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Preserving LGBT History Means Saving These Spaces

Preserving LGBT History Means Saving These Spaces

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Above: Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, an Emmy Award-winning documentary of the collective resistance by queer and trans people in San Francisco (especially trans women of color), which occurred three years before Stonewall.

Compton’s:

As the Stud Collective was making history as the first worker-owned bar in America, the Obama administration was making some history of its own. LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, a publication of the National Park Foundation, argues that LGBT historical spaces need to be preserved and lists some of the prime real estate in need of protection. Penned by leading representatives of the LGBT community, the study includes a chapter by renown transgender historian Susan Stryker, who co-directed the 2005 documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. The number 1 site on that list of historic LGBT places was the Stonewall Inn, which President Obama later designated a national monument. Number 2? Compton’s.

Compton’s Cafeteria was an all-night diner at the corner of Turk and Taylor in S.F.’s Tenderloin. It was one of the few places where trans women, and particularly trans women of color, could gather publicly. In the summer of ’66 a hostile staff member called the police, and an ensuing riot poured into the street and lasted two days. This was one of the very first LGBT civil rights uprisings in the U.S. — though the queer history of the Tenderloin neighborhood goes all the way back to the Gold Rush.

With the release of the report, the federal government had — for the first time — recognized the importance of preserving LGBT history. Reading the expansive 1,000-page document, Mahogany and Allbee realized that a number of these spaces significant to the birth of the trans rights movement were in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, and they were almost all being threatened by development.

Mahogany and Allbee approached Janetta Johnson, head of the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, Aria Sa’id of the St. James Infirmary, and Brian Basinger from Q Foundation, Inc., with a unique idea: Using San Francisco’s arcane land use laws to create the first legally recognized transgender neighborhood in the country.

With the support of San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim the group created the Compton’s Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual District, centered on the old cafeteria. The area making up Compton’s TLGB District has the densest number of historical resources for the trans community anywhere in the country. The legislation creating it officially recognizes this history as an asset to the city and makes protecting it a priority. But Allbee says it doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s all about land. We need to make sure that transgender women in the Compton’s District are gaining control of that land,” says Allbee. “The businesses need to belong to them, the buildings that house the businesses need to belong to them, the apartments where they live need to belong to them, empty lots to build future housing need to belong to them. We need to make sure the trans district is a space run for trans people by trans people. That’s the only way this community will ever be truly protected.”

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