In progressive San Francisco, space for LGBTQ residents continues to shrink, so as Pride enters its 47th celebration, “holding space” is key, say advocates.
Two of those events – the Dyke March, in its 25th year, and the Trans March, in its 13th year – take place in the Mission District this weekend, where space has become an increasingly precious commodity. Places where queer and trans people socialize and live have closed or been priced out of reach.
“On any given day there is no space I can go to that is specifically geared, designed to be a place for queer women, whether it be a bar or bookstore or coffeeshop,” said Elizabeth Lanyon, the fundraising co-chair for the San Francisco Dyke March.
That also means there are fewer LGBTQ people in the city. “If queers get pushed out of San Francisco, they’re not going to be coming back over here to go to their coffeeshop or bar,” Lanyon said.
The corridor of Lesbian-owned shops that thrived on Valencia in the late 1970s and 1980s, is long gone and in 2014, the last Lesbian bar, The Lexington Club, closed its doors. Now only the bronze sidewalk plaque at Lexington and 19th streets reminds pedestrians that for over two decades “every night” was ladies night. Increasingly, the young gay community is in the East Bay.
In San Francisco – with its reputation as a mecca for gay youth – LGBT people are overrepresented among the homeless. Nearly 20 percent of local homeless people surveyed last year identified as part of that community, and that proportion jumps to nearly half among youth homeless.
One advocate is looking at the city’s budget. Danielle Castro, a spokesperson for the Trans March, said one way in which the city should support the trans community would be to increase funding for advocacy groups. Castro has joined the Budget Justice Coalition, which is requesting $1.3 million to be added to the 2017-2018 city budget for social justice, supportive service and research initiatives for transgender people.
Specific to transgender services, the city budget contains about $825,000 in ongoing funding and a newly allocated $140,000 for the team of the Mayor’s Senior Adviser on Trans Initiatives and $120,000 for job readiness services aimed at the trans community.
Roma Guy, cofounder of the Women’s Building and a longtime lesbian and feminist activist in San Francisco, stressed the importance of pushing for more, especially when it comes to the concerns of other marginalized groups that LGBT people might be a part of.
“We’ve achieved what I would call some level of equality as people and citizens. The challenge is that we don’t have equity in our identity,” Guy said. “I’m white I’m a lesbian, but if I was Iraqi, I wouldn’t have all those rights. If I was black…my freedom wouldn’t be the same. If I was a ‘Dream’ child I could be deported, as gay or anything else, because that particular racism and national bias related to citizenship would trump my gayness if you wish, my LGBTQ identity.”
Physical safety is another element of providing space for marginalized groups. Violence against LGBT people nationwide has been rising, and according to one study reached a peak last year, even without including the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida that claimed 49 lives.
Locally, trans inmates are still housed in facilities meant for their assigned gender, not the gender they identify as. Just last year a man was apparently beaten for being gay in the Marina, and it was only in 2015 that a transgender woman was murdered in the Bayview.
At the Trans March, community-trained safety teams will help keep an eye on things. Controlled substances are discouraged. Assistance will be available for mobility-impaired participants. And although police officers will be present, organizers are leery.
“There have been acts of violence, historically, from the police department against trans people and also undocumented immigrants,” said Castro, adding that those who attend should not engage in discussions with the police. “We’re in solidarity with other movements, like Black Lives Matter and the resistance movement, and we want to make sure that the trans march is a safe place for everybody.”
That also means instructing members of the community who aren’t part of the group the march is meant for on how best to be supportive.
Lanyon said that every year, Dyke March organizers are flooded afterwards with emails asking why there were so many men in the march. Some don’t like that.
“There’s overarching feeling of, I don’t feel comfortable when there’s men in the group,” Lanyon said. “We have been putting out messages on allyship.”
Those include requests that allies step to the side when the march is in progress, and not use the march as an excuse to party. It might also include requests for more practical help rather than simply making an appearance: Cleaning up Dolores Park after the march leaves, for example.
Being supportive of the needs of other groups that marchers may be a part of is central to both events.
“We are leaders in that space, we have to be the ones who put that stuff on the map, who are saying, yes we’re queer. We’re also black, we’re also trans, or sex workers, or any of these things. We are all of them,” Lanyon said.
They are also protests.
“The march is an act of resistance,” said Castro, who recently stepped away from her role as Grand Marshal of the citywide Pride parade because its organizers chose to limit the role of protest in the parade. “We protest and let people know that we’re not going anywhere and we’re always going to push back so as long as there’s injustice against trans and nonbinary people.”
The Trans March leaves from 19th and Dolores streets at 6 p.m. on Friday June 23 with programming at Dolores Park beginning at 11 a.m. The Dyke March begins on Saturday, June 24 at 5 p.m. at 18th and Dolores streets, with programming at Dolores Park beginning at 11 a.m.