In 2016, an alum of RuPaul’s Drag Race named Honey Mahogany rallied with dozens of organizers to save the Stud, San Francisco’s oldest queer bar. She eventually became one of the venue’s 18 co-owners.
Mahogany and the team worked with local officials to retain legacy business status, negotiate with the landlord and crowdfund to keep the 54-year-old drag and leather club alive. (Ultimately, the Stud lost its decades-long SoMa home last year.)
It was only the beginning of Mahogany’s political career. She took off from there, getting involved in local campaigns, keeping pressure on local officials, and ultimately, landing a job in City Hall as a legislative aide to Supervisor Matt Haney in District 6. Her several years of work culminated last week when she became the first transgender leader of San Francisco’s Democratic Party — or any local party nationwide.
The Examiner spoke with Mahogany after her historic win as chair of The City’s Democratic County Central Committee, which makes key endorsements and conducts voter outreach.
You’re at the intersection of so many experiences — trans, Black, San Francisco-born, drag performer, child of [East African] refugees. What does it mean to be able to represent all of these on such a public platform?
Well, it’s sometimes overwhelming to have to represent a whole group, let alone so many different groups. There are times in which those different identities come into conflict. But in general, I try to approach it by making sure that we bring communities to the table, that it’s not just my voice that people are hearing. One of the things that the chair gets to do is make appointments, both in terms of delegates and as well as to members of the DCCC if a seat becomes vacant. I fully intend on using that to bring more people from traditionally marginalized communities to the board. I also think it’s important that we are focusing on the issues that are important to these communities which we don’t always highlight.
Democrats and Republicans are so polarized these days. How do you feel your election plays into the way that the national Democratic Party is going, and then how is this juxtaposed with Republicans—who are pushing all sorts of anti-trans measures?
Well, I think the Democratic Party is headed in the right direction. What we’re seeing is a move to the left that is more in line with the needs and the realities of everyday working-class and poor people. It is becoming a more diverse party, a more accepting party, and a party that is really ready to stand up and fight for what is right. We’re not the party of voter suppression, unlike the Republican Party who seems to be doing everything in their power to prevent people from voting. So I think my election to this position is a sign of the progress that we’ve made over the years. And it may also be yet another political wedge that Republicans use against us; a punching bag or sticking point. In terms of their agenda, they made it very clear that trans people are in their sights.
You’ve done a lot of work to help keep San Francisco a welcoming place for LGBT folks. How do you want to continue providing for the city, considering you wear many hats?
That’s a good question. I mean, ultimately, many of the things that I work on are in a similar vein. I really care about the city of San Francisco, and I want to see it maintain many of the things that have made it so great for so long. San Francisco has been a beacon for so many different communities across the decades. It’s diversity, it’s our artistic sense of self, and it’s our reputation as a refuge for so many people who are lost or who find themselves abandoned or fleeing persecution. I’m really invested in making sure that that remains the case. The country is made up of so many different people and yet, here we are together as one nation, a leading nation, and an example of democracy. That’s what I want for San Francisco.
Part of that is by ensuring our city is a place where people can earn a living wage, where people have access to safe spaces. Places where they can view art, and also celebrate and perform, but also where they can receive an education and health services. All of those things are part of the work that I’ve done in the past, and things that I will continue to fight for as Chair of the Democratic Party.
You’ve been on such a colorful path to lead you where you are now. How did it unfold?
I guess it all started with my organizing around the Stud. Rising rents and gentrification were pushing a lot of my community members out of the city, and displacing a lot of the businesses that I considered a part of my community. Saving the Stud was a part of that—city policies allowed us to do certain things like get legacy business status and negotiate with the landlord. I realized how important it was to actually be involved locally, and not just vote for when there’s a presidential election. So I got involved with [co-founding] The Transgender District, making sure we weren’t losing all of the affordable housing and the LGBT assets of the Tenderloin. I ended up working on various campaigns for local propositions and, eventually, for Supervisor Matt Haney as a legislative aide.
I saw that you mentioned you’d be willing to consider running for District 6.
I would be excited to serve on the Board of Supervisors. There’s just so much to work on in District 6, especially in the Tenderloin and in Western SoMa — so many issues, so much opportunity to develop the infrastructure of these neighborhoods, preserve their affordability, and make them more welcoming to people. Supervisor Haney is definitely doing a lot of that work, and I feel committed to seeing that through.
Back to the Stud really quick. A lot of people were really heartbroken when you guys had to pack up last year with the intent to relocate on better financial footing then the building got painted over. Now things are kind of opening back up, what kind of future are you eyeing for the venue?
The Stud is definitely looking at places. Ideally, we’d love to stay in the west SoMa leather district where we’ve been for the last 54 years, but we’re also open to potentially moving into the Tenderloin or other places still connected to the community. We are actively considering spaces and hope to find one in the next year. . A lot of that depends on what’s available and our financial situation.
The Tenderloin’s last queer bar, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, survived; I was happy to see that. You have a long history in the drag performance sphere. Do you think that scene will bounce back as the city continues to open up?
People keep mentioning the roaring twenties coming around. Folks are really underestimating how much we want to be together. I think that we are going to see a real rise and flourishing of the nightlife and performance space. People have been stir crazy for so long. There’s really nothing like being at your favorite drag bar with a bunch of friends and a few drinks and some great music, getting to watch crazy low brow, high brow, over the top performances. I can’t wait to get to do it again.
So you’re feeling optimistic that the city will recover?
I do. I’m not naive; I know it’s going to be a lot of work. I’m going to fight to make sure we rebuild stronger and better for all our communities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.