Activist Stephany Ashley now commutes from the Mission District to City Hall as Supervisor David Campos’ new legislative aide.
For the next six months, while Campos’ longtime aide Hillary Ronen is on maternity leave, Ashley will bring her public health advocacy to the Campos team. She was most recently the program director for St. James Infirmary, a clinic that offers free, confidential medical and social services to sex workers, working on HIV prevention and harm reduction.
Ashley will focus on health care, homelessness, labor and public safety. Projects include opening a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender homeless shelter; continuing violence prevention; and dealing with the pro-life protesters at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Mission.
A Mission resident since moving to San Francisco seven years ago, the UC Santa Cruz graduate finds the neighborhood a great home for activism. “You see more movements intersecting in the Mission than in a lot of other neighborhoods,” she said. “It just has a legacy of activism … and secret pockets of radical history are everywhere.”
A seasoned political operative at the age of 27, Ashley has an eclectic and colorful resume that has shaped her approach to helping underserved populations in the city.
“Stephany’s years directly working with at-risk and often marginalized communities is allowing us to think about solutions in different ways and will hopefully lead to us connecting more people with more resources,” said Nate Allbee, Campos’ other legislative aide. Allbee has known Ashley for years, having first worked with her on Rafael Mandelman’s 2010 campaign for District 8 supervisor.
Ashley is a former president and current board member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. Tom Temprano, who worked with her on John Avalos’ mayoral campaign, remembers, “Everyone kept talking to me about the force of nature that was the current Milk Club president.”
Now that Ashley is working for Campos, Temprano believes that her “background as a community organizer will help to ensure that [the neighborhood’s most vulnerable] voices are heard at City Hall.”
Ashley has also worked as a dancer at the Lusty Lady, a unionized, cooperative peep show, which introduced her to sex worker activism. She said she hopes to offer a nuanced perspective when working with Mission residents on the issue of prostitution and its impact on street life.
“There are many ways to deal with trash and noise that do not necessitate criminalization,” she said. “There are also larger issues, like housing and employment opportunities and connecting people to services, which I believe can be effectively addressed from a community-based model.”
Gregory Dicum, a resident and member of the Central Mission Neighborhood Watch, has been very active in the fight against prostitution in the neighborhood, and more specifically against the trash, danger and nighttime noise it creates on Capp and Shotwell streets. He spoke with Ashley when she was still working at the St. James Infirmary about how best to deal with the issue.
“At that time we found ourselves on different sides of the issue, and I was impressed with her ability to remain true to the cause she was working with while also being a reasonable person. I think that’s a very good quality,” Dicum said.
Ashley’s public health advocacy includes work at the now-defunct Tenderloin Aids Research Center and on the steering committee of the Coalition to Save Public Health, fighting former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget cuts, which exposed her to the “nitty gritty of city politics.”
“Once you get involved in campaigns you kind of can’t really stop,” she said. But she doesn’t see herself becoming a politician. “I like community organizing, but I have no desire to run for office.”
Ashley jokes about leaving politics behind to write a novel, but adds that is unlikely because “there is always something worth fighting for.”
“It’s such a community of activists here in the city, once you build those relationships it becomes very hard to say no, and why would you want to? There is always another very worthy fight.”