and economic development as a type of reparation, complicating notions of reparations as purely financial redress. Services provided by the district nonprofit include tenant protection and housing stability efforts, as well as a workforce and entrepreneurial resources, and robust arts-based programming centering trans and nonbinary artists, placemakers, and speakers. To confront these issues of ownership and wealth, the district plans to create a business incubator in a former bathhouse and bolster community ownership through the gradual acquiring of properties, while coordinating with the City, local nonprofits, and housing agencies.  

To create an urban environment that fosters the rich history, culture, legacy, and empowerment of transgender people and its deep roots in the southeastern Tenderloin neighborhood. The transgender district aims to stabilize and economically empower the transgender community through ownership of homes, businesses, historic and cultural sites, and safe community spaces.
The black hawk marquee
Little Saigon is a two block stretch of Larkin Street between Eddyand O’Farrell Streets.

The Complexities of Place and Identity

While the Tenderloin might be known for its significant trans population, the neighborhood is demographically diverse with significant Asian and LatinX immigrant populations. During the 1950s and 60s, the Tenderloin was home to a thriving Jazz scene, hosting the likes of Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and John Coltrane. [3] Following the Vietnam War, refugee communities from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos sought refuge in this neighborhood, opening up a variety of restaurants and grocery stores that the Tenderloin is known for today. [4] While visibility is key and the establishment of cultural districts can help to build power in marginalized communities, identity-based districts and labels such as “The Trans district” or “Latin quarter” raise the issues of fixed identity. By giving the appearance of a monolithic identity and prioritizing one culture’s claim to place, such districts can ignore the coexistence of multiple cultural groups and how the neighborhood’s identity has and will evolve over time. On this topic, Donna Graves suggests naming districts after the place, such as “The Tenderloin District,” to reinforce the existence of multiple identities. [5]

people in costume sitting outside
person yelling in protest
trans gender rights flag and line of epople

Intersectionality & Contemporary Relevance

Intersectional understandings of place become increasingly crucial in light of recent discussions surrounding race, poverty, political brutality, and the coronavirus pandemic. Undoubtedly, the struggle for Trans rights is also rooted in legacies of racism and police brutality. The Compton Riots, which preceded Stonewall, began in August 1966 at the Tenderloin’s Compton’s Cafeteria after a trans woman threw coffee at a police officer out of fear and exasperation from the constant harassment. [6] Recently, the district and its supporting nonprofit have suffered financial hardships of over a $150,000 deficit as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Executive Director, Aria Sa’id needed to cut her position in half and apply for an emergency rent relief grant in order to keep their office. Furthermore, the number of houseless individuals encamped in the neighborhood has exploded by 285% since the beginning of the pandemic. [7] While San Francisco is only 6% Black, the homeless population is nearly 37% Black. [8] Despite these overlapping marginalities, Black Lives Matter activism and increased social media exposure has helped to illuminate this cultural district and raise the needed funds through donations. Although cultural districts may not be the cure-all for this nation’s many ills, Compton’s Trans Cultural District has the potential to serve as a critical model for the preservation and intangible and tangible heritage, economic development, as well as a form of cultural and economic reparations.

"Trans Black Lives Matter" mural


1. 97% of residents in the Tenderloin rent their living spaces as opposed to the 61% estimate for the City of San Francisco. 2019 ACS.  

2. Wealth-X, “Billionaire Census 2019,” Accessed 6 February 2020.
3. Tenderloin Museum, “Celebrating Jazz at the Blackhawk,” Tenderloin Museum 2016. Accessed 6 February 2021.

4. Katherine Bishop, “THE TENDERLOIN TIMES: A VOICE IN SAN FRANCISCO,” The New York Times May 7, 1987. Accessed 8 February 2021.,the%20Tenderloin's%20estimated%2025%2C000%20population.

5. Donna Graves, “Interview with Julia Marchetti,” 15 August 2020.

6. Chloe Veltman, “World's First Transgender Cultural District Looks to the Past - and the Future,”KQED January 13, 2019. Accessed 6 February 2021.

7.  Vivian Ho, “'A true emergency:' Covid-19 pushes homeless crisis in San Francisco's Tenderloin to the brink,” The Guardian, May 19, 2020. Accessed 6 February 2021.

8. Vivian Ho, “'It's a cycle': the disproportionate toll of homelessness on San Francisco's African Americans,” February 21, 2020.

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