After The Red Victorian on Haight Street stopped hotel operations in March in response to the COVID-19 statewide lock down, the rooms of the three-story mansion sat mostly vacant except for a small group of residents, including drag artists.
Adam Rice, Michael Borel, Gia Régalado, Michael Thurin and Sam Hogan still occupy the 116-year-old-building, but the fear of potential eviction looms over the group after they were given notice by their landlords, who want out of their lease.
Faced with possible displacement, they went to work, transforming the hotel’s front windows into a stage and launching The Fish Bowl, a live drag show. Every Saturday at 8 p.m., the storefront showcases queer and transgender performers including Régalado, Borel, Thurin, Hogan and other artists across California.
They are now hoping to raise enough funds through the shows and a GoFundMe page to not only hang on to their home, but also establish a safe housing project for other queer and transgender people, centering the needs of Black and Indigenous transwomen.
Régalado—who also goes by her stage name, FKA Supernova Girl — said if the group had to leave, it would do a disservice to the community that thrives on the artistry and unbridled creativity queer and transgender performers bring.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that we take care of ourselves. There’s so many stories out there of trans women being killed. If we don’t do anything to take care of ourselves, then no one will.” Régalado said. “[Trans people of color] have definitely paved the way and this show just proves it again; how much passion, dedication, determination we have. Even when we have so much energy taken from us, we continue to give.”
Rice said it would be exemplary if the group succeeded in attaining its vision: “This building has a long history. And one of the really prominent figures in the history of the building, [Sami Sunchild] her whole thing and the people surrounding her had this mission of peace. And one of the ways we see what we’re doing is, ‘OK this is the evolution of that. This is what the world is demanding now. This is what the what political climate is demanding now — equity and justice for trans people, gender non-conforming people and people of color.”
The building is owned by Peaceful World Foundation, a nonprofit managed by an organization called District Commons, which owns Red Victorian LLC. The foundation initially collaborated with the group on the housing venture. However, lease holders were offered the option to walk away from the lease debt-free, forcing the remaining residents to raise money to secure the LLC’s lease and avoid eviction.
“With the consent of the lease holders, the group of us started living here started Aug. 1 full time in exchange for our labor going towards this development and proposal of new operations so that there can be a viable source of income to keep the building habitable, to maintain good standing with the landlord,” Thurin said. “Also to make sure that this building, which is about 20 units, is very spacious and can be very safe for individuals during COVID. It’s a really amazing housing resource and it would be really quite unethical to see it empty out during what was already a housing crisis for our most marginalized community members and friends.”
According to the 2019 San Francisco Homeless Point-in-Time Count & Survey Report of 1,054 individuals experiencing homelessness age 25 and under, 27% identified as LGBTQ+. Of those individuals, 55% identified as gay, lesbian, or same-gender loving; 29% as bisexual; 13% as transgender; 3% as genderqueer/gender non-conforming; and 5% as questioning.