Friday afternoon is typically when governments issue press releases and data dumps that few people ever see, but during the Trump years, Fridays were nearly traumatic for transgender advocates like Clair Farley, director of San Francisco’s Office of Transgender Initiatives (OTI).
“There was always something against the community,” she says, “from the military ban to access to health care to shelters.”
The Biden administration has signaled its intent to reverse many discriminatory Trump-era policies early on, beginning with an executive order allowing all qualified people to serve in the armed forces, irrespective of their gender identity or expression.
But many activists are not satisfied with simply undoing past mistakes; they’re eager for a future centered on transgender liberation and full social equality. The coronavirus and its economic fallout have had disproportionate effects on marginalized communities — particularly among many LGBTQ+ people, whose exclusion from the existing medical system means pandemic-specific initiatives do not reach them.
OTI is set to launch a comprehensive campaign that unites a number of local nonprofits that primarily serve a transgender or gender nonconforming clientele. The agency hopes to address immediate needs, ensure access to quality health care, and — eventually — function as a sort of financial backstop for organizations like El/La Para TransLatinas, TAJA’s Coalition and Lyon-Martin Health Services, which operated on small budgets even before COVID hit.
Trans Wellness SF, announced Wednesday, will begin with a survey assessing the community’s housing and medical needs, Farley says, before evaluating which areas require city support. By working with the SF Bay Area LGBTQ COVID Relief Coalition, OTI will partner with the nonprofits that have provided direct help since Day 1 of shelter-in-place.
“We’re looking to identify where additional gaps are,” Farley says. “That will be a big push as we move into the budget cycle.”
Indeed, the medium-term budget outlook is grim. Mayor London Breed has already ordered each city department to implement a 10 percent cut across the board. So it’s important to have as much information as possible in order to allocate funds for health care among The City’s most vulnerable residents, who may have experienced forms of discrimination from medical providers that ranges from casual misgendering to ignorance about transgender health concerns to brazen refusals to provide care.
“The City invests about $5 million a year in trans services, but there hasn’t been this unified approach,” Farley adds. “How can we have a collective social-impact strategy to look at how we address the response to COVID? How can we look forward instead of just surviving? How do we thrive?”
Trans Wellness SF will ask participants about their experience at COVID testing sites run by The City itself as well as partner organizations, with questions about mental health. Unemployment and social isolation have affected millions of people over the past 11 months, but among harder-to-reach populations like transgender people of color, the effects aren’t fully understood. Some 80 percent of the community has not been in contact with any city agency during the pandemic, Farley estimates, and so the need to create new pathways for COVID testing, vaccination, counseling, and the like may be dire.
Further, even some of the most successful trans-focused organizations have had brushes with death. Lyon-Martin, the clinic named for pioneering lesbian couple Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, is a unique resource for immigrants, low-income women and others who identify as trans or nonbinary. Last year, however, it was very nearly extinguished by its absorption into the larger HealthRIGHT 360, until vocal members of the community rallied and protested at length.
Then there’s rent. Eviction moratoriums have no doubt kept thousands of Californians in their homes, but if you cannot find work, you will not be able to pay the required 25 percent of your monthly rent needed to qualify — let alone the potentially staggering sum you’ll be left with once the crisis passes. So the other component of Trans Wellness SF includes a more than $2 million investment in rental subsidies, transitional housing and support services through Our Trans Home SF, a city-funded initiative established in 2019 to intervene before people at serious risk of homelessness found themselves without a roof.
The Transgender Day of Visibility is March 31, and Farley is confident that The City can continue to be a model for equity-driven policies.
“We need more trans folks within every level of the [Biden] administration to help move these decisions forward,” she says. “That’s what we’ve seen on a local level work really well, in the first trans office in the country that works with the public and with city government to make these changes. I’m hopeful.”